Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Culture Club - Colour by Numbers

In October of 1983, Boy George and the guys from Culture Club released their second studio album. Colour by Numbers was an international best-seller, with over one million copies sold in their native UK alone and more than ten million copies worldwide. It reached number 6 in Germany, number 4 in France, and number 2 in Norway and on the US Billboard Album chart. It Also went to number 1 in Australia, New Zealand and the UK. The record was ranked number 96 in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Albums of the 1980’s, and it also appears on the list of 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

Side one opens with “Karma Chameleon”, the second single from the record and the band‘s first and only single to reach number 1 in Australia, Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and on the US Billboard charts. The opening on this one is a favorite of mine. The combination of the guitar, drums and harmonica is a classic. The song is about how someone changes their moods/emotions like a chameleon, leading to confusion for their lover. The video is memorable too - taking place on a big riverboat with the band members mostly dressed as gamblers from the 1800’s.

“It’s a Miracle” was the fifth and final single from the album. It peaked at number 41 in Germany, number 13 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 5 in Canada, number 4 in the UK and number 2 in Ireland. Originally, the lyrics and title were “It’s America”, a commentary on the band’s first tour of the US for the first album. They changed the lyrics slightly before recording the track. It too has another memorable opening, very bouncy and energetic.

Next up is “Black Money”, a song that questions the love of another and wonders if their affections are really just a scam. The musical composition on this one is beautiful, and Helen Terry’s backing vocals on this one (as well as other tracks on the record) are amazing. It has a classic Motown soul sound to it.

“Changing Every Day” features some pleasant piano playing by Julian Stewart Lindsay. It has an intimate dinner club feel to it.

“That’s the Way (I’m Only Trying to Help You)” rounds out the first side. Once again, Boy George’s soul side comes to the forefront with more beautiful piano work by Lindsay and backing vocals by Terry. Combined they infuse the song with powerful emotion.

Side two takes us to the “Church of the Poison Mind”, the first single released from the album. In the UK, it was denied the number one spot on the chart thanks to David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”. In the US, it reached the number 10 spot on the Billboard charts. This one was a popular dance club song that year, with a bouncy beat that instantly gets you moving.

“Miss Me Blind” was released as a single world-wide, except in the UK. It was a top-ten hit in the US, reaching number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. It is my favorite track from the record, a four-star rated tune. I really enjoy the dance beat on this one. The syncopated guitar Mikey Craig and Roy Hay has a classic disco feel to it, much like Nile Rodgers from Chic. Jermaine Stewart also provides some of the backing vocals on this one.

Next up is “Mister Man”. This one has a Ska feel to it, evoking the image of a tropical island.

“Stormkeeper” slows things down a little bit. This calypso-like tune features the saxophone playing of Steve Grainger.

“Victims”, the final track on the vinyl release, was also put out as a single but it only did well in the UK (number 3), Ireland (number 2) and Australia (number 4). It was not released in the US, Canada or Japan because the record label felt it was too depressing of a song. The piano and vocals create a very vivid mood. The song is very autobiographical; the lyrics seem to reflect the relationship between George and drummer Jon Moss.

In 2003, a CD version with five additional bonus tracks was released.

“Man-Shake” and “Mystery Boy” both appeared as B-sides to “Karma Chameleon” (depending upon the market). The former showcases Moss’ percussion with a steady, tribal beat. The later has a strong rhythm guitar line to it that makes for a good dance track.

“Melting Pot” is a live track that appeared as the B-side to “It‘s a Miracle“. It is a song that celebrates the bringing together of diverse cultures to create one shared human race.

“Colour by Numbers” was originally released as the B-side to “Victims”.

“Romance Revisited” is an instrumental version of the song “Victims”.

Coulour by Numbers was released in the fall of my freshmen year of college. By the holidays, I had a copy of it on vinyl. I had already become a fan of the group with their first album and this record just further cemented that. I played it quite often during my college years as it was one of my favorite releases from that year. It is an amazing pop record that blends a number of musical styles seamlessly. I appreciate it as much today as I did twenty eight years ago. It is one of those stand-bys that I enjoy from beginning to end.

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