Culture Club

Waking Up with the House on Fire

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The career of Boy George and Culture Club had been on a steady upward climb for two years by the fall of 1984, culminating, as it turned out, with the transatlantic number one success of "Karma Chameleon" and the Colour by Numbers album, which eventually sold four million copies in the U.S. alone. The group had every reason to expect that its third album, Waking Up with the House on Fire, would enjoy similar success, but it was not to be. The leadoff single, "The War Song," with its chorus, "War, war is stupid/And people are stupid/And love means nothing/In some strange quarters," put off many fans, and though it neared the top of the charts in the U.K., it was less successful in the U.S., while the differing follow-up singles, "The Medal Song" in Britain and "Mistake, No. 3" in America, barely made the Top 40. "The War Song" certainly was mistake number one as far as the U.S. was concerned, but the problem may have been less the music on Waking Up, which was typically frothy and propulsive, than the passing of a fad. When Culture Club arrived in the winter of 1982-1983, they were, in essence, a novelty act -- the joke was that they had such an "outrageous" image ("silly" would have been a better word) through the clothes and makeup of their lead singer, yet made such conventionally pretty pop music. But novelty has a limited shelf life, and by late 1984, Boy George, in his new flaming red hair and dollar-sign drop earrings on the album cover, had been sideswiped in the image department by Michael Jackson, Prince, and Madonna, who had upped the ante, especially in terms of sexiness, an area in which he simply couldn't compete, at least among heterosexuals. So, while it's true that Waking Up didn't contain any song as catchy as "Karma Chameleon," the album's real failure was one of timing.

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