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Culture Club - Karma Chameleon (1983)

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  • 80's Score80's Score80's Score 80's score: 3.25
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“Karma Chameleon” is a song by English band Culture Club, featured on the group’s 1983 album Colour by ...

“Karma Chameleon” is a song by English band Culture Club, featured on the group’s 1983 album Colour by Numbers. The single was released in the United Kingdom in September 1983. spent three weeks at number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 in early 1984, becoming the group’s biggest hit and only US number-one single among their many top 10 hits. The sleeve features work from the photographer David Levine.

In the group’s home country of the United Kingdom, it became the second Culture Club single to reach the top of the UK Singles Chart (after “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me”), where it stayed for six weeks in September and October 1983, and became the UK’s biggest-selling single of the year 1983. To date, it is the 38th biggest-selling single of all time in the UK, selling 1.52 million copies. It has sold over 7 million global copies.In 2015, the song was voted by the British public as the nation’s ninth favourite 1980s number one in a poll for ITV.

Background

In an interview, Culture Club frontman Boy George explained: “The song is about the terrible fear of alienation that people have, the fear of standing up for one thing. It’s about trying to suck up to everybody. Basically, if you aren’t true, if you don’t act like you feel, then you get Karma-justice, that’s nature’s way of paying you back.” In response to claims from singer-songwriter Jimmy Jones that the song plagiarizes his hit “Handy Man”, George stated, “I might have heard it once, but it certainly wasn’t something I sat down and said, ‘Yeah, I want to copy this.'” In an interview with 60 Minutes Australia, Boy George said that he wrote the song while he was on vacation in Egypt, and that the other members of Culture Club were initially hesitant to record it as they felt it sounded like a country and western song.

The harmonica part was played by Judd Lander, who had been a member of Merseybeat group The Hideaways in the 1960s. The song was originally to be called “Cameo Chameleon”; the band was recorded in interviews in mid-1983 stating this was to be the title of their next single.

Reception

The song won Best British Single at the 1984 Brit Awards. In 2015 the song was voted by the British public as the nation’s 9th favourite 1980s number one in a poll for ITV.

Other appearances

The group performed the song as a finale when they appeared in the 1986 episode “Cowboy George” of The A-Team.

Likely because of the lyric “I’m a man without conviction,” and the chorus, which includes the word chameleon, “Karma Chameleon” has been used by several politicians in political adverts. In 2006, Britain’s Labour Party used “Karma Chameleon” as the theme song for a series of political advertisements against Conservative Party leader David Cameron in the 2006 UK local Elections.

Music video

The New Southern Belle, the Thames riverboat used in video

The music video, directed by Peter Sinclair, was filmed at Desborough Island in Weybridge during the summer of 1983.

The video is set in Mississippi in 1870. It depicts a large multiracial group of people in late 1800s dress, including some dressed in red, gold, and green (as referenced in the lyrics). Boy George is dressed in what would be known as his signature look: colourful costume, fingerless gloves, long braids, and a black bowler hat.

A pickpocket and jewellery thief is seen wandering through the crowd, stealing from unsuspecting victims. The band and everyone board a riverboat, The Chameleon, as Boy George continues to sing. While four men are playing poker, the thief is discovered cheating by giving himself the Royal Flush, and is forced to return all his ill-gotten gains and walk the plank at the points of ladies’ parasols, falling into the river. As the video ends, day has turned to evening and the party continues on the boat as it cruises down the river.

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