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Around This Time 40 Years Ago -The Hits Of Early 1984!

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1984…The Hottest Hit On The Planet Was…

It’s “Karma Chameleon” by Culture Club! 

There’s a scene in Smash Hits journalist Dave Rimmer’s delightful little book, Like Punk Never Happened, in which Boy George – along with the rest of Culture Club – are in New York.

They’re not properly famous yet. But Boy George still looks like Boy George, and an old lady comes up to him in the street to ask him what his whole deal is. 

I’ll let Dave tell the story: 

“Well”, George starts to explain, “we’re from England and…” 

“I can TELL you’re English” she interrupts. “You don’t have to be a mind reader to tell that!” 

I love this exchange because it demonstrates everything about British pop music in the early-mid 80s – this scene happened in December 1982.

An era in which the UK was known for a handful of exports: Yorkshire puddings, bulldogs, warm ale… and freaky looking pop stars!

And Boy George, what with his plucked eyebrows, and all the ribbons, tassels…

…and who knows what else!?!?! – in his braided hair, combined with a seemingly endless supply of hats – George’s hair has long gone, but his hats remain – was probably the freakiest looking of them all.

At least until Pete Burns from Dead Or Alive turned up a year or so later. 

“Karma Chameleon” is a happy sounding song about an unhappy relationship, specifically George’s relationship with Culture Club’s drummer Jon Moss. Presumably a “Karma Chameleon” is someone who is constantly having mood swings. That has nothing to do with “karma” of course – it has nothing to do with a cat, purring in George’s lap, because it loves him. But the alliteration is nice, particularly once you’ve said “karma” for about the millionth time. 

The biggest mystery of “Karma Chameleon” is of course: what the hell is Boy George going on about with “Red, Gold and Green”?

Is it in support of Rastafarianism? Pan-Africanism? Was “red, gold & green” the pre-rainbow colour scheme for Gay Pride? Whilst the latter makes the most sense, it’s only during discussions of “Karma Chameleon” that this pre-rainbow-flag-colour-scheme is ever mentioned.

Is it because “red, gold and green” are popular chameleon colours, and because it rhymes with “dream”? It’s worth mentioning that chameleons also seem to quite like blue, however. The mystery continues… 

“Karma Chameleon” isn’t perfect. For a song about a dysfunctional relationship, it sounds remarkably like a wedding band struggling to play reggae. And other than providing an excuse for Boy George to mime playing a harmonica, the video makes absolutely no sense! 

There’s another story, later in the book, in which Dave’s brother is on a safari, in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro – and yet, somehow, still thousands of kilometres away from the Serengeti – and his jeep breaks down.

He approaches the local Masai village, worried at how they were be received, when what does he hear? He hears “Karma Chameleon!!*

Everybody starts smiling at each other. “Karma Chameleon” makes everything okay! How’s that for a global hit?!?! 

“Karma Chameleon” is an 8. 

(*Did the Masai think the lyrics were in support of Pan-Africanism?)


Meanwhile in Synth Pop Land: It’s “It’s My Life” by Talk Talk 

Talk Talk. Nowadays – in certain circles – their name is evoked with something close to awe. As though they are one of the… if not quite “greats”, if not quite up there with Prince, U2 and The Smiths or whoever… then certainly very well respected B-listers.

And “It’s My Life” is now, in certain circles, almost inescapable.

I feel I hear it at least once a month whilst I’m just randomly going shopping. Maybe all the synthesized bird sounds makes customers feel relaxed enough to make a purchase. 

But this was not always the case. 

Let’s look at the evidence. Talk Talk never appeared on the cover of NME. The album that “It’s My Life” belongs to – also titled It’s My Life – never seems to have appeared on any contemporary best-of-1984 list. Neither was “It’s My Life” played much on college radio in the States.*  

It’s as though nobody took them seriously until they recorded a proto-Radiohead album in 1988.  

Or until No Doubt covered them.  

Curiously enough, it was exactly 20 Years Ago that the No Doubt version of ‘It’s My Life” became a huge global hit. Will I discuss it again when I do “20 Years Ago” in a few weeks time?

I will not. But it is worth mentioning that No Doubt were considering covering INXS’s “Don’t Change” instead. I don’t know if I could imagine that.

Also, does anyone else think that Gwen sounded an awful lot like Kylie on that version? 

But if no one else was taking them seriously in 1984, Talk Talk were making up for it themselves:

With a video that was nothing but footage of wildlife and Mark Hollis looking like the grumpiest person who has ever visited a zoo. 

But then again, I guess it is difficult to take a band seriously when their euphoric radio-single is full of synthesized bird noises. 

“It’s My Life” is a 9. 

*Based on the CMJ Top 250 1979-1989, on which it does not appear…


Meanwhile in Duran Land: It’s “The Union Of The Snake” by Duran Duran 

What the hell is Simon Le Bon on about? 

One of the iron-clad laws of pop is that teen idol groups always have dead simple lyrics. Cases in point:

New Kids On The Block:
“Step by step, oh baby, gonna get to you girl…”

Or One Direction: “You don’t know you’re beautiful, oh oh, that’s what makes you beautiful…” 

Or Justin Bieber: “Like, “Baby, baby, baby, oh…” 

Duran Duran were obviously different to those bands/artists. They were a proper band, for one thing. A proper band, with artistic pretentions. But even proper bands with artistic pretentions need their fans to at least be able to guess what they hell they are on about.  

“The union of the snake, is on the ri-i-ise!!”  What the hell is Simon Le Bon on about?  

At least with something like “Hungry Like The Wolf,” you knew what Simon and le boys were on about: – probably sex, even if the “smells like a sound” line was simply begging to be the butt of a multitude of fart jokes. Which indeed it was. 

A quick Google of “union of the snake duran duran lyrics meanings” sent me down a rabbit hole of chakras.

It turns out that the Kundalini energy is a coiled snake located in your first chakra – tantric sex, and an Ancient Greek myth about a man who turned into a woman after killing a pair of mating snakes. 

I’m still utterly confused – in fact, possibly more so – but I feel as though I have learned something. 

The video doesn’t help matters at all. I don’t know what those monsters are – half man-half iguana? – but they sure as hell aren’t snakes! 

“Union Of The Snake” is a 7. 


Meanwhile, in Cheesy One Hit Wonder Land: It’s “Break My Stride” by Matthew Wilder! 

Matthew Wilder is quite possibly the biggest dag in all of 80s pop. 

I mean, look at him! He looks like a cross-between John Oates and Weird “Al” Yankovic, with perhaps a little bit of Kenny G thrown on top of his head for good measure. 

Just look what he – or his choreographers – thought would be the best dance move with which to begin this performance.

Which seems to be the closest the song ever got to an official music video, because why would you make a music video for someone who looks this uncool?

A dance move I can only think of describing as a chipmunk-shoulder-shimmy. And indeed, a chipmunk-shoulder-shimmy is the perfect dance move for such a ditzy piece of 8-bit reggae. 

But there is one thing that is cool about “Break My Stride.” It’s a song about Clive Davis.

And how much Matthew hated him.

Matthew had a song writing contract with Arista, but it was going nowhere. He was just sitting around, satisfying his contractual obligations by taking Beatles songs and writing them backwards. I’m sad to report however that “Break My Stride” is not one of those reverse Beatles songs.* You can tell by the fact that Matthew doesn’t sound like The Devil. 

This raises a lot of questions. Most notably, what’s the deal with the first verse? Is Matthew accusing Clive of laundering money through a Chinese rowboat company?  

But was Clive as dodgy as the guy Matthew would ultimately release “Break My Stride” through:

Joe Isgro, a man who, in 1990, would be indicted for – according to Vice Magazine – “drug trafficking, tax fraud, racketeering, and obstruction of justice.”

Also, for paying radio stations to play “Break My Stride” all the time. 

Matthew would go on to record an album, Don’t Speak The Language, and produce “Don’t Speak” for No Doubt… who are getting mentioned surprisingly often in this post. 

“Break My Stride” is a 6. 

*Although if it was a backwards Beatles’ song, which one would it be? My money is on “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da.” 


Meanwhile in Goth Land: “The Killing Moon” by Echo & The Bunnymen 

And adding a dash of sex appeal to Goth Land. Something that Robert Smith with his silly “Love Cats” dancing could never have accomplished, even if he had tried – with his great big staring eyes, partially obscured by the bird’s nest sitting on his head, not to mention his equally huge lips. This final facial feature was particularly useful when promoting their new album Ocean Rain, an album that Ian liked to describe as “kissing music,” 

Ian McCulloch may also have possessed a third nipple.  

Possibly.  

I’m basing this solely on a quote in Simon Reynold’s post-punk history Rip It Up And Start Again in which Ian is discussing Echo & The Bunnymen’s performance of their previous hit “The Cutter,” on Top Of The Pops:  

“And I thought, ‘we’re at No.27, do we want to go up the charts or not?

Get to get the nipples out. All three of them.” 

So I’ve perused the footage, and… Ian only actually revealed one single nipple… so I guess that’s… inconclusive? I’ve come to accept that it was probably a joke. 

Songs about the moon have been a popular pop standby since at least the days of Tin Pan Alley. All those moon, swoon, June songs.

But “The Killing Moon” is clearly not “Shine On, Harvest Moon.” On the other hand, the lyrical theme – that of losing your virginity on a moonlit night – is broadly the same. The main difference is that “The Killing Moon” is a moon, swoon, June song for vampires. It also doesn’t seem to be at all consensual. 

Everything about “The Killing Moon” is perfectly creepy. The chorus – “fate… up against your will” – seems to be less of a chorus and more some kind of hypnotic chant or incantation, recited to put you under Ian’s spell. By about the 7th time he recites this incantation, the spell has well and truly been cast. By the time the song is over, you’ve given yourself to him. 

“The Killing Moon” is a 10! 

To hear these, and other 80s hits, tune into DJ Professor Dan’s Twitch stream on Friday – 26th January at 8pm (Melbourne time), 9am London time, 1am L.A. time (technically Tuesday, but really Monday), middle of the night New York time!!!

https://www.twitch.tv/djprofessordan

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mt58
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mt58
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January 25, 2024 10:48 pm

I, for one could watch these promos all day long.

Well done, @DJ Professor Dan !

Phylum of Alexandria
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January 25, 2024 8:44 am

Great write-ups, Dan!

I take issue with your assertion that Bobby Smith lacks sexiness, though.

Look at how steamy he portrays this venture into the Red Light district:

We writhed under a red light
Voodoo smile, Siamese twins
Girl at the window looks at me for an hour
Then everything falls apart
Broken inside me, it falls apart

The walls and the ceiling move in time
Push a blade into my hands
Slowly up the stairs
And into the room
Is it always like this?

Dancing in my pocket
Worms eat my skin
She glows and grows
With arms outstretched
Her legs around me
In the morning I cried

Who else needs a cigarette?

JJ Live At Leeds
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JJ Live At Leeds
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January 25, 2024 12:07 pm

A stiff drink perhaps.

Zeusaphone
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January 25, 2024 9:19 am

Yeah, that sounds like my senior year of high school.

“Karma Chameleon” is a fun song to play on the autoharp

dutchg8r
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January 25, 2024 11:52 pm
Reply to  Zeusaphone

“Karma Chameleon” is a fun song to play on the autoharp.

…..And today I encounterd a statement I never imagined reading in my lifetime yet am so grateful I have. Much obliged, zeusaphone. 😃

Now, this naturally leads one to ask the next logical question – how is it on a keytar?

LinkCrawford
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January 25, 2024 10:56 am

Aww, I am pretty enthusiastic about “Break My Stride” by Matthew Wilder. Even just the first 4 instrumental measures–I love that music bed! A dumb song, for sure, but I love it.

JJ Live At Leeds
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JJ Live At Leeds
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January 25, 2024 12:28 pm

Killing Moon > Its My Life > Union Of The Snake > Break My Stride > Karma Chameleon

Not that that means KC is a bad song, irritating: yes. Boy George is always entertaining though.

Echo and the Bunnymen could have been as big as U2. They talked a good game, Ian McCulloch spent 30 years slagging off Bono and in the early 80s insisted E&TB were the greatest band in the world. Problem was they were just too cool to put in the effort. A mark of pride and another way of throwing shade at the shameless efforts of U2 to actually do the work. In the last few years he’s admitted he was wrong and that Bono isn’t that bad really.

Pauly Steyreen
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January 25, 2024 1:14 pm

First of all, I love this series DJ Professor Dan!

Secondly, how can you call Matthew Wilder a one-hit wonder when “The Kid’s American” exists? (Billboard chart peak: 33)

https://youtu.be/W9zUjVB8pw4?si=WVXVyKEffVLlEfQG

thegue
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January 25, 2024 2:35 pm
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

If I had created a list of 80s songs I didn’t buy that I irrationally loved, “The Kid’s American” would make the Top 20.

#1 might be “Love Light in Flight” by Stevie Wonder or “Typical Male” by Tina Turner or…

JJ Live At Leeds
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January 25, 2024 3:12 pm
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

Just pick a different territory and one hit wonder status returns. Over here The Kid’s American had a peak of 93. Barely even a lump let alone a peak.

That apostrophe bothers me as well. The Kid’s American what?

Pauly Steyreen
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January 25, 2024 3:23 pm

I completely agree with the apostrophe being bothersome. I guess it could be read as a sentence (“The kid is American”), but the song also works as an adjective inversion (fancy way to say “the American kids”).

thegue
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January 25, 2024 2:38 pm

Songs about the moon have been a popular pop standby since at least the days of Tin Pan Alley. All those moon, swoon, June songs.

I feel like this should’ve been a Crilley’s Category!

This moon song is dark-wave, an offshoot of goth…and I love it (and the band) so much:

https://youtu.be/YnbjCUx6G8U?si=PPzHrelaE7e1isy8

blu_cheez
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January 25, 2024 5:32 pm

Why the hell does Matthew Wilder need three keyboardists AND a keytarist to perform that song? It’s madness.

Also, “It’s My Life” is a 13
As is “The Killing Moon”

Aaron3000
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January 25, 2024 7:19 pm
Reply to  blu_cheez

Right? You’d think just having one keyboard and the Solid Gold Dancers would be enough.

dutchg8r
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January 25, 2024 11:57 pm
Reply to  Aaron3000

That entire clip is such a hoot. Well, until the wedgie shot at the end, I mean, really?! Didn’t Lorde get censored for a similar pose on her album cover?! 🙃

Those dancers looked like they were doing a majorette routine at a HS football game halftime.

Aaron3000
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January 26, 2024 12:49 am
Reply to  dutchg8r

Ha, yeah I noticed that hiney shot too (because of course). 🍑 I’m wondering if that even made it to air without further editing… it’s definitely the opening performance to an episode of Solid Gold, but it’s missing the “#10” chyron, the audience applause hasn’t been sweetened yet with the canned variety, and you can hear the stage director calling “clear” at the end where the opening titles and theme would be starting. So we got some raw footage, so to speak.

Last edited 25 days ago by Aaron3000
cappiethedog
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January 26, 2024 8:44 pm
Reply to  Aaron3000

Now every other college athletic program has their own Solid Gold dancers. The PA guy used to say The Rainbow Dancers in a lower register after and now. We didn’t realize it was lecherous until he stopped doing it. Whatever you call that style of dancing, those men and women in sparkly outfits invented it. What I remember most about Solid Gold ’80 was the thrill of hearing Debbie Harry say “ass”. Nobody was allowed to cuss in my household.

dutchg8r
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January 25, 2024 5:44 pm

Ooh, fun article to come back to on here today! I was just reminded over on a Duran forum the other day I can say it’s been 40 years officially since I became a full-fledged Duranie, as it is New Moon on Monday’s 40th anniversary the other week. And that’s the song that hooked me in. Union of the Snake was their next single, and as a 10 year old at that time, I thought the whole meaning of UOTS was totally over my head and that was ok, cause Simon was pretentious with his lyrics like that anyway and no one else knew either.

Fast forward 40 years – still don’t know. The other members of Duran still don’t know what it means. I don’t think Simon knows either, and conveniently plays it off as that whole – “it means whatever you want it to mean.” Which for many horndog Duranie women i’ve encountered over the years have decided the while The Reflex is about self pleasure, Union of the Snake is the mutual pleasure sequel. [Shrugs] Whatever, all I knew was Roger was HAWT in the video. So speaketh my inner BabyDutch. 🙃

I never understood how Karma Chameleon was Culture Club’s biggest single, it was my least favorite of theirs.

The OG “It’s my Life” is a 10. I hated what No Doubt did to it.

Ozmoe
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January 26, 2024 8:10 am

He looks like a cross-between John Oates and Weird “Al” Yankovic, with perhaps a little bit of Kenny G thrown on top of his head for good measure. ” This sounds like the most apt description I’ve ever heard of Matthew Wilder I’ve ever read in my life. Vocally, he sounded like a cross between Johnnie Ray and Sonny Bono, with an emphasis on the nasally parts of each. Still, Break My Stride remains one of my guilty pleasures. Great column!

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