Apr 09

CULTURE CLUB – “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?”

FT + Popular105 comments • 6,532 views

#509, 23rd October 1982

Another of pop’s remarkable acts of self-creation: in the video for “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me”, Boy George presents himself less as star, more as a kind of pop spirit, a dancing force of nature swaying through time and place, singular and uncageable. The metaphor the visuals ask you to reach for is straight society’s repression of the queer – but “Hurt Me” is far from a defiant song. “Give me time to realise my crime”: it’s not really freedom George is pleading for, more space for him and his other to understand their situation.

George’s disappearing acts in the video are reflected in the song’s uncanny lightness: it’s a paper-thin, gorgeously flimsy shuffle, the heft of reggae melted into air and breeze, which leaves George’s voice terribly vulnerable. That’s an asset to the record – Boy George didn’t have a weak voice, but he never sounded like a world-beater either, and exposing his singing to strain played up the sadness in his song (check “that boy loves without a REASON”). The only thing very wrong with “Hurt Me” is that after engineering a lovely, drifting fade it decides to pop back for a wholly unnecessary encore.



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  1. 91
    Jonathan Bogart on 30 Apr 2009 #

    Maybe I am. I’m less sure, as I’m mostly just thinking by fingertip, but here’s a shot.

    The experience being lost or limited or denied? None, so far as I can tell. The experience being ADDED TO, however, is the sense of participation in a shared youth culture, one which because of national charts and payola became roughly the same for “everyone everywhere” (by which can only be meant “a quorum,” i.e. enough to matter).

    This sense of participation is often understood by many people as one of the key factors in the beginning of the Pop Era. As I don’t see it as an essential attribute of pop (particularly as that sense has to a large degree been lost today), my original purpose was simply to push back the parameters of “pop” so that it could include that early dancey jazz.

    Popular is a wonderful experiment, but I worry that because of the historical accident of the British charts (and Boomer mythology) beginning at roughly the dawn of rock & roll people think that no music existed before which fulfilled pop impulses.

    Dunno if that helps. It’s the best I can do without unleashing any Grand Unified Theories which would rightly get me laughed off the Internet.

  2. 92
    AndyPandy on 30 Apr 2009 #

    Jonathan at 91: I completely agree with you on your point about even on a site like ‘Popular’ there does seem to be a tendency to go along with the debatable orthodoxy (one that I think I became very sceptical about as early as my late-teens) ie that the dawn of rock n roll represented some undeniably wonderful dawn. And i suppose since my late teens I’ve looked at the whole idea of “rock” as opposed to pop, easy listening, black music etc as to a varying degree mildly embarrassing…not that I dislike all rock just the Radio2/Mojo/Paul Gambaccini/broadsheets writing about music/earnest canonical idea of whats “good” and “important”.
    I’ve often wondered what interesting alternative popular music histories would have developed if we hadn’t become lumbered with rock n roll in the mid 50s eg I suppose black music could have remained pretty much on the same trajectory seeing as how it disengaged from rock more or less as soon as it started but there would have had to have been an alternative white popular music scenario maybe deriving instead from another black form eg jazz,and also possibly influences from modern classical, other European and global traditions and eventually electronics with none of the blues etc influences that instead have held sway…

  3. 93
    wichitalineman on 30 Apr 2009 #

    Re 92: this kind of feels like we’d probably be in the same place – the melding and mutating that got us here would have been a little different is all.

    What I find remarkable about (feel free to frown at this terminology) the modern pop era is that the interactions of the many strands of ‘rock’, ‘blues’, ‘country’, ‘soul’, ‘electronica’ etc, which have mutated over and over, are to be found in the Top 40. Pre ’52, almost everything non-Broadway was sidelined from the mainstream.

    This was a genuine mid 50s breakthrough which many now take for granted, and coincided with a pan-class/race teenage quorum. I kick against rock media orthodoxy too (still only grudging footnotes for anything non-Anglo American, disco, etc), but I find 54/55 to be a major step forward, at least on a par with the Original Dixieland Jass Band’s first single.

    One more point about the rock era orthodoxy – would jazz snobs have helped engineer it, not wanting the likes of Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman to be mentioned in the same breath as Elvis/Beatles/Bowie?

  4. 94
    AndyPandy on 1 May 2009 #

    Broadway/showtunes were only a fraction of the Pre-1952 mainstream musical world -many of the great songwriters did also write for Broadway shows but that they were just as likely to be writing for the jazz world. And Glen Miller, Louis Jordan, the Dorsey Brothers, Nat King Cole, Cab Calloway and many other jazz/swing names who crossed over bigtime,early Sinatra etc etc were hardly Broadway but were very definitely mainstream…

    And surely if there was any pan race teenage quorum it didnt last long as black youth (if they ever saw rock n roll as anything more than brief craze in which white people were ripping their music off) couldnt wait to get away from it and never return…

  5. 95
    wichitalineman on 1 May 2009 #

    Yes. Sorry, I wasn’t being clear – by Broadway, I meant Tin Pan Alley, which was writing songs for anyone who’d sell them, jazzers, stage folk, whatevs.

    And you’re right Andy, my idea of an early 60s pan race teenage quorum is from a white perspective. But I feel out of my depth second-guessing black teenagers in 1963 Brooklyn. Maybe they dug Dion, but I have no evidence.

  6. 96
    AndyPandy on 4 May 2009 #

    Yes but then we come to the very “rockist” attitude that not writing your own songs intrinsically makes the performer an inferior artist – and even if for the sake argument that was the case surely for every “inferior” artiste there were an equal number of extremely talented songwriters…

    by 1963 I’d have thought the average urban black American teenager would have been getting into the emerging soul (or as they knew it and still do know it as R & B*)possibly as a replacement for their own doo wop which to me always sounded as close to pre-rock music as the rock n roll it’s often linked with – something that seems born out by the fact that the black vocal group sound we’re on about existed to all intents and purposes from the late 40s onwards.

    *(NB by R & B I mean a literal translation of what the UK knows as soul music not that awful blues-type guitar music played by white British people in pubs etc since the mid-60s)

  7. 97
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 4 May 2009 #

    “by 1963 I’d have thought the average urban black American teenager would have been getting into the emerging soul…” — maybe, but you’re very much doing this speculatively, based on your own present-day attititudes and rhetorical requirements: viz young black americans four decades ago once again being projected by white english dude today, to suit the immediate needs of his argument (hence a somewhat mythical and manipulable “average urban black teenager”, as opposed to any actual real people, with all the complexities and contradictions and hopes and doubts and mistakes of their own development) — this projection is really not very different from the rockism you’re decrying (and “rockism” is of course a term and and analysis taken from rock culture itself*, its own evolving critique of what was wrong about itself); meanwhile, the people you’re recruiting to your argument (ostensibly for their benefit) aren’t much of getting a look in; they’re being turned into ciphers…

    in actual fact, jazz, r&b, soul and — of course — funk ALL responded to this weird sometimes clumsy white version of slightly dated black music, positively as well as negatively (exactly as you’d expect); and the positive response wasn’t entirely shunned by black audiences, teen or otherwise, even if the social divisions weren’t shattered after all, as people continued to hope (and sometimes rather deludedly to assume): the black community was and is also divided against itself, after all, and the black politics of the 50s, 60s and 70s, despite all due scepticism, couldn’t help but wind into the cloudy effects of the vast unprecedented white youth secession from its own established culture — both communities were changing, in parallel, and with consequences for the other

    *this has always been one of the things i’ve found frustrating about mod: its attitudes and alertnesses and responses to shifts in pop came genuinely fast and early, but its public self-discussion and analytical self-reflectivity and wider pushback for its due came a LOT later: this very largely piggybacks on the opening up and balkanisation of the rock media in the late 70s and (as a slightly unself-aware consequence) it operates as a stream of resentment within a media others made for other purposes than hymning mod, without doing anything like enough to establish its own forms**…

    is the problem that it’s fundamentally conflicted about persuading everyone it’s correct, about the virtues of mass popularity — once everyone switched to a particular mod viewpoint, mod would be off elsewhere! (not that i think this is a bad characteristic: i just wish it would treat it more playfully and less snottily; if you devote yrself to being ahead of the pack, don’t keep sneering at the pack for not always keeping up, or wanting to keep up — if what you understand about the world matters this much, why not help others into it instead of sneering at them!?) (this is more about the ghost of ancient bitter 80s arguments for me maybe than what’s been going on above: i genuinely preferred the tastes of the soulboy faction at NME but HATED the way they argued for them, which often took the form of a kind of patronising bullying; i’m really glad andypandy is here putting this case strongly BUT it sometimes does take me back to that very unpleasant time in my life and i get a bit rattled and prickly)

    **there seems to be a thread of fastidiousness that stops mods doing anything as uncool as experimenting with creativity themselves — as if to stand up saying “here we are, what d’you think?” would make them too vulnerable to/by their own fierce standards of taste***

    ***obviously this is all a bit of a cartoony generalisation, but since that’s what we’re already dealing in :)

  8. 98
    wichitalineman on 4 May 2009 #

    Re Black US teenagers in 1963. Something I should have remembered. The R&B charts were briefly suspended in early ’63 due to the number of white records sneaking in (the Four Seasons made number one with Sherry and Big Girls Don’t Cry in late ’62, for instance). Billboard assumed the charts were somehow being rigged. They investigated, presumably became more rigorous in vetting the charts, and… when the chart was relaunched Hey Paula by Paul & Paula was one of the first R&B number ones.* It knocked the Miracles’ You Really Got A Hold On Me off the top (covered well by the Beatles) and was replaced by Bobby Bland’s That’s The Way Love Is, both decidedly ‘black’ sounding. Soon after came It’s My Party by Lesley Gore (ultimate JAP singer, Quincy Jones’s first pop hit as producer). You can draw your own conclusions, but these odd stats at least don’t lend themselves to generalisations.**

    *a gorgeous record, quite rickety for such a huge hit; even though it’s pretty icky lyrically (“true love means planning a life for two, being together the whole day through”) the basic organ and drum backing give Paul’s slightly ruptured delivery a definite southern country-soul flavouring.

    **The pre-Beatles early 60s – what used to be regarded (NME Encyclopedia of Rock) as a post-R&R wasteland – is among one of the greatest mix and match eras in modern pop. I’m on Nik Cohn’s side when he says the Beatles and (especially) Bob Dylan halted momentum (or switched direction, I should say) before plenty of careers, most prominently Spector/Brill Building, had been given a chance to reach their potential. Gerry Goffin lost his mind because he thought his songs weren’t “important” compared to Dylan’s, even though to me they are among the most beautiful, intense and emotional ever written (eg the Cookies’ I Never Dreamed, maybe the best distillation of teenage love, fear, and joy in all pop, the obsessive flip side of Can’t Get You Out Of My Head). They just weren’t poetry is all – pop as poetry being definitively “rockist” and decidedly unpop.

  9. 99
    Erithian on 5 May 2009 #

    We’ll have another chance to discuss black kids liking white artists’ records in about three entries’ time!

  10. 100
    pbarnett on 5 May 2009 #

    I remember that at the time I really DID want to hurt him. A lot.
    Mainly for creating this dreadful piece of crap.

  11. 101
    AndyPandy on 5 May 2009 #

    Re the point about white artists getting into the R&B charts in the early 1960s- I’d say this may be a red herring in this context the artists mentioned and other like them have taken the “black” influenced path away from what was going on in the 2nd half of the 50s (albeit mixed it with pop) as opposed to all those who took the path where the guitar and earnest lyrics etc eventually reigned supreme.

    No one would argue that there are white artists that black Americans en masse are generally accepted as appreciating (eg Steely Dan,Michael McDonald etc- I believe in the latter case McDonald is unique in a significant part of the audience at some of his concerts are black)but these artists usually eschew an orthodox rock sound instead going for eg in the former case majority influences from jazz).

    Didn’t Pete Wylie come up with the term “rockist” in about 1980 – yes he came from a rock/indie background but wasn’t he and all the others who started condemning rock in the early 80s saying “enough’s enough, it’s been mined out and its time to lay it to rest – bring on new pop, jazz, soul, funk, easy listening, pre-rock, electronics,hip hop, world musics and just about anything which didnt involve blokes playing electric guitars…

    When I was really young John Lydon said in an interview that rock was dead and that PIL had been the last rock band but had now left that behind- as I was about 14 at the time I was horrified as I was just old enough to start getting into music properly and was just about to enter the 2 or 3 years when even I (for my sins) took rock seriously but I think he was definitely onto something…

  12. 102
    wildheartedoutsider on 5 May 2009 #

    The first people I really remember taking an ‘anti-rock’ stance were Kevin Rowland and Dexys Midnight Runners – a point made in no uncertain terms to poor old Jenny Hanley on “Magpie” in April 1980: http://dexysmsn.multiply.com/music/item/5

  13. 103
    Brooksie on 24 Feb 2010 #

    @LonePilgrim # 81: “what I’ve sometimes wondered is why there was such a revival of the phrase ‘rock and roll’ in songs in the 70s from ‘It’s Only Rock n Roll (But I Like It)’ to ‘Rock n Roll suicide’ to Gary Glitter and John Lennon, etc. Was there a dissatisfaction with the idea of ‘rock’?”

    It was part nostalgia for their own childhoods / teen years, and part recognition that the Rock ‘n’ Roll of the early years was much simpler than the complex music of the day, and therefore perceived as more ‘honest’.

  14. 104
    hectorthebat on 30 Oct 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1-1001
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    OUT (USA) – The 25 Gayest Songs of the 1980s (2011)
    Pause & Play (USA) – Songs Inducted into a Time Capsule, One Track at Each Week
    Rolling Stone & MTV (USA) – The 100 Greatest Pop Songs Since the Beatles (2000) 73
    VH-1 (USA) – Nominations for the 100 Greatest 80s Songs (2006)
    VH1 (USA) – The 100 Greatest Songs from the Past 25 Years (2003) 70
    New Musical Express (UK) – 40 Records That Captured the Moment 1952-91 (1992)
    Q (UK) – 100 Songs That Changed the World (2003) 80
    Q (UK) – The 80 Best Records of the 80s (2006) 40
    Rolling Stone (Germany) – The Best Singles of 5 Decades (1997)
    Spex (Germany) – The Best Singles of the Century (1999)
    Rolling Stone (France) – The 100 Best Singles of the Last 25 Years (1988) 88
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    Village Voice (USA) – Singles of the Year 23
    New Musical Express (UK) – Singles of the Year 23

  15. 105
    Gareth Parker on 23 May 2021 #

    Lovely reggae tinged single from George and the boys. I’m in agreement with Tom’s 7/10.

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