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Feb 10

BOY GEORGE – “Everything I Own”

FT + Popular53 comments • 3,354 views

#586, 14th March 1987, video

Sometimes Britain hounds and ogles its flawed celebrities, sometimes it wills their redemption, often a little of both. Boy George’s turn of fortune from Britain’s top pop export to Britain’s most famous junkie was sudden enough and sad enough to put him into the group of ‘troubled’ stars who still enjoyed some level of public warmth, enough at least to send a bad solo record to the top of the charts. “Everything I Own” is the number one as sympathy vote, spun at the time as a happy ending for George.

But even if you’d left Britain in 1983, spent a few years as a hermit in the desert and returned without the faintest notion that George O’Dowd had ever been near Class A drugs, one play of this would tell you that something had gone badly wrong. George’s voice was never exactly powerful but it had a lithe presence that often carried Culture Club’s music and when it needed to stretch – on the opening of “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me”, for instance – it could. On “Everything I Own” it’s strained and hollow, trailing away particularly at the end of lines, ragged on the high notes, hiding in the (utterly uninspired) arrangement.

To George’s credit he didn’t walk this mawkish path to recovery for long: he found new direction in the club scene, made records where he sounded genuinely enthused again, rediscovered himself as a DJ and even managed to give his pop incarnation a proper send-off with “The Crying Game”. But this is the last we see of him, a spectral presence on his own comeback record.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    ace inhibitor on 18 Feb 2010 #

    anto@10 – ‘the self-consciously
    ” unothordox ” eclecticism of cover versions in recent years’ – not just recent years…. 2 from the current period of popular made ripples in the indie pond – sonic youth’s ‘into the groove(y)’ in 86, and age of chance’s abysmal version of ‘kiss’ (almost charting at the start of 87, wikipedia tells me). can we blame them for the sub-genre, or were there earlier candidates?

  2. 27
    ace inhibitor on 18 Feb 2010 #

    mind you, if its true that the ramones started out (un-ironically) intending to sound like the bay city rollers*, then indie-band-does-glossy-pop-but-with-noisy-guitars never was unorthodox; just a nod to one of the cornerstones of their genre

    * and you have to hope it is

  3. 28
    ace inhibitor on 18 Feb 2010 #

    as for Busted covering teenage kicks, I don’t know where that fits into this debate (which, actually, I appear to be having entirely with myself. I’ll stop now)

  4. 29
    ace inhibitor on 18 Feb 2010 #

    except to say to billy@13 – yes, possibly, and worst band name ever, surely?

  5. 30
    Conrad on 18 Feb 2010 #

    “Am I the only person in the world who likes ‘The Honeythief’ by Hipsway?”
    No!

    I quite like it in the same way I quite like “Imagination” by Belouis Some, which I bracket it with for no good reason.

    Swanstep, 17 – I think the early success of Culture Club was down to Jon Moss’s professionalism and absolute determination to ‘make it’ working as muse to George’s inspiration. Their love affair I think fuelled those early songs. The well ran dry pretty quickly thereafter though.

  6. 31
    will on 18 Feb 2010 #

    I like the Honeythief by Hipsway as well! (Still got it on 7 inch, actually).

    As for Boy George, yes, pretty dreary song at a pretty dreary time for chart pop. My abiding memory of his ’87 ‘comeback’ was how ill he looked during the whole Sold campaign.

  7. 32
    anto on 18 Feb 2010 #

    Re 26-28: Fair points. Certainly the covers thing was in the air in ’87 in the indie charts as much as the top 40. I think I’m maybe a bit too touchy about it (the whole indie covers thing) and it was probably premature of me to even mention it, but as you point out the Age of Chance were attempting the sound of Mineapolis at this juncture. I’ve only heard their version once.

    Re14: He really has done a lot of telly hasn’t he?

  8. 33
    Steve Mannion on 18 Feb 2010 #

    I remember George also appearing on Jo Whiley’s C4 TV show alongside Neil Tennant and Tricky. Tricky did the ‘pretending to be surprised that they were both gay’ joke thing.

  9. 34
    glue_factory on 19 Feb 2010 #

    Another vote for Hipsway, although I was under the mistaken impression that at least one of them went on to be in Scarlet Fantastic who released the marvelous No Memory, but that apparently was a group called Swansway.

  10. 35
    Erithian on 19 Feb 2010 #

    Re the vocal, Tom, I suspect we’d have had a lot more time for it if it hadn’t been for what we’d already heard from George. It’s a passable, vulnerable vocal which, you’re right, strains now and again, but generally it’s OK – just a long way from the beauties of earlier Culture Club material. Nothing special as a cover version or a record, though – and that top 10 on the Ben E King thread is pretty sobering.

    Back in the days before being able to have a sneaky peek on the internet during a slow day at work, that Evening Standard newspaper vendor on Piccadilly was my main source of breaking news at this period. I vividly recall seeing his newspaper hoarding bearing the words “WHERE IS BOY GEORGE?” as the singer’s implosion looked all too likely to end tragically. He’s had his good times as well as his bad times since, but overall it’s not an especially happy story.

  11. 36
    swanstep on 19 Feb 2010 #

    @Conrad, 30. Thanks. Assuming you’re correct, it does make one wonder whether George might not wake up one morning finally recharged, at last in a genuinely good mood, etc., and, hey presto we’ll get another string of dazzling singles? Not that likely, I’m sure. But his best music never seemed especially to be young person’s music – if he picked up now roughly where he left off making top-notch stuff in 1983, it wouldn’t sound ridiculous coming from a ~50 year old guy. Domestic drama works for all ages!

  12. 37
    Mark G on 19 Feb 2010 #

    Swansway!

    Funnily enough, I had dug out “Soul Train” on 12″ yesterday.

    The extended bit was banded into three parts, part two being the somewhat fine 7″ version, the rest being an extended intro and a 1 minute coda, both surplus to requirements.

    Much better than you’d expect a white ‘soul’ threesome with pretensions of glamour and a title of the best US music show, to be.

  13. 38
    MikeMCSG on 19 Feb 2010 #

    #36 He’d need to team up again with Roy Hay and/or Phil Pickett who were the musical brains behind Culture Club’s success.

  14. 39
    vinylscot on 19 Feb 2010 #

    Being a Scottish fellow I quite enjoyed Hipsway, although “The Honey Thief” was nowhere near the best track on the album. (“Tinder” being the stand-out)

    Swans Way – as Mark said in 37, much better than you would have expected – still love hearing it now.

    Re indie covers – surely Mark E Smith (even by now) had quite a history of this sort of thing?

    Oh, and Boy George – as a cover of a cover it was OK, possibly not remembered too harshly as the Bread original had been even more insipid. Of the three “hit” versions, Ken Boothe’s is the only one I can listen to, and that is at least partly down to some of his rather curious vocal mannerisms and inflections. It was refreshing to hear some pop reggae retaining the Caribbean sound in the vocal.

  15. 40
    wichita lineman on 19 Feb 2010 #

    The Fall were doing covers because they loved the songs and half of them – Rollin’ Dany, Victoria – clearly influenced MES’s musical and lyrical direction. The Age of Chance wanted to sound American and electro-modern, so their version of Kiss is just cack-handed. Into The Groove(y) on the other hand was acceptable for the indie crowd to like without fear of disapproval from peers. Saying you thought Madonna’s version was ‘pure pop’ (a term I was as guilty as anyone of bandying about) would have been quite daring. But first out of the blocks was surely Aztec Camera’s slow acoustic take of Van Helen’s Jump?

  16. 41
    wichita lineman on 19 Feb 2010 #

    Something George brought to the table on this – lyrics altered even more than they were on Ken Booth’s version. I’m sure there’s a whole new verse on this one, taking it even further away from David Gates’ tribute to his departed dad

  17. 42
    Billy Smart on 19 Feb 2010 #

    Re 40: We talk about Jump on this thread;

    http://freakytrigger.co.uk/ft/2009/05/bonnie-tyler-total-eclipse-of-the-heart/

    Absolutely astonishing cover, it says so much about masculinity, both priapic and ultra-vulnerable… Its no so acoustic by the time that you get to the end of the full-length version!

  18. 43
    AndyPandy on 19 Feb 2010 #

    In all this time I never realised Swans Way were a soul trio and always thought they were tail-end New Pop/New Romantics – have even got the 12 inch version on one of my downloaded Synth-Pop/New Pop/New Romantic compilation cds.

    Bit pretentious naming yourself after a Proust novel though…

    Think I prefer the original EIO by Bread (which I finally heard after reading the Ken Boothe thread on here)if only because a tribute to your father was different – so why just turn it into yet another romantic love song…

  19. 44
    thefatgit on 19 Feb 2010 #

    Ah, Swansway. I remember buying “When The Wild Calls”, and “Soul Train”. I kind of felt they were sophisticated, with their jazz-pop arrangements. Vocals reminiscent of The Associates, but eschewing big synths for horns and strings. Never really pegged them as “soul” as I understood soul to be at the time, but there was emotion there. “The Fugitive Kind” was something of a disappointment beyond the 2 singles iirc.

  20. 45
    ace inhibitor on 19 Feb 2010 #

    the Three Johns, round about 85/86, were doing a live version of Like a Virgin (before seguing into the brighton-bomb-commemorating, and possibly slightly tasteless, ‘sad about tebbit (but I don’t care)’)

  21. 46
    Mark M on 20 Feb 2010 #

    I seem to remember the (supposedly) improbable cover version being an occasional feature of Peel Sessions – the Shop Assistants doing Motorhead’s Ace Of Spades, for instance. This sort of thing used to tickle Peel.

  22. 47
    Mark M on 20 Feb 2010 #

    Re 7: The Smiley Culture reached no 12 with Police Officer, but the supremely brilliant Cockney Translation only got to 71, which is an utter crime. Smiley’s mate Tippa Irie charted with Hello Darling, which I remember as being quite annoying. Sophie George cracked the top ten with Girlie Girlie in Dec 1985, which I guess makes as near as this era got to Uptown Top Ranking. No chart action for Sleng Teng or other familiar tracks from that time, like Tenor Saw’s Ring The Alarm.

  23. 48
    Izzy on 20 Feb 2010 #

    Going the other way, you’d’ve thought The Orb doing ‘No Fun’ on their peel session would’ve been pleasingly amusing, but he just sneered “it probably seemed like a good idea at the time”. I don’t really buy into the reverence for him to be honest.

  24. 49
    Steve Mannion on 21 Feb 2010 #

    Loved ‘Hello Darling’, especially the “ah-ha”s.

  25. 50
    LondonLee on 21 Feb 2010 #

    I’d file Swansway under Scott Walker/Jacques Brel over-emoting cabaret, not soul. Though I had completely forgotten they existed until they were mentioned here, and I used to own ‘Soul Train’.

  26. 51
    punctum on 22 Feb 2010 #

    What do you mean by “over-emoting”? If anything the essence of Walker’s best work is his under-emoting, its darkened corners, its veiled disappointments and buried fears.

  27. 52
    LondonLee on 22 Feb 2010 #

    True, I was thinking more of French cabaret singers with the existential weight of the world on their shoulders. But Walker might not sound like he’s about to burst in to tears his delivery is still fairly theatrical, or “actorly” if that sounds too over the top.

  28. 53
    Tom on 22 Feb 2010 #

    (BTW sorry for lack of updates – I was planning to put the next one up today but left my headphones at home: so it’ll be tomorrow, and I’ll put up some bonus content later today.)

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