Feb 10

BOY GEORGE – “Everything I Own”

FT + Popular53 comments • 4,117 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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  1. 1
    thefatgit on 17 Feb 2010 #

    Down there in the bottom right-hand corner of the sleeve…”glasnost”.

  2. 2
    punctum on 17 Feb 2010 #

    Halfway through side two of the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu’s album 1987 What The Fuck’s Going On?, in between “The Queen And I” and “All You Need Is Love,” is a lengthy sequence featuring “highlights” from one evening’s edition of Top Of The Pops, cut up as impatience allowed, with occasional channel-switching segments from Channel 4 News, the golf on BBC2 and adverts on ITV (“More of this could mean less of THIS!”). Hosted by Steve Wright and Mike “Snowy Smithy” Smith – the latter the cousin of the NME‘s Gavin “Half An Hour Of Aretha Every Morning To Teach Ourselves Dignity” Martin – the sequence demonstrates just how lamentable the Top 40 of the period looked, and also the degree of seriousness with which artists treated TOTP at the time insofar as nearly every featured record is on video.

    “Nearly 25% of the chart is comprised of old songs for the first time ever,” muses Snowy Smithy mournfully, as he runs through, among other sub-delights, Nick Kamen murdering “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever,” “the very subtle Freddie Mercury” having a go at “The Great Pretender” (not a patch on either the Stan Freberg or Lester Bowie versions) and the life-extinguishing pettiness of the phraseology employed throughout – “Look! A new song! “Don’t Need A Gun” by Billy Idol is a Chart Entry at 38!” “Let’s have some Top 40 Breakers (i.e. snatches of videos they don’t have time to play in full)!” The only vague sign of life is “Fight For Your Right To Party,” the video for which is prefaced by such side-splitting remarks as “This is not a BBC Board of Governors Meeting…Nor is it one of Peter Powell’s better-known gigs.” The BBC has never really understood pop; not in 1967, not in 1987 and certainly not now.

    As the top ten is counted down, Smith announces “Here come the old songs” (bypassing Mental As Anything’s four-year-old Australian hit “Live It Up” at number five, now an international smash on account of Crocodile Dundee). There’s Freddie and his Platters platter at number four, Jackie Wilson’s “I Get The Sweetest Feeling” at three, “Stand By Me” down to number two…

    “…and at number one, back on Top Of The Pops for the first time since 1985 (cue huge cheers from the studio audience, presumably relieved that one of the artists has actually turned up to perform their hit – but didn’t Culture Club turn up in 1986 to do “Move Away”? Billy Smart to thread), it’s BOY GEORGE!” Cue a quick cut to Bill Drummond roaring “Fuck that! Let’s have the JAMMs!”

    The sequence’s deliberate blankness speaks for itself; this represented everything Drummond and Cauty were (up) against, and just over a year later the JAMMs would indeed be top of the pops with their carefully crafted and cunning plan. Possibly it’s not fair on poor, benighted Boy George, for his glossy Xerox of Ken Boothe’s 1974 chart-topper clearly reached number one on the public sympathy vote. Following the relative failure of the (then) last Culture Club album, 1986’s From Luxury To Heartache, George had deteriorated badly, nearly losing his life to heroin, shrunken to a virtual skeleton, at one stage supposedly given a fortnight to live. In addition, keyboardist Michael Rudetski, who played on that album as well as several other dance hits of the period – including “Male Stripper” by Man II Man and Man Parrish, number nine in the chart the week “Everything I Own” went to the top (described by Snowy Smithy as “Man II Man and Man Parrish and all the rest of them”) – was found dead of a heroin overdose in George’s house.

    So the meaning behind his interpreting “Everything I Own” – “I would give everything I own/Just to have you back again” – was transparent. The record is otherwise utterly unremarkable apart from the fact that George’s voice sounds shot to pieces; hoarse, slightly desperate. The public were willing to forgive and embrace him again, at least temporarily; the Sold album followed later that year, a scabrous, bitchy and frequently very funny record, and its title track, released as a single, remains underrated, but neither did much more than scrape the Top 30. Still, George has survived – as club DJ, still intermittently looking in on pop via the occasional film theme or Culture Club reunion or bizarre out-there pop nugget (“Generations Of Love,” “Everything Starts With An E,” the latter put together with fellow DJ and one-time Haysi Fantayzee rival Jeremy Healy), with the increasingly frequent spells of community service, inside or out; I used to wonder whether he or Morrissey would succeed more elegantly in becoming pop’s Quentin Crisp but the way things are going he may still end up as pop’s Julian MacLaren-Ross.

  3. 3
    swanstep on 17 Feb 2010 #

    Yes, this is lame. I don’t think much of the Bread original either, so I was mystified by this choice of a cover (Bread’s ‘Make it with you’ would have much more fun and it’s a song that’s musically suppple in some of the same ways that early Culture Club was). I remember hearing at the time that George was planning to do some country stuff, maybe work with Dolly Parton or Tammy Wynette, but nothing like that ever emerged, and instead there was this. Too bad. 3 seems about right.

  4. 4
    lonepilgrim on 17 Feb 2010 #

    with bleached blond crop George looks like a ghost of his former self in the video (although not as bad as he appeared when I’d seen him performing at Clapham Common the previous year).
    Shoved into a designer suit and surrounded by hip young things by the end (although conspicuously absent is the band whose instruments stand on stage) it seems a forlorn attempt to repackage George for a yuppie market: ‘Hey – I’m no longer the dreadlocked gender bender of yesteryear but your cheeky gay pal’
    Thank goodness it didn’t last. The acid house ‘After the love has gone’ from a few years later was way better

  5. 5
    Tom on 17 Feb 2010 #

    He actually looks more disturbing than at any other time in his career, since only parts of his face seem to be moving.

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    LondonLee on 17 Feb 2010 #

    I think it’s success is more down to the British public’s fondness for the Ken Boothe version and pop-reggae in general (as UB40 proved with the coin they made doing piss-poor cover versions of the same stuff.)

    God, he does sound bad.

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    Steve Mannion on 17 Feb 2010 #

    Seems a shame what happened to Reggae in the 80s, purely in terms of how the later equivalents of an ‘Uptown Top Ranking’, ‘Double Barrel’ or ‘Israelites’ weren’t topping the charts. That said, I’m not quite sure what the equivalents would be. Perhaps not Wayne Smith’s ‘Under Mi Sleng Teng’, wonderful as it would’ve been to see this crack the top 40 (I suppose its status as a riddim feeder may have hampered this if not other things).

  8. 8
    MikeMCSG on 17 Feb 2010 #

    Yes an obvious sympathy vote but in some ways more edifying than the next charity horror (co-incidentally George’s last appearance on Popular). The record itself is awful – a cover of a cover (did George even know the Bread original?)and George sounds finished on it.

    Happily that wasn’t the case and he’s survived to this day though this is his first and last Top 10 hit as a solo artist and they petered out altogether after 1995 when “Same Thing In Reverse” an excellent song got buried in the Britpop era and peaked at 56. We’ll come to it in due course but arguably Britpop ended more careers than punk.

    Incidentally Punctum I’d nominate Mike Smith as the worst DJ of the lot for his all too obvious lack of interest in pop music except as a vehicle for his thankfully now stalled TV career so the KLF boys made the right choice there.

  9. 9
    Rory on 17 Feb 2010 #

    @2: “Live It Up” was actually a hit in Australia in mid-1985. </pedantrycorner>

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    anto on 17 Feb 2010 #

    I like it. Why? Simple. You can tell George really likes this song.
    I can detect an endearing note of fandom in his voice. The tone might be a bit ragged, but well what is Everything I Own if not a song about feeling vulnerable and regretful?
    Another reason I warm to it is because of the self-consciously
    ” unothordox ” eclecticism of cover versions in recent years as epitomised by the Radio 1 Live Lounge approach nondescript-indie-band-cover-Britneys-latest-cos-hey-it’s-all-music-right?
    Having heard Peter, Bjorn and John re-styled as bluegrass and that Francophile version of Just Can’t Enough by Depeche Mode and Joss Stone warbling a White Stripes track my ears are no longer sympathetic to covers that expect unadulterated praise just for switching genres.
    Give me something like this. A singer picks a song they really like and if it suits their voice just sings the darn thing.
    This might seem unimaginative but rather that then the possibility of Bloc Party covering the Vengaboys.

  11. 11
    Billy Smart on 17 Feb 2010 #

    Dull cover of what was a mildly dreary song in the first place.

    It’s a pity that ‘Move Away’ was slightly too early to benefit from the sympathy vote. That really is a neglected gem, rather overlooked even at the time. “I never wanted to be a hero. I never wanted to be a man” – as a slightly defiant confession of having done wrong, its up there with ‘Stinkin’ Thinkin’ by the Happy Mondays (another underrated song, come to think of it)

    However, there was one brilliant incisive song about the madness of being Boy George released by Virgin Records at the time – ‘Singer’s Hampstead Home’ by Microdisney;

    Big house and a running joke,
    Big joke everybody can come and see.

    Singer’s Hampstead home.
    Waiting for the blows to fall.
    They don’t hurt at all.
    Singer’s Hampstead home.
    Snoopers underneath the bed,
    Born in Singer’s head.

    He only had blank lines to say,
    Although he said them in a witty and stylish way.

    Singer’s Hampstead home,
    Going down the gospel road,
    With all the old frauds and bores,
    Singer’s Hampstead home,
    They will never have their fill,
    Of sliding down their sacred hill.

    Cathal Coughlan does a rather brilliant thing here of sounding simultaneously scathing and sympathetic. I often wonder if Boy George ever heard this song, and what he made of it.

  12. 12
    Billy Smart on 17 Feb 2010 #

    TOTPWatch: Boy George performed ‘Everything I Own’ on the edition of 12 March 1987. Also in the studio that week were; Aison Moyet and Nick Kamen. Mike Smith & Steve Wright were the hosts.

  13. 13
    Billy Smart on 17 Feb 2010 #

    TOTPWatch EXTRA! Punctum’s right! Culture Club performed ‘Move Away’ on the edition of March 13 1986. Also in the studio that week were; The Blow Monkeys, The Bangles, Hipsway and Freddie Jackson. Mike Smith & Steve Wright were the hosts.

    Perhaps everybody just wanted to draw a veil over the state that Boy George was in in 1986 by pretending that it never happened.

    Am I the only person in the world who likes ‘The Honeythief’ by Hipsway?

  14. 14
    Billy Smart on 17 Feb 2010 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: No shortage of UK TV appearances for attention-seeking George;

    THE (NOEL EDMONDS) LATE LATE BREAKFAST SHOW: with Boy George, Bob Williamson (1986)

    8 OUT OF 10 CATS: with Dave Spikey (Team Captain), John Pohlhammer (Voice-Over), Boy George, Nikki Grahame, Rich Hall, Lee Mack (2006)

    ASPEL & COMPANY: with Yoko Ono, Boy George, John Cleese (1986)

    ASPEL & COMPANY: with Sharon Gless, Boy George, Clive James (1991)

    THE BRIAN CONLEY SHOW: with Paul Jones, Sheila Ferguson, Boy George (1995)

    THE CLIVE JAMES SHOW: with Boy George, Jonathan Ross (1995)

    THE FRANK SKINNER SHOW: with Boy George, Katie Price (2001)

    FRIDAY NIGHT PROJECT: with Debra Stephenson, Alan Carr, Justin Lee Collins, Kinky Rowland, Boy George (Guest Host), Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards, Bella Emberg (2005)

    FRIDAY NIGHT WITH JONATHAN ROSS: with Patrick Swayze, Jeremy Clarkson, Damon Albarn, Jamie Hewlett, Antony And The Johnsons, Boy George (2005)

    FRIDAY NIGHT WITH JONATHAN ROSS: with Penelope Cruz, Boy George, Lennox Lewis, Beck (2005)

    FRIDAY NIGHT WITH JONATHAN ROSS: with Jimmy Carr, Tenacious D, Cat Deeley, Don Johnson, Boy George (2006)

    FRIDAY NIGHT WITH JONATHAN ROSS: with Boy George, Joanna Page, Tim Minchin, Jamie Cullum (2009)

    FRIDAY NIGHT’S ALL WRIGHT: with Pete Tong, Mark Baron, Lennox Lewis, Mariah Carey, Boy George, Fun Lovin Criminals, Linda Brava, Lesley Vickerage, Jimi Mistry (1999)

    GAYLE’S WORLD: with Boy George, Samantha Fox, Michael Winner (1997)

    HARTY: with Boy George, Vincent Price, Coral Browne (1983)

    IT’S ONLY TV BUT I LIKE IT: with Phill Jupitus (Team captain), Julian Clary (Team Captain), Phil Daniels, Charlotte Coleman, Esther McVey, Boy George (2000)

    THE KUMARS AT NO.42: with Boy George, June Whitfield (2003)

    THE LAST RESORT WITH JONATHAN ROSS: with Boy George, Cynthia Payne (1987)

    LATER WITH JOOLS HOLLAND: with Elvis Costello, James Burton, Boy George (1995)

    LATER… WITH JOOLS HOLLAND: with Kaiser Chiefs, The Streets, Little Jackie, TV On The Radio, Seasick Steve, Boy George (2008)

    LIVE FROM THE LILY DROME: with Boy George, Bucks Fizz, Urban Cookie Collective, Johnnie Casson, Melanie Williams (1995)

    THE MONTREUX ROCK FESTIVAL: with Talk Talk, Boy George, Philip Bailey, Culture Club, Dead Or Alive, Elton John, Millie Jackson, Howard Jones, Kenn Loggins, Shakatak (1985)

    THE MONTREUX ROCK FESTIVAL: with Whitney Houston, Smokey Robinson, Alison Moyet, Boy George, The Cure, The Communards, Mel & Kim, Terence Trent D’Arby, Samantha Fox, Robbie Neville (1987)

    THE MRS MERTON SHOW: with Caroline Aherne (Mrs Merton), Vinnie Jones, Boy George (1997)

    NEVER MIND THE BUZZCOCKS: with Mark Lamarr, Phill Jupitus (Team Captain), Sean Hughes (Team Captain), Jo Brand, Boy George, Lisa Scott-Lee, Suggs, Eric Bell, Tony Crane (1999)

    NEVER MIND THE BUZZCOCKS: with Mark Lamarr, Phill Jupitus (Team Captain), Sean Hughes (Team Captain), Mari Wilson, Boy George, Blade, Tommy Vance (2002)

    THE O ZONE: with Boy George (1992)

    THE O ZONE: with Boy George, EMF, Vic Reeves, Bob Mortimer, Ultimate Kaos, Sean Maguire (1995)

    PARAMOUNT CITY: with Curtis & Ishmael, Boy George, Sinéad O’Connor, Frank Skinner (1991)

    PARKINSON ONE TO ONE: with Boy George (1988)

    RIVERSIDE: with The Higsons, Boy George, Cabaret Voltaire (1982)

    RUBY: with Joanna Lumley, Jeanna Moreau, Boy George (1998)

    SPRINGER: with Melanie Chisholm, Lisa Riley, Atomic Kitten, Boy George, Nick Moran (2000)

    STARS IN THEIR EYES CELEBRITY SPECIAL: with Caprice, Matthew Kelly, Frank Skinner, Kim Wilde, Boy George, Tracy Shaw (2002)

    SUNDAY, SUNDAY: with Boy George, Brian Glover, Margot Fonteyn (1984)

    THE TUBE: with Jools Holland, Leslie Ash, The Pretenders, Mark Hurst, The Icicle Works, Divine, Boy George, Muriel Gray (1983)

    WOGAN: with Cher, Sheila Graham, Boy George, Culture Club (1984)

    WOGAN: with Alan Freeman, Boy George, Jeremy Hardy, Paparazzi, Swing Out Sister (1987)

    WOGAN: with Boy George, Eric Idle, Jan Leeming, Spike Milligan, Derek Jameson (1987)

    WOGAN: with Geoffrey Boycott, Frances Edmonds, George Martin, Midge Ure (1987)

    WOGAN: with Roger Cook, Boy George, Charlton Heston, Roy Kinnear (1987)

    WOGAN: with Kirk Douglas, Boy George (1988)

    WOGAN: with Boy George, Lisa Maxwell, Yasmin Le Bon, Kenneth Branagh, Patrick James, Ziggy Marley (1991)

    THE WORD: with Flavor Flav, Boy George, Whitney Houston, Jesus Loves You (1990)

    THE WORD: with Boy George, Sinéad O’Connor, Ride, Jagdeed, Jah Wobble (1992)

    THE WORD: with Boy George, Alex Winter, EYC, Afghan Wigs, Blur (1994)

  15. 15
    Conrad on 17 Feb 2010 #

    10, self-consciously unorthodox eclectism goes right to the heart of why I hate wanky nouvelle vague and the coldplay cover billie jean syndrome in pretty much equal measure.

    I don’t like this particular record, but your analysis on its sincerity as a cover is spot on.

  16. 16
    anto on 17 Feb 2010 #

    Not long after this record came out Boy George was interviewed by the late Kris Kirk who found George although still a touch pale and gaunt returning to something like his old self.
    For most of the interview George was chatty and effusive gossiping about his two passions pop and fashion. If I recall he mentioned a re-invigorated interest in clubbing hinting at his future career move.
    There was a touching moment when he admitted to Kirk that he felt the need to be around people as when on his own he felt like a bad person – the horrors of his addiction still painfully recent.
    Anyway their encounter showed something of Boy George as a pop star, a fan, a recovering heroin user, a chatterbox and George O’Dowd underneath it all.
    I know Kris Kirk was one of the few Journalists Boy George still felt he could trust and he contributed the foreword to the engrossing A Boy Called Mary – a compilation of writing/interviews by Kirk who was not just a fine writer but also a good listener.

  17. 17
    swanstep on 18 Feb 2010 #

    OK, so – seriously – does anyone have any insight into what happend to the talent that produced Time (Clock of the heart), Victims, and Church of the Poison Mind? At *that* point I think most of us were blown away by Culture Club (much in the same way that George Michael exceeded all expectations around about the time of Careless Whisper). Given the subsequent drop-off in output (has any of the band done anything close to first rate since?), one’s tempted to say that it must all have been the producer (or something). Or were these early triumphs just flukes? Or is the case something like what Alan McGee alleges about Noel Gallagher (that Noel had his whole repertoire of 30 quality songs written before getting a contract – which were promptly mined out for their first two records + singles/b-sides – and hasn’t had a new idea since)? Any ideas?

  18. 18
    George Tait on 18 Feb 2010 #

    #3 Boy George did do a kind of duet with Dolly Parton on the Culture Club single ‘Your Kisses Are Charity’ during the late 90s.

  19. 19
    TomLane on 18 Feb 2010 #

    “Everything I Own” is a great song. When done by Bread. Seek out Ken Boothe’s version. I don’t hate George’s reggae take, but it is rather drab. This was a non-charter in the States. Bread’s version peaked at #5 in in 1972.

  20. 20
    swanstep on 18 Feb 2010 #

    @George T.,18. Thanks for that! I don’t think the song is in the right key for Dolly, she’s really straining in that youtube clip… but I have to admit that the (new to me) song’s not too bad!

  21. 21
    Snif on 18 Feb 2010 #

    “…his whole repertoire of 30 quality songs written before getting a contract – which were promptly mined out for their first two records…”

    This reminds me of the obituary for literary agent Peggy Ramsay – it was said that she believed real talent lasted about ten years, after which the artist would simply start repeating themselves, or fizzle out. I’ve often wondered whether she mightn’t have been on to something.

  22. 22
    MikeMCSG on 18 Feb 2010 #

    #21 I think she was probably right too. I can only really think of The Bee Gees as exceptions to that. Kraftwerk and Stevie Wonder fulfil it exactly.

  23. 23
    pink champale on 18 Feb 2010 #

    the secret history of new pop, and culture club in particular, is (pace dave rimmer) how it worked to move pop to the news pages of the tabloids and by doing so laid the seeds of today’s heat culture. so it’s probably fitting that boy george ended up the having the ur celeb narrative of public disgrace, public contrition and public redemption (followed by the usual messy, but less remarked, path of small victories and small defeats). as everyone agrees, george sounds *terrible* on ‘everything i own’, ill and humbled. possibly that was part of the appeal then (he sounds like he *needs* a bit of love and forgiveness), but it’s a gruelling listen now.

  24. 24
    thefatgit on 18 Feb 2010 #

    At the top of the thread, I mentioned “glasnost” on the sleeve. Gorbachev’s twin reforms of Openness and Restructuring (perestroika) signalled the beginning of the end of Soviet Russia, and became watchwords in the west for lasting change. Even Thatcher stated that Gorbachev was “someone she could do business with”.

    “Openness” is what Boy George has been all about since his fall from grace. Now it appears the BBC are filming a TV drama about about his life. If George has anything to do with it, then I assume it will be honest enough.

    “Everything I own” in its ’87 context was as hard a listen then, as it is now, but of course for different reasons. To listen to it now, it’s detatched from the media storm surrounding him and his addictions.
    Now, it sounds like a broken man’s homage to his own shinier, happier youth.

  25. 25
    Rory on 18 Feb 2010 #

    I’d never heard this before, and couldn’t get beyond the 3-minute mark. What a sad comedown for a performer who had never been less than interesting – as if George had joined UB40 at their worst.

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    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?

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    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

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    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)

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    ace inhibitor on 18 Feb 2010 #

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

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    Conrad on 18 Feb 2010 #

    “Am I the only person in the world who likes ‘The Honeythief’ by Hipsway?”

    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.

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