Karma Chameleon

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"Karma Chameleon"
Single by Culture Club
from the album Colour by Numbers
B-side "That's the Way (I'm Only Trying to Help You)"
Released September 1982 (UK)
November 1982 (USA)
Format 7", 12"
Recorded 1982
Genre Pop rock
Length 4:12 (album version)
3:51 (single edit)
Label Virgin
Writer(s) George O'Dowd, Jon Moss, Mikey Craig, Roy Hay, Phil Pickett Alfie Malone
Producer(s) Steve Levine
Culture Club singles chronology
"Church of the Poison Mind"
"Karma Chameleon"
Music sample

"Karma Chameleon" is a hit song by English band Culture Club, featured on the group's 1982 album Colour by Numbers. The single spent three weeks at #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in early 1984, becoming the group's biggest hit and only US #1 among their many Top 10 hits. "Karma Chameleon" was also a huge global hit, hitting #1 in sixteen countries worldwide, and the Top 10 in several more. The sleeve features work from the photographer David Levine. It received a million-selling Gold 45 in the United States.

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.[1] To date, it is the 31st best-selling single of all time in the UK, selling over 1.4 million copies there.[2] It has sold over 5 million global copies, making it one of the best-selling singles of all time worldwide.[3]

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."[4]

The song won Best British Single at the 1984 Brit Awards. The group performed the song as a finale when they appeared in the 1986 episode "Cowboy George" of The A-Team. 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.[5]

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 ads. 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.[6]

Music video[edit]

The music video, directed by Peter Sinclair,[7] was filmed at Desborough Island in Weybridge during the summer of 1983.

The video is set in Mississippi in 1870. It depicts a large group of black and white people in late 1800s dress, including some dressed in red, gold, and green (as Boy George sings in the song). Boy George is dressed in what would be known as his signature look; colorful costume, fingerless gloves, long braids, and a black derby.

A pickpocket and jewellery thief is seen wandering through the crowd, stealing from unsuspecting folks. The band and other people board a riverboat, "The Chameleon", as Boy George continues to sing. The thief is discovered cheating at cards, and is forced to return his ill-gotten gains and walk the plank at the points of ladies' parasols. As the video ends, day has turned to evening and the party continues on the boat as it cruises down the river.

Charts and certifications[edit]


In 1984, country music artists Moe Bandy and Joe Stampley recorded "Where's the Dress", a satirical song about Boy George which sampled "Karma Chameleon". The song reached number 8 on the Hot Country Songs chart.[15]


  1. ^ "Culture Club - "Karma Chameleon" notes". EveryHit.com. Retrieved 2008-10-14. "The biggest-selling single of 1983." 
  2. ^ a b Ami Sedghi (4 November 2012). "UK's million-selling singles: the full list". Guardian. Retrieved 4 November 2012. 
  3. ^ Bodrero, Eric (2005). "The Culture Club - Greatest Hits Review". anti music. Retrieved 2012-11-08. 
  4. ^ song facts: Karma Chameleon by Culture Club
  5. ^ The Rock Yearbook 1984. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-68786-9
  6. ^ Dave and Labour's bad karma chameleon. The Times. 19 April 2006.
  7. ^ "Culture Club - "Karma Chameleon"". mvdbase.com. 
  8. ^ "De Nederlandse Top 40, week 42, 1983". Retrieved 2008-02-24. 
  9. ^ Nyman, Jake (2005). Suomi soi 4: Suuri suomalainen listakirja (in Finnish) (1st ed.). Helsinki: Tammi. ISBN 951-31-2503-3. 
  10. ^ "Canadian single certifications – Culture Club – Karma Chameleon". Music Canada. Retrieved 1 April 2012. 
  11. ^ "French single certifications – Culture Club – Karma Chameleon" (in French). InfoDisc. Retrieved 1 April 2012.  Select CULTURE CLUB and click OK
  12. ^ "Les Singles en Or :" (in French). Infodisc.fr. Retrieved 1 April 2012. 
  13. ^ "British single certifications – Boy George & Culture Club – Karma Chameleon". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 1 April 2012.  Enter Karma Chameleon in the field Search. Select Title in the field Search by. Select single in the field By Format. Click Go
  14. ^ "American single certifications – Culture Club – Karma Chameleon". Recording Industry Association of America.  If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH
  15. ^ Larkin, Colin (1995). The Guinness encyclopedia of popular music, Volume 1. p. 273. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Red Red Wine" by UB40
UK Singles Chart number-one single
24 September 1983 – 29 October 1983
Succeeded by
"Uptown Girl" by Billy Joel
Preceded by
"Owner of a Lonely Heart" by Yes
Billboard Hot 100 number-one single
4 February 1984 – 18 February 1984
Succeeded by
"Jump" by Van Halen