Karma Chameleon

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"Karma Chameleon"
Nw171.jpg
Single by Culture Club
from the album Colour by Numbers
B-side"That's the Way (I'm Only Trying to Help You)"
Released5 September 1983 (UK)[1]
GenrePop[2]
Length
  • 4:12 (album version)
  • 3:59 (single edit)
LabelVirgin
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)Steve Levine
Culture Club singles chronology
"Church of the Poison Mind"
(1983)
"Karma Chameleon"
(1983)
"Victims"
(1983)
Music video
"Karma Chameleon" on YouTube
Audio sample
"Karma Chameleon"

"Karma Chameleon" is a song by English band Culture Club, featured on the group's 1983 album Colour by Numbers. The single was released in the United Kingdom in September 1983[3] and became the second Culture Club single to reach the top of the UK Singles Chart, after "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me". The record stayed at number one for six weeks and became the UK's biggest-selling single of the year 1983, selling 955,000 copies (according to Official Charts Company sales data confirmed in March 2021 for the Channel 5 show Britain's Favourite 80s Songs).[4][5] To date, it is the 38th-biggest-selling single of all time in the UK,[6] selling over 1.52 million copies.[7]

It also spent three weeks at number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 in early 1984, becoming the group's biggest hit and only US number-one single among their many top-10 hits. The single sold over 5 million copies globally.[8] In 2015, the song was voted by the British public as the nation's ninth favourite 1980s number one in a poll for ITV.[9]

Background[edit]

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."[10] In response to claims from singer-songwriter Jimmy Jones that the song plagiarizes his hit "Handy Man", George stated, "I might have heard it once, but it certainly wasn't something I sat down and said, 'Yeah, I want to copy this.'"[11] In an interview with 60 Minutes Australia, Boy George said that he wrote the song while he was on vacation in Egypt, and that the other members of Culture Club were initially hesitant to record it as they felt it sounded like a country and western song.[12]

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.[13] "Karma Chameleon" is written in the key of B major.[14]

Reception[edit]

The song won Best British Single at the 1984 Brit Awards. In 2015 the song was voted by the British public as the nation's 9th favourite 1980s number one in a poll for ITV.[15]

Other appearances[edit]

The group performed the song as a finale when they appeared in the 1986 episode "Cowboy George" of The A-Team.

Likely because of the line "I'm a man without conviction" and the chorus, which includes the word chameleon, "Karma Chameleon" has been used by several politicians in political adverts. 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.[16]

Music video[edit]

The New Southern Belle, the Thames riverboat used in video[17]

The music video, directed by Peter Sinclair,[18] was filmed at Desborough Island in Weybridge during 1983.

The video is set in Mississippi in 1870. It depicts a large multiracial group of people in 19th century dress, including some dressed in red, gold, and green (as referenced in the lyrics). Boy George is dressed in what would be known as his signature look: colourful costume, fingerless gloves, long braids, and a black bowler hat.

A pickpocket and jewelry thief is seen wandering through the crowd, stealing from unsuspecting victims. The band and everyone board a riverboat, The Chameleon, as Boy George continues to sing. While four men are playing poker, the thief is discovered cheating by giving himself the Royal Flush, and is forced to return all his ill-gotten gains and walk the plank at the points of ladies' parasols, falling into the river. As the video ends, day has turned to evening and the party continues on the boat as it cruises down the river.[19]

Single cover artwork[edit]

The sleeve features work from the photographer David Levine.

Charts and certifications[edit]

Sales and certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[56] 2× Platinum 200,000^
France (SNEP)[58] Gold 720,000[57]
Italy (FIMI)[59] Gold 25,000double-dagger
New Zealand (RMNZ)[60] Gold 10,000*
United Kingdom (BPI)[61] Platinum 1,528,498[7]
United States (RIAA)[62] Gold 1,000,000^

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Parodies[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.[63]

The United Australia Party created "Palmer Chameleon", a parody of "Karma Chameleon" promoting the party and leader Clive Palmer in particular, as part of the soundtrack of their "Clive Palmer: Humble Meme Merchant" mobile video game. Boy George and Culture Club's manager have said that the unauthorised use of the song constitutes copyright infringement, and have stated that their record label would be dealing with the matter.[64]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "News". Record Mirror. 3 September 1983. p. 6. Retrieved 15 December 2020 – via Flickr.
  2. ^ Graff, Gary (30 August 2017). "Culture Club's 10 Best Songs: Critic's Picks". Billboard. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
  3. ^ "The Million Sellers: Culture Club's Karma Chameleon". Official Charts Company. 8 November 2012. Retrieved 24 January 2020.
  4. ^ a b Lane, Dan (18 November 2012). "The biggest selling singles of every year revealed! (1952-2011)". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 22 April 2014.
  5. ^ Copsey, Rob (19 March 2021). "The Official Top 40 best-selling songs of 1983". Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  6. ^ Myers, Justin (14 December 2018). "The best-selling singles of all time on the Official UK Chart". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 22 December 2018.
  7. ^ a b Copsey, Rob (19 September 2017). "The UK's Official Chart 'millionaires' revealed". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 21 December 2018.
  8. ^ Bodrero, Eric (2005). "The Culture Club - Greatest Hits Review". antiMusic. Retrieved 8 November 2012.
  9. ^ Westbrook, Caroline (25 July 2015). "The Nation's Favourite 80s Number One: 12 more classic 80s chart-toppers which didn't make the cut". Metro. Retrieved 23 May 2017.
  10. ^ "Karma Chameleon by Culture Club". Songfacts. Retrieved 22 April 2014.
  11. ^ "100 Best Albums of the Eighties". Rolling Stone. 16 November 1989. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
  12. ^ "Boy George candid interview on coming out". 60 Minutes Australia. 12 June 2019. Retrieved 9 March 2020.
  13. ^ Clark, Al, ed. (1983). The Rock Yearbook 1984. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-68786-9.
  14. ^ "Karma Chameleon by Culture Club – Digital Sheet Music". Universal Music Publishing Group. 19 November 2007. Retrieved 9 June 2021 – via Musicnotes.com.
  15. ^ Westbrook, Caroline (25 July 2015). "The Nation's Favourite 80s Number One: 12 more classic 80s chart-toppers which didn't make the cut". Metro. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
  16. ^ Treneman, Ann (19 April 2006). "Dave and Labour's bad karma chameleon". The Sunday Times. Archived from the original on 21 November 2008.
  17. ^ Bigwood, Tom (23 April 2012). "Diamond Jubilee: London boats plan for Jubilee pageant". BBC News. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  18. ^ "Culture Club – "Karma Chameleon"". Mvdbase.com.
  19. ^ "Behind the videos". Boygeorgefever.com. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  20. ^ "Australia No. 1 hits -- 1980's". World Charts. Archived from the original on 20 May 2011. Retrieved 22 April 2014.
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  55. ^ "Hot 100 Turns 60". Billboard. Retrieved 5 January 2018.
  56. ^ "Canadian single certifications – Culture Club – Karma Chameleon". Music Canada.
  57. ^ "Les Singles en Or". InfoDisc (in French). Archived from the original on 24 September 2014. Retrieved 22 April 2014.
  58. ^ "French single certifications – Culture Club – Karma Chameleon" (in French). InfoDisc. Select CULTURE CLUB and click OK. 
  59. ^ "Italian single certifications – Culture Club – Karma Chameleon" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Retrieved 28 October 2019. Select "2019" in the "Anno" drop-down menu. Select "Karma Chameleon" in the "Filtra" field. Select "Singoli" under "Sezione".
  60. ^ "New Zealand single certifications – Culture Club – Karma Chameleon". Recorded Music NZ. Retrieved 22 April 2020.
  61. ^ "British single certifications – Boy George & Culture Club – Karma Chameleon". British Phonographic Industry.Select singles in the Format field. Select Platinum in the Certification field. Type Karma Chameleon in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
  62. ^ "American single certifications – Culture Club – Karma Chameleon". Recording Industry Association of America.
  63. ^ Larkin, Colin (1995). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music. 1. Guinness Publishing. p. 273. ISBN 978-1-5615-9176-3.
  64. ^ Doran, Matthew (14 January 2019). "Boy George's management warns of legal action over Clive Palmer's use of Karma Chameleon". ABC News. Retrieved 2 February 2019.