Karma Chameleon

Album: Colour By Numbers (1983)
Charted: 1 1
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  • Boy George explained in The Billboard Book of #1 Hits by Fred Bronson, "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."
  • Phil Pickett, the former keyboardist of the '70s UK band Sailor, helped write this song. He contributed keyboards and backing vocals to Culture Club and did some songwriting with the group.
  • Songwriting in Culture Club was mostly a group effort, with Boy George writing the lyrics. Many of his words were inspired by his relationship with the group's drummer, Jon Moss, with whom he had an affair during the height of the group's fame. George admitted that their first single "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?" was about Moss, and their difficult lover-professional relationship was the inspiration for the line, "You're my lover, not my rival" in "Karma Chameleon." The relationship was hidden to the public and Jon never admitted it during the '80s, so in a way Boy George was communicating with him through their songs.
  • This was Culture Club's biggest hit in the UK, where 1,405,000 copies were sold, making it the biggest-selling single of 1983. It also won the 1984 Brit Award for Best Single.
  • Boy George was a very colorful character, and a fixture on MTV in the early '80s before American artists began regularly making videos. The video for "Karma Chameleon" was directed by Peter Sinclair and shot on a steamboat. It's a period piece, set in Mississippi, 1870, although it was actually filmed on the River Thames in England. George is an anachronism in the video, with fingerless gloves and multicolored hair that would not have appeared in Mississippi at that time.
  • Judd Lander played the harmonica on this track, which is up front in the mix. Lander, who also played harp on "Church of the Poison Mind," joined the group on many of their performances. Lander, a Liverpool, England native, studied the instrument under Sonny Boy Williamson and became a top session player in London.
  • Culture Club were sued for plagiarism in this song by the writers of "Handy Man," a 1960 hit for Jimmy Jones. Boy George admitted, "I might have heard it once, but it was certainly not something I sat down and copied. We gave them ten pence and an apple."
  • The video is one of the few in which the band appears but doesn't play any instruments. The only instrument to show up is a harmonica, which is played by a black man on the river. The real harmonica player, Judd Lander, is white, but directors seem enamored with the image of black players - Lander's part was also mimed by a black actor in the Robbie Nevil video for "Wot's It To Ya?"
  • In Canada this topped their charts for seven weeks and was the first single by a group to sell a million copies.
  • Culture Club performed this song in the 1986 episode of The A-Team, "Cowboy George." In the episode, a series of misadventures leads to the band playing a country bar to a bunch of cowboys. They win over the crowd, along with the A-Team (played by George Peppard, Mr. T, Dirk Benedict and Dwight Schultz), who bob along to the tune.
  • This song has been used in a number of movies and TV series. Among them:

    Electric Dreams (1984)
    The Chain (1984)
    Texasville (1990)
    Romy and Michele's High School Reunion (1997)
    Whipped (2000)
    Rock Star (2001)
    In America (2002)
    Scary Movie 4 (2006)
    Brooklyn Rules (2007)
    Madea's Witness Protection (2012)
    The Call (2013)
    Pride (2014)
    Sex Tape (2014)
    The Bad Batch (2016)

    3rd Rock from the Sun ("Frankie Goes to Rutherford" - 2000)
    The King of Queens ("Bun Dummy" - 2002)
    Cold Case ("Greed" - 2004)
    Dexter ("Blinded by the Light" - 2009)
    The Office ("Here Comes Treble" - 2012)
    Life in Pieces (Pilot - 2015)

Comments: 21

  • AnonymousRon from USA…has the best truthful interpretation of the song. BG suffered with the relay the had w/the drummer. He was so in love but John Moss took advantage of his love. John had problems w/ his sexuality. That’s why he will constantly go to BG then change to women. I think he loved BG as a woman.
  • Justin Cooper from UsaI don't hear any similarity to Handy Man but I hear similarities to Soon and Very Soon We Are Going to See the King by Andre Crouch, also very popular in the early '80s.
  • Wordtweaker from Isle Of Barra Hs9 5urCauldmoor is a district of Walsall where BG lived for many years. It is pronounced by the locals: Karma.
  • Siahara Shyne Carter from United States~Chameleon changing colors~
  • Mic from OregonRed Gold and Green Rasta flag colors (yellow being called gold) specifically listed in that order. No idea what boy George has to do with Rastafari but maybe he loved reggae and dreamt of reggae music.
  • Ron from UsaThe song is clearly about George's relationship with Jon Moss. George was gay, but Jon was straight but apparently fell in love with George. The relationship was rocky and Jon would often disappear (often to the bed of women), hence the "you come and go" lyrics. They often had horrific fights which probably inspired the "You're my lover not my rival" lyrics. You can probably figure the rest out/
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn February 11th, 1986, Boy George guest-starred as himself on the 'Cowboy George' episode of the NBC-TV adventure series 'The A-Team'...
    The 60-minute weekly series ran for five seasons with a total of 98 episodes...
    Just under seven weeks later on March 30th Culture Club's "Move Away" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #68; eight weeks later on May 25th it would peak at #12 {for 2 weeks} and it stayed on the chart for 14 weeks {it would be their last Top 100 charted record}...
    Between 1982 and 1986 the quartet had eleven Top 100 records; six made the Top 10 with one reaching #1, 'Karma Chameleon" for three weeks on February 26th, 1984...
    They just missed having two more #1 records when "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" and "Time (Clock of the Heart)" both peaked at #2.
  • Cyberpope from Richmond, CanadaCamille, EVERY colour is the gay colours now! (they hijacked the entire visible spectrum, didn't you notice?) & the purple, pink, green labels as gay were always dumb. One famous & flamboyantly gay celeb wears something of a solid colour & it's suddenly THE "gay colour."
    I myself am quite straight, but I love pink - especially in dessert tacos!
  • Bruno from Lima, PeruThe "You come and go" line maybe was about an insecure person and the "You string along" line was talking about an exploiter, a selfish person. In a sexual sense the line "You come and go" maybe was about an exploiter too.
  • Camille from Toronto, OhFun song. I hope Boy George has turned his life around by this time. He and his music definitely were great highlights of the 80s and of course early MTV. Sometimes people would sing the chorus of this song to me due to it sounding similar to my name, Camille. The lyrics make not much sense to me. I always thought purple and/or rainbow was the gay color, never heard red, gold and green were.
  • Brandon from London, United Kingdomcan anyone interpret "You come and go, You come and go" and "you string along, you string along" Does it have anything to do with not being in one place all the time?

    Thanks for helping!!!!
  • John from Nashville, TnCountry artists Moe Bandy and Joe Stampley sampled the introduction to this song for their 1983 CBS single "Where's The Dress" without the permission of the publishers.
  • Shesmiles from Seattle, WaRed,Gold and green were gay colors in the 80's, Steve.
  • Dougee from San Bernardino, CaRegarding the "red, gold, and green" comment: I believe that these refer to the chameleon's color changing ability. Per Wikipedia, colors that chameleons can assume include pink, blue, red, orange, green, black, brown, yellow and turquoise. "Red, gold and green" probably sounded the best when put in the song.
  • Robert from Denver, CoI just loved the way Boy George had said in an interview that he NEVER did drugs, and his way of getting off was dressing like a woman. The soon after we all found out he was a heroin addict.
  • Angela from Centereach, NyJohn, it's not cumma, it's karma.
  • Steven from Sunnyvale, CaThe first few seconds of the chorus was played in "Scary Movie 4" by the triPod before it changed the selection from "80's Music" to "Kill Humanity".
  • John from This City, AustraliaI know what a chamelion is but what is all this cumma cumma stuff about.
  • Steve from Ocean C, MdDoes anyone have an interpretation of
    "Loving would be easy if your colors were like my dream Red, gold and green"

    Is it coincidental that these are the three
    colors of the Rasta movement??

    Thanks for any info.
  • Krista from Elyria, OhI love Boy Georges voice!
  • Erickoverveen from Amsterdam, NetherlandsBoy George was a genius It is a shame that he rose to such high acclaim based on his extreme look (and not for his musical talent. His song writing, and arranging and that beautiful voice he gave to the world. Poor George...drugs ruined his career and his life, but it's nice to remember the good times and what a genius he once was. WE LOVE YOU, GEORGE!
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