Culture Club – The War Song
The antimilitarist song wave of the 1980s included hugely successful songs, which combined deep lyrics with often unforgettable videos. And often these songs were anything but sad: behind pleasant music full of energy, they led to reflections and considerations aimed above all at the political classes of the various countries.
The first antimilitaristic song of the 80s was probably Enola Gay by Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark (O.M.D.) who already in 1980 combined the members’ passion for aviation with the denunciation of the use of nuclear weapons. In 1983 Nena warned about the danger of using any cause, even balloons in flight, to start a war, and in March 1983 U2 released one of their most famous songs, Sunday Bloody Sunday, with the famous scream “No war”, and the white flag waving in concerts. The following year the scenario shifted to the navy, with Industry’s State of the Nation video shot on a warship, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood also denounced the situation in their own way in Two Tribes. The anti-militarist commitment grew along with the tension and fear of witnessing a nuclear attack, one of the great themes of the 1980s, and perhaps it peaked in 1985 with the release of Sting’s wonderful song Russians.
Boy George and Culture Club also declared their anti-militarism in October 1984. The song they chose to drive the sales of their new album Waking Up with the House on Fire (which would be out in a few weeks) was blatantly explicit: it was titled The War Song, and it started with a chorus that said immediately that war was stupid. But Boy George, Jon Moss and the other members focused on an important psychological implication: wars are often associated with a concept of glamour, almost as if war was a pleasant thing in itself, or if uniforms were fashionable dresses. In some interviews Boy George commented, for example, that he found it inappropriate that children were passionate about the Star Wars saga, which was absolutely a saga of wars and destruction, but presented in an absolutely glamorous and fascinating look.
Boy George launched not only a new album and a new song, but also a new look. We find him more adult than in the videos from the previous album Color by Numbers, such as Church of the Poison Mind or Karma Chameleon, and we find him much more self-confident. He shows up with hair of bright colors, especially the outstanding flame-red, but also yellow and violet, in a swirl of looks that recall Dusty Springfield, but also Pete Burns of Dead or Alive. And there was mutual appreciation between them: after seeing the video, Pete sent a flower wreath as a gift to Boy George.
If the song is very deep, so is the video. Warning: this is one of the last great videos (from a time perspective) shot by the first great director of the 80s, Russell Mulcahy, who had directed masterpieces such as Planet Earth and Rio by Duran Duran, Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler, True by Spandau Ballet, Video Killed the Radio Star by Buggles, and many others.
The video immediately shows the concept evoked by Boy George, the forced contamination between war and glamour, and in fact it begins with a parade of models in uniform on a catwalk in a destroyed city. The images of fashion shows and models alternate with real images, in black and white, on the horrors of war. A warning from Boy George not to underestimate the consequences of the war. The most evocative image is the procession at the end of the song: hundreds of children march protesting along the banks of the Thames, dressed as skeletons. This is the real price of war, the wiping out of entire generations of innocents, and, in other words, of the future of the people.
Years later Boy George joked that this song had ruined his life; in fact the song reached the top of the charts in many European countries, and for many years it was the last song of this great group to reach the top ten.
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