Bass Transcription: Mikey Craig’s Bass Line on “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” by Culture Club

This is the tenth in a series of transcriptions of the work of unsung British bassists, as prompted by conversations on the No Treble Facebook Group.

Mikey Craig

Culture Club is a very successful British band that had immense popularity around the world, selling over fifty million records. They were formed in 1981 and were led by vocalist Boy George (George O’Dowd) whose flamboyant androgynous style and sharp tongue attracted huge media interest. The band was considered to be part of the British “New Romantic” movement of the early 1980s, but they were less reliant on synthesizers and had a broader stylistic palette than other bands associated with the genre. Their songs included soul and reggae influences, and they were catchy, bright and had wide appeal.

Boy George had been the cloakroom attendant at the legendary Blitz Club in London, where the style worn by the guests was as important as the music they danced to. They described their look as “New Romantic,” and some of the regulars formed bands that went on to have successful careers, including Spandau Ballet and Visage. Boy George was a well-known face on the club scene in London and had been invited by Malcolm McLaren to sing with his current management project Bow Wow Wow. However, due to conflict with the main vocalist, he was ousted after two gigs. George was determined to create his own band, and initially recruited bassist Mikey Craig to form the short-lived duo In Praise of Lemmings. They then became Sex Gang Children when guitarist John Suede joined, and with the arrival of drummer Jon Moss, formerly of The Damned and Adam and the Ants, they re-named the band Culture Club. Suede was soon replaced by guitarist Roy Hay, and the new line-up quickly found funding from EMI records to record demos. Although EMI declined to give them a deal, Virgin Records was more enthusiastic and signed the band instead. The first two singles were not successful, but “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?”, the band’s third single, reached number two in the US and made it to the top of the charts in the UK and many other countries. Their debut album “Kissing to be Clever” also sold well and spawned two further successful hits, establishing the band as major pop artists. The second album, “Colour by Numbers”, contained the worldwide hit “Karma Chameleon” which reached number one in thirty countries.

Although further albums and singles continued to sell reasonably well, by the mid-1980s, the band’s peak had passed. The band was beset by internal problems – George became a regular heroin user, and his relationship with drummer Jon Moss became fraught, leading to tensions within the band. A tour was canceled, and later album sessions were unproductive, with these issues leading to the band splitting up at the end of 1986. The band have reunited occasionally for one-off events since the split and recorded an as-yet unreleased album in 2015. In 2017 they completed a successful 40 date tour across the USA, Australia, and Japan.

Craig was born in Hammersmith, London in 1960, to Jamaican parents, and was first influenced by the music of the bass-heavy Rocksteady style (a precursor of reggae). A visit to Jamaica at the age of eleven further rooted him in the sounds of the island, and Craig began to play bass on his return to the UK. When he started high school in West London, he discovered that there were other bass players his own age at the school – including the future Sex Pistol Glen Matlock. Matlock later worked part-time at Malcolm McLaren’s shop SEX, and he introduced Craig to Vivienne Westwood’s punk fashion. Craig started to frequent the London club scene and began to DJ, as well as going to many live gigs, including seeing Boy George perform with Bow Wow Wow.

After Culture Club split up, Craig recorded a cover of The Monkees’ single “I’m a Believer” under his own name, but it wasn’t a success. He then started his own dance record label, SLAMM, and moved into a production role. Since the split, he has also played bass with Kid Creole and the Coconuts, a Latin-pop band who had a few successful hits in the early 1980s.

Craig has played a range of basses, including Music Man, Fender, and Spector.

“Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” starts with a colla voce introduction, with the bass entering on the third beat of bar 16 on the pickup to the chorus in G major. The bass line here is a burbling pop/reggae hybrid that cleverly avoids landing on the third beat and effortlessly creates movement and space even though it is rhythmically quite busy. The bass line in the first verse repeats the chorus idea, except for the chromatically rising compound minor thirds moving from bar 30 to 31.

The 2/4 bar at the end of the chorus (40) uses a crotchet triplet idea to lead into the key change (into E?) for six bars before the verse returns in the original key at bar 47, and the initial bass line is again used through the next verse. An eight-bar slapped middle section begins at bar 63, and then a chorus leads to a re-statement of the key-change section heard earlier, but this time it is only four bars long and is followed by an eight-bar “dub” style section where the bass line uses a more continuous quaver feel. After this, the chorus returns and is again followed by the key-change into E?, but this only lasts for two bars before the final restatement of the chorus which after three bars uses the 2/4 crotchet triplet idea to lead to the final pause on a B? note.

Follow along with the transcription and the track:

Get daily bass updates.

Get the latest news, videos, lessons, and more in your inbox every morning.

Share your thoughts