As 1982 rolled to a close, Culture Club was in a precarious situation. The band's first two singles had failed to hit, and now the record label was threatening to issue the last song lead singer Boy George ever wanted as the third and fateful single.
"That single was our last chance. But I threatened to leave if (the label) released it," Boy George remembered in a 2008 interview with Q Magazine. "I didn't think it was us; it wasn't club music. It wouldn't stand up to Spandau Ballet. But I was wrong. It was so personal in a way that our other songs weren't. It was about Jon. All the songs were about him, but they were more ambiguous."
The "Jon" he's referencing is Culture Club drummer Jon Moss, with whom George had a secret romantic relationship with that lasted for years. The label released the single anyway--first in England on September 6 and in America on November 22, 1982--and it went on to become the breakout hit that would propel the band to superstardom.
"Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" would sail to #1 in the band's native UK, a feat it would repeat in Australia and Canada. In America, the song would peak at #2, where it would stay for three weeks. The song that blocked it from becoming #1 in America: Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean."
The song's popularity soared in England after Culture Club appeared on Top of the Pops, generating legions of new fans drawn to the sound smooth, island-tinged production and George's androgynous looks.
"Our plugger got called and was told, 'We can't promote this record. What is it? Is it a bird, is it a plane, is it a drag queen.' The ensuing tabloid frenzy with the 'Is it a boy, is it a girl' headlines gave the song all the publicity it needed and it zoomed to the top of the charts."