Urgh! A Music War (1981) Poster

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EL BUNCHO3 January 2002
I am now 36 years old and grew up during the disco era, a time formerly considered to be the worst ever in popular music. Since I couldn't deal with the constant disco, I turned to '50's oldies and the emerging punk/new wave scene to save my musical sanity. During that time, I bought the soundtrack album to URGH! and loved nearly every second of it. However, the film itself never played near me, even at the local "oddball" theater and so I assumed that it was doomed to languish in obscurity.

Skip ahead to 1985 and the late, lamented NIGHT FLIGHT program that ran on the USA network on weekend late-nights. NIGHT FLIGHT ran tons of off the wall movies and music shows that were clearly geared for a late-high school and college age audience who more than likely did a lot of drugs. They surprised the hell out of me and my stoner pals by announcing "Up next: the strange world of the punk and new wave scene with URGH! A MUSIC WAR!" I took off like a shot (knocking over the bong and royally pissing off my dorm mates) for the campus store to obtain a blank video tape, and made it back with about two minutes to spare. The trip was worth it, as I witnessed live performances of 32 (!!!) different bands, quite a few of whom I already loved and several more that I discovered that night.

The film chronicles performances from the US and Europe during 1980/81 and though fun, the results are wildly uneven. Here's the bottom line on acts you should not miss: Devo (turning in a kickass version of "Uncontrollable Urge" which really captures how hard they rocked in those days), the Go-Gos (before their first album came out, and when Belinda Carlisle was still chunky doing "We Got the Beat"), Joan Jett (burning up the screen with "Bad Reputation" in her pre-weight loss, pre- "I Love Rock 'N' Roll" days), The Cramps (will Lux Interior's johnson flop out of his silver stretch-pants while performing "Tear It Up"?), Oingo Boingo (turning in an absolutely electrifying version of "Ain't This the Life?" in which Danny Elfmman looks both insane and possessed), Skafish (doing "Sign of the Cross" and featuring Jim Skafish, perhaps the ugliest frontman ever), the Dead Kennedys ( a great rendition of "Bleed For Me"), Klaus Nomi (hands-down the strangest act in this flick, and that's really saying something. He performs "Total Eclipse" in a shattering falsetto, complete with Teutonic accent, and a spaceman/mime/drag queen outfit), XTC ("Respectable Street" as it was truly meant to be heard), X ("Beyond and Back"), 999 ("Homicide"), Magazine ("Model Worker"), Steel Pulse ("Ku Klux Klan") and UB40 (doing the unjustly forgotten "Madame Medusa").

There is a lot of filler and crap, but that may just be my opinion; you may dig the the stuff I hate, so who knows? If you can find this, rent it and sit back for a unique time capsule of the early '80's when pop music made it's last stand to be interesting.
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Found out why there's no Urgh! A Music War DVD yet...(read on)
billjsw26 March 2006
Because of an exclusive contract to publish this movie on a now dead format (CED), the contracts for the individual artists are missing. Because you can't renegotiate a contract without the original to amend, no one can touch this. Its currently owned by its original producer, Miles Copeland (founder of IRS records), and he has the film of THREE songs from each band in storage, but because of the legal land lock he cannot release it. If he does some day, we can look forward to a 6 hour 2 DVD special edition.

Pretty sad to say the very least. We can only hope one day (soon) that the original contracts will be found as this will make a MAJOR DVD release!! Oh, human error!!
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one of the greatest rock and roll films ever made
theeht28 September 2000
From London to La, we are treated to some of rock's all-time greatest bands performing , unfortunately, one song each, during a great time in rock music: the post-punk era of the early '80s. You'll love some and you'll hate some, but you definitely won't be bored. Watch out for X, the go-gos, Echo and the Bunnymen, Oingo Boingo, Joan Jett, Cramps, Alley cats, Magazine, Au Pairs, Police, Wall of Voodoo, Fleshtones,999,XTC, Surf Punks and on and on and on. Great!
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musical history that needs repeating
John Frame7 November 2003
Update (written on 1st Oct '16): In late 2009 Warner Archives in the USA released a very high quality 16:9 (transferred from almost pristine film), glorious stereo, "burn on demand" single layer DVD edition of Urgh! The DVD is not quite perfect - there are just a few very minor split second, but noticeable, audio glitches. It would have been improved greatly if there were chapter marks at the start of each artist's performance (rather than every 10 minutes) and if a running order playlist was printed on the cover. The big advantage over all previous tape and LaserDisc editions is that the synch of video and audio is precise throughout (other editions had severe synch errors especially in both Pere Ubu and Devo - with the audio a full third of a second in advance of the video). The only artist missing from the Warner Archives DVD is Splodgeness Abounds, with their punk version of the Rolf Harris ditty "Two Little Boys" (no great loss). This is likely to be the only version ever released on digital and it is 99% of everything I could have hoped for. NB: because this is a 16:9 transfer from original film we get more information left and right than was shown in any of the 4:3 versions (tape or LaserDisc), and what is cropped slightly from the top and bottom of the film frame is worth the sacrifice.

My original 2003 review. comment was:

Urgh! is the finest ever collection of alternative music performance, by artists at the prime of their stage careers.

An important and lasting legacy of Urgh! was that it brought some previously unknown bands to the attention of a much broader audience than would ever have been possible otherwise. I'm referring here to acts such as Skafish, (the late) Klaus Nomi, The Alley Cats, Gang Of Four, Pere Ubu, X and The Cramps.

No-one could fail to want more of The Cramps after seeing Lux Interior deepthroat his hi-ball mic, while barely staying in his pants. Jim Skafish's "Sign Of The Cross" is another highlight - as a blasphemous anthem of epic proportions.

There are only a few performances that I really thought were so-so (Chelsea, 999, John Otway, Invisible Sex); a few more were "good", but the vast majority were amazingly good.

Even on the poor quality transfer to LaserDisc you can appreciate that Urgh! was filmed with care and with genuine respect for the performers and the viewer really feels like part of the audience.

The bands all sound great - but strangely it's in mono on the LaserDisc & VHS, while the double album on vinyl is in extremely good stereo. So when someone finally gets around to doing it, surely there's a state-of-the-art DVD just begging to be mastered and released? And if a DVD does eventuate, let's hope they make up for the major failing of the LaserDisc, and include Wall Of Voodoo's "Back In Flesh".
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Sadly I am Only 14 and could not have seen this film.
Pete Laflame16 August 2005
I recently saw Urgh! A Music war and now I cannot watch it enough. I really only like a very few number of the bands. But what I do like, I like a lot.

My favorite of all is the all mighty Gary Numan. He is the best in every way (Music wise!). But do not misunderstand me I also really Like, Wall Of Voodoo, Chelsea, Oingo Boingo, Echo and The Bunnymen , XTC, (The Late) Klaus Nomi, Athletico Spizz 80, The Dead Kennedys, Members, Cramps, Pere Ubu, And Devo. The others I just go past.

I sadly as born in 1991 and only saw it because of me mum. For that I am so very happy. But I fear she has to take it back tomorrow. It is all I can do to stop myself from taking it and putting it where no one would ever look for a movie. I do not for me mum says she will re-rent it for me. That makes me so very happy.

About Klaus's song it is not called "Total Eclipse". The name is really "Aria From Samson & Delilah". He would later die of AIDS, on August 6th, 1983. Two year after this (The Movie) came out.

Now I can only hope for my own copy of this great Film.

, Pete Alphonse Lucien Laflamme
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way cool groovy
snowboarderbo8 December 2004
i remember being so impressed that someone had filmed the bands i was listening to as a kid.... i saw this movie in the theatre once and on cable about 400,000,000,000 times. I used to stay up and watch it on Night Flight (as so many others have mentioned) and it used to run on Showtime, HBO and Cinemax quite a bit back in the day. Awesome performances and a whole *@#$load of music that's all but been forgotten... like the best band and best performance in the movie (which thus far no one has mentioned): Gang of Four totally rocking out in London.

If you really want to treat yerself, i highly recommend finding a copy of this, but wait to watch it until you can go back-to-back with Decline of Western Civilization. Ah, what a great time to be alive that was :D

One of my favorite movies; I wish i could see it again (come on Rhino! save us from another pop diva and re-issue this film on DVD!)
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Must see for hardcore new wave fans
Marc Sparks28 August 2005
As everyone has already mentioned, you get over 30 performances, and at least half of them are classics. There are a few gems in the ones you've never heard of, and at least 5 or 10 you'll be wishing you had it on DVD so you could hit skip.

The highlights- Oingo Boingo does "Ain't This The Life" from their first EP. The song itself is kinda rare (unavailable on CD except for their live Farewell album), and I've never seen Elfman so manic. (Coked-up?) Wall Of Voodoo does "Back In Flesh" and gets a tiny skit as well. Gary Numan does "Down In The Park" while driving a neon tank. Devo does the always great "Uncontrollable Urge". XTC performs- well I can't remember, but it's rare enough just seeing them perform. Dead Kennedy's whip through "Bleed For Me", complete with typical Jello Biafra opening rant. Joan Jett SMOKES "Bad Reputation". Surf Punks do an amusing "My Beach". Lux Interior of the Cramps wears a nearly-criminal pair of leather pants and deep throats a microphone during- I forget what song, but it's good. Klaus Nomi is, well Klaus Nomi- you may hate it, but it sure isn't boring. And of the bands you've never heard of, you'll never forget Skafish's "Sign Of The Cross".

There are also good performances by Echo & The Bunnymen, OMD, The Police, Gang Of Four, X, Go-Go's, Magazine and a few others, but they never really stood out to me. I thought Pere Ubu's performance was substandard- I'm not a big fan, but I saw them once in the early 90's and they were great. Most of the unknown bands are just kind of dull, a few prove why they're unknown, like Athletico Spizz (or something like that- the one with the Silly String.) This is hard to find, but there are a lot of rental copies still floating around out there. I think it was on CBS/Fox video, so I don't know why it hasn't been put out on DVD.
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Before it was pop...
jeff6676 March 2001
An excellent picture of what the punk/new wave scene was before the sound got co-opted by the mainstream. The Devo live performance really rocks, and you get to see many smaller artists that got overlooked when this genre took over the top 40. It really shows you how much fun and interesting music can be when it isn't being pushed by big labels and a band's sound can be created naturally without pressure to meet a certain standard. Last I saw it aired on the Sundance Channel.
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Best of the punk & New Wave on one tape
icehole429 March 2001
Although it may seem dated now, in its time this was a collection of some of the best bands that were "out there," the most commercial being the Police and the Go-Go's. It also offers a very rare insight into seeing XTC live [which hasn't occurred since this video was released.]

Sadly impossible to find now, it was really worthwhile to see in the early 1980's. Maybe someone like Rhino will pick up on this and release it again...
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Those were the days
MarioB7 April 2000
By that time, my friends were listening to ugly music like Styx or Emerson Lake and Palmer. They thought I was kind of crazy to listen to X and the Cramps. I had also the big chance to have this film on tape. I also got the double LP of the music. Some of this stuff is still good to listen to (Wall of Voodoo, X, Fleshtones, Police, Cramps) but to see this film is also an incridible experience. See zany John Otway! But for me, the Cramps performance of Tear it up is one the greatest moment of pure rock and roll catch on film. And who was that strange girl of the Alley Cats? Who were the Alley Cats? Their song is amazing! Seems like all these people have a lot of fun back then.
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Excellent Documentary where the Live music performances speak for themselves
YourReporter4 June 2006
This is the ultimate rock movie. It shows how not all rock is about cars, chicks and having fun, it can be about psychosis, political commitment, alienation and all other aspects covered by traditional arts.

This makes the movie rather deep; although some performances are rather shallow, the diversity of artistic directions are undeniable, and makes for a great experience and recurring afterthought.

The level of experimenting is intense, from the psychotics of Pere Ubu and John Cooper Clarke, via the eerie sceneries of Gary Numan and Gang of Four, to the mutated rock of Devo and Klaus Nomi. A must-see.

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Someone needs to get this out on DVD
boheme618 December 2005
This movie is spectacular! It is a perfect snapshot of the post-punk/new-wave movement in the early 80's. Great performances by some well-known artists when they were still newcomers, and some other interesting bands that never quite made it.

I had somehow not heard of this movie until it was long out of print - and it took a great deal of searching to track it down, but was well worth it. Seeing the Police, Devo, Gary Numan, Echo & The Bunnymen, X and all the other artists in their younger days is just amazing.

Someone needs to sort out the legal crap and get this remastered and issued on DVD. It's way too hard to find it used or bootlegged - but it's too much a piece of music history to just disappear on worn-out VHS tapes.
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A classic and I hope it's released on DVD some day
I think this rates higher than the collective score, but that's just my opinion. The previous comments from The Police fan aside, this is a great collection of live performances. I like The Police, but if it weren't included on URGH! it would be fine by me. It does look dated, but so do performances by Elvis and The Beatles and nobody complains about that. It's worth looking at again if you've seen it and seeing for the first time if you haven't. If you like the New-Wave-Post-Punk world of the early 80's I think you will rate it higher. The Fleshtones, Echo & The Bunnyman, Wall of Voodoo, Devo, Gary Numan and OMD are favourites of mine. The Cramps are a must see. I've seen them live and they are ultra weird and great performers. From what I remember, the soundtrack has more songs than the movie did, but I may be mistaken.
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It's all crystal balls at IRS records (the police)
davcrist18 January 2000
Fun to witness so many great and green acts in concerts ranging from 78-80. Its not a case of documentary movie making at its best - its a case of knowing what to film at the time. Kind of a Video-Montose67 for the 80's. Stewart Copeland and his brothers pick'm and I'm not sure how they missed the Dickies while getting the Dead Kennedys, Oingo, the Surf Punks, and the Cramps (boy, he loved his microphone). Pere Ubu - Birdies! As fun as it was in its day (81) its ten times that in retrospect.
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I'm lucky enough to have this on tape..
knowjack19 November 1999
It aired on the late, great, NIGHT FLIGHT on USA back in the 80's. It's fun to watch and see who is still kicking around. The highlight is the Go Go's with a very young Belinda Carlisle looking all chubby and tough with her peroxided short punk hair. I recommend it to anyone interested in punk and early 80's music. Well worth searching for.
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One of my faves
Smil-314 July 1999
Managed to buy the video from local vid store, and I watch this again every few months. Great performances by a who's who of late-70s/early-80s new wave/no wave acts. Esp. enjoy Klaus Nomi, the Cramps, XTC...
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This was my introduction to New Wave and Punk music.
jessie-118 January 1999
This movie introduced me to the New Wave and Punk genres of music during the 1980's. When I originally viewed this movie in a theater (at a midnight showing), I was amazed by the talent and originality of these musicians and artists. Practically every notable band of that era was featured. Many of these performers are still producing great work with either their original bands or as solo artists. Some have gone on to film and television music as well.

Unfortunately, this title is no longer in print. I highly recommend this film to people that are interested in the history of the New Wave and Punk genres. I would definitely buy this movie if it were reissued - preferably on DVD.
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The king of all concert films.
killer-robot!26 March 2009
Never has a concert film so perfectly captured a music scene. And since I am getting old, I will state that there will never be a need to capture any music scene again. Now get off my lawn you rotten kids with your American Idol and your whosits and whatsits. Grumble, grumble, cough, lousy kids.

The only thing holding this movie back is that it is too short. Oh sure, we have all heard the tales of footage involving three songs from each band. But, we will surely never see those performances due to music rights issues natch. Way to go music industry, keep shooting yourselves in the foot. I am just baffled by the fact that record companies can't figure out that if people can hear songs and they like those songs then they will buy those songs. Alas, even when people are buying songs the record companies still feel they are not making enough money. Grumble, grumble, cough, ahem, ack. Lousy record companies, get off my planet, ya no good, grumble, I'll teach you a lesson, grumble, rotten, grumble.

In summary, see this movie. If you can find it humans.
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After 10 years still my most prized musical possession.
Ratcaver26 March 2015
Over 10 years ago, when visiting a vinyl record convention, 14-year old me got talked into buying the soundtrack of this picture. It grew out to be my favourite record, containing many of my favourite artists and introducing a few more, all with excellent performances. Sometimes live records are just so much better than studio albums. Sadly, I do not live in the US, so it seemed near-impossible for me to ever lay my hands on a DVD (or even VHS) recording, but I somehow did. It was a copy of a copy of a copy, with some sound missing, but still glorious. I put it on in the background when having friends over or for some late-night watching. It's almost as if you're there, you can feel the energy of the bands and the audiences alike, and most of these performances are definitely of these bands in their prime. I've seen some of them live since, and it's just not the same. Some others never come to mainland Europe or have since passed away (Lux Interior!), so this remains a gem.
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A Music Fest
ed_white7223 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The first time I saw this movie, I could not believe that someone was actually cool enough to go to the trouble of filming all of these mostly unheard of bands. The result is a wonderfully eclectic collection of live music that is a treat. All of the bands represented, with the notable exception of The Police and Gary Numan, were at the time of it's filming, known only to a relative few. The music covers the spectrum from all out thrash punk to fringe new wave. There are bands who went on to becoming "known" such as The Go-Go's and X as well as many who were never heard of again but make no mistake about it, this film is a must-see for anyone who is a fan of music. Living in Oklahoma and being in my late teens when this film was released, I was not familiar with most of the bands but I became an instant fan of X, The Dead Kenedys, The Alley Cats, and John Cooper Clark after seeing them in this movie. As is the case with any compilation of this scope, there are going to be bands that make you wonder why they are there, but on the whole, it is a great film. I cherish my original VHS copy of the film that I found at a video store bargain bin and every once in a while when I need to get my blood pumping to "come on bleed" or laugh at the ingenious absurdity of The Cramps, I walk away smiling every time.
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Made me the Punk I am Today
oftend5 December 2007
In the 80s, there were some REALLY good movies about the underground music/art scene - Mondo New York, Decline of Western Civilization and Urgh! (just to name a few) but Urgh! takes the cake for me. I put it above the rest because it's all JUST about the music. No blah blah blah...no commercial bull flop - no NOTHING but music and some of the AMAZING musicians that were out performing at the time.

I did not like the Police getting 3 tracks however. That smacked of some favoritism but since they were the deep pockets at the time, anything less probably would have resulted in no movie at all. That's why God gave us the Fast Forward and Skip buttons I believe. LOL.

Watching this movie gives you a brief albeit somewhat lacking skim of the entire punk/new wave scene at the time, but given the ocean of music that was out there when I was a young pup, it's probably the best possible collaboration given the time and money available for production. It is a MUST VIEW for any music aficionado. Rapidly moving from Wall of Voodoo to Pere Ubu to XTC to OMD and on and on and on is like watching your young life go by (if you were born in the 60s *grin*) on Fast Forward and it is WONDERFUL! That said, it's heartbreaking now to see how young and talented all those folks were and how few remain relevant today...but music today is EXACTLY what Jello Biafra predicted in would be: "If you don't keep your eyes open...you'll be forced to buy skinny tie...pop bands". Well, the skinny ties are mostly gone - but today's bubblegum, idiotic pop music is all powerful and sickening - gone is the creative, roaring flame of the late 70s/early 80s music scene - replaced with vapidness like Britney Spears et al.

Urgh! was and still is a testament to what great music and culture are all about. It's an irreproducible miracle of the modern age and we will never see anything like it again short of a new age of enlightenment affecting all mankind. Find it! Watch it! PRESERVE it! COVET IT!! I give it two thumbs up, a snap, a circle twist and 4 zillion stars.
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A Musical Whitman's Sampler
Seamus282925 November 2007
I first became aware of this film,which received scattershot distribution via the midnight movie circuit back in the early 1980's. The film isn't a rockdoc (rock documentary,for the unschooled)so much, as it's a series of clips of various bands live in concert at various festivals & concerts. The Police open & close the film,and in between we are treated to the likes of Devo,The Dead Kennedy's,Magazine,Toyah Wilcox,The Surf Punks,etc. There are at least 2 versions of this film. The one I originally saw at that midnight screening ran over two hours. The version that got a brief release on VHS video ran a hair under two hours (I'm guessing at least one of the bands got left on the cutting room floor for the video release). Perhaps one day,there will be enough interest for a re-release of this great concert flick (I know enough kids who were not even born when it was briefly released that would flock to see it,or even rent it).
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They'll never do THIS again!
Gil-4414 September 2000
I revisited this movie 15 years after seeing it for the first time, and what a movie! Yeah, it's the Police, and Devo at the height of their powers and popularity (the excitement and newness is palpable); But it's also Klaus Nomi, Skafish (very Zappa-esque, "Sign of the Cross" indeed), your only chance to see Andy Partridge and XTC live (again, the excitement and sense of discovery is almost overwhelming--he stopped touring entirely shortly after due to stage-fright, but his almost manic delivery makes one wonder What If) as well as brief bright lights like Echo and the Bunnymen, Gary Neuman, AuPairs, and a surprisingly good live turn by the GoGos. I say they'll never do this again because record companies would never agree to such diverse rosters in the same film, and who would go see it when music no longer carries that sweet sense of discovery?
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Gloppy documentary with some intense musical moments
moonspinner5528 February 2007
Derek Burbidge helmed this document on various music groups of the early 1980s, many of whom (coincidentally or not) had a direct connection to the I.R.S. record label. Some of these acts went on to bigger and better things (Police, Joan Jett, Go-Go's), but most languished in obscurity (Wall of Voodoo, The Fleshtones, The Cramps, Gary Numan). This mixture of heavy-hitters, one-hit-wonders and underground stars should have resulted in a much edgier cinematic experience; instead, the film is far too long and full of peaks and valleys. Shot in a raw, muddy style, the movie was eclipsed visually by the slick music videos of MTV which exploded on the tube around this very same time. Still, it's a time-capsule relic worth revisiting for music buffs and aficionados of the bizarre. Fitfully interesting. **1/2 from ****
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The best of the 80's
spoonerisms25 October 2002
The 80's... a sad time for music, except for the best which are highlighted in this film. It is virtually impossible to find. Anyone who can is invited to email me! I still recall virtually every performance in this creme de la creme celebre of some of the best of the eighties artists.
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