A Young Person’s Guide To: Urgh! A Music War [part 1]

Lux Interior of The Cramps , the pre-Gator-Grip® years…

Lux Interior of The Cramps , the pre-Gator-Grip® years…

Back in 1981, the Copeland’s IRS Records/FBI empire reached its fullest flowering with the ambitious “Urgh! A Music War” project. The film/double album featured every band the consortium managed or released. Between IRS Records and Frontier Booking International, almost everyone who was anyone in New Wave had to give the Copelands a cut of the take! The film was under the radar until the advent of home video make it widely available in your local hamlet, but the album was readily accessible at most outlets.

A+M Records | US | 2xLP | 1981 | SP-6019

A+M Records | US | 2xLP | 1981 | SP-6019

Various Artists: Urgh! A Music War U 2xLP [1981]

  1. The Police – Driven to Tears
  2. Wall of Voodoo – Back in Flesh
  3. Toyah Willcox – Danced
  4. OMD – Enola Gay
  5. Oingo Boingo – Ain’t This the Life
  6. XTC – Respectable Street
  7. The Members – Offshore Banking Business
  8. The Go-Go’s – We Got the Beat
  9. Klaus Nomi – Total Eclipse
  10. Athletico Spizz ’80 – Where’s Captain Kirk?
  11. The Alley Cats – Nothing Means Nothing Anymore
  12. Jools Holland – Foolish I Know
  13. Steel Pulse – Ku Klux Klan
  14. Devo – Uncontrollable Urge
  15. Echo + The Bunnymen – The Puppet
  16. Au Pairs – Come Again
  17. The Cramps – Tear It Up
  18. Joan Jett + The Blackhearts – Bad Reputation
  19. Pere Ubu – Birdies
  20. Gary Numan – Down in the Park
  21. The Fleshtones – Shadow Line
  22. Gang of Four – He’d Send In The Army
  23. John Otway – Cheryl’s Going Home
  24. 999 – Homocide
  25. X – Beyond + Back
  26. Magazine – Model Worker
  27. Skafish – Sign Of The Cross

Phew! That’s a fairly deep and wide sample of the various tribes of New Wave as they existed both in the UK and the US circa 1980. The Police were among the first New Wave bands to cross over to the big money mainstream. Especially in America, where they were probably second in line following The Cars. They were on the cusp of becoming the biggest band in the world at the time of filming. They split in 1986 only to reform in 2008 for a massively-grossing one-off tour that was a license to print money. Their breakthrough “Zenyatta Mondatta” album captured the band at their peak in 1980 before Sting’s ego hijacked the group to a subsidiary role.

L.A. New Wave Noir band Wall Of Voodoo had their biggest hit the year after this film was released. Often lazily compared to DEVO, Stan Ridgeway’s songs were miles more literate. He specialized in portraits of desperate characters in difficult circumstances. After two albums with them, he split for the lucrative solo career. That’s a joke [albeit deadpan].

Toyah-WilcoxUK actress/singer Toyah specialized in a uneasy blend of hippie/prog/proto-goth influences mated with post-punk pop. She’s possibly the strangest artist I collect. I find about a third of catalog genuinely good with the rest all over the place. Still active, she’s more of a “TV presenter” these days and divides the rest of her time between theatre and the concert stage. She’s also Mrs. Robert Fripp.

OMD, the seminal technopop group, hit it big across Europe with the single “Enola Gay” in 1980. Their US fortunes would climb by 1985-87 with top 40 hits. They split in 1988 into two factions, but have since triumphantly reformed for concerts, arts commissions, and a mostly great new album. Their second new album with the original lineup is currently being finished off.

oingo-2The horn driven Oingo Boingo from L.A. evolved from the Mystic Knights Of The Oingo Boingo avant-garde theatrical troup that singer Danny Elfman’s older brother Richard had formed earlier. They split after Danny Elfman became a much-in-demand soundtrack composer. The first three albums are the goods, with the band’s artistic fortunes going south after a dalliance with, wait for it, John Hughes.

The post-punk pop meisters XTC let it rip with a classic track from “Black Sea” here from back in the days before singer Andy Partridge’s nervous breakdown effectively ended XTC’s live career in 1982. The band had one more tour [almost] left in them for their “English Settlement” album.

The Members were a reggae-punk hybrid band who had their biggest succcess in the States in 1982 year with their hit “Working Girl.” They broke up soon afterward but reconvened in 2009 to release “International Financial Crisis,” a re-write of the song featured here.

GoGo'sThe Go-Gos were America’s second platinum-selling New Wave band following The Cars. In 1981 you had The Cars, The Police, and these women selling New Wave product in platinum numbers, and few others I could name. The Go-Gos broke down lots of barriers that shouldn’t have existed by 1980 for Women In Rock. They broke up after three albums but reform on occasion. They were opening up for the police when they ascended to #1 in the charts with the song here. Old timers will remember their debut 45 on UK Stiff records!

klaus2Klaus Nomi was a remarkably eccentric performer with a multi-octave range was among the first to die from AIDS in 1983. At the time, the disease was so unknown that New Wave mag Trouser Press said he’d died of an overdose of Ayds Diet Candy!  There exists a spellbinding documentary on his art called “The Nomi Song” that was released in 2004 to supplement the scant two albums of material the singer recorded during his lifetime.

Kenneth Spiers’ band was roughly named after him [Athletico Spizz ’80 here] and changed their name each year of its existence. They were known as: Spizz 77, Spizz Oil, Athletico Spizz Co.,Athletico Spizz ‘80, Spizzles, Spizzenergi 2, Spizz before ultimately breaking up.

The Alley Cats were an obscure L.A. group apparently produced two albums that are hard to find. I have to say that listening to this track really makes me want to hear more, but this material is no easy to dig up. A large chunk of my problem back when, was the name of the group made them seem like yet another of the wave of UK rockabillies who followed in The Stray Cats wake ca. 1981 or so, when they were the furthest thing from that. Their taut New Wave is much more distinctive.

Jools Holland was the keyboardist for Squeeze had gone solo at this point with a program of boogie-woogie piano tunes. He would later rejoin squeeze when they reformed but would reach his greatest fame as a UK “TV presenter” and host of his own music show. He’s close to being a household name in the UK after 25+ years of being on TV there in one capacity or another.

Birmingham UK roots reggae band Steel Pulse have been going strong for 37 years! The song here is their debut single, released in 1978 for Island Records. DEVO are a seminal proto-post-punk Akron band who had long combined a flair for theatrical satire
with industrialized rock music. Amazingly, they had a top 10 hit in 1980 but faded away by 1988. They have reformed in 2009 and are still active after releasing a new album for Warner Brothers.

Liverpudlian “neo-psychedelia” act Echo + The Bunnymen owed a lot to The Doors and ultimately covered “People Are Strange” with Ray “Paycheck” Manzarek guesting on keys. A little of their material went a long way with me, with their “Ocean Rain” period sitting very well with me. I have only a single CD by Echo + The Bunnymen, [JPN comp “Live + Rare”] but should have more. Ironically, I have the band’s post-split Electrafixion CD, which I enjoyed at the time. They were one of the earliest bands to reform after splitting up.

AupairsThe Au Pairs were a feminist post-punk band released just two albums before splitting up prior to the recording of a mooted third album. I used to see their album in the import bins all of the time, but never bit. Now, I’d buy it in a heartbeat, if I saw it. Amazingly, they are among only a handful of the bands here to have never reformed. Singer Lesley Woods became a lawyer and apparently couldn’t be bothered.

The Cramps were rockabilly degenerates who defined a new æsthetic template for the wave of “Psychobilly” bands who followed in their wake. Singer Lux Interior died tragically in Feb. 2009 of an aortic dissection and has been deeply missed. He was irreplaceable.

Joan Jett was a member of The Runaways, one of the earlier all-woman rock bands (sorry, Go-Gos) who struck out on her own and within a year of this album was on top of the charts with her second album, “I Love Rock & Roll.”

Pere Ubu were yet another seminal proto-post-punk Akron band who would break up in 1982 only to reform in 1988
and continue onward. Singer Dave Thomas was also known as Crocus Behemoth, and is one of the few Jehovah’s Witness rock stars.

Gary Numan did much to popularize synthesizers in post-punk rock, where they were ofter verboten due to the unwholesome “prog rock” associations they carried. He was very strongly influenced by Ultravox and David Bowie at the time of this appearance. Now, he has more in common with NIN, sadly.

The Fleshtones were a New York band vital to setting the tone for the second wave of Garage Rock that’s lasted from the late 70s through today. They’re still plugging away at their cherished blend of sweat and soul.

Leeds-based Gang Of Four were a post-punk funk band who specialized in a brittle, Marxist funk sound that proved to be very influential. They have played intermittently from the time of their formation all the way to the present with occasional lapses with many different lineups.

John-OtwayJohn Otway [often paired with Wild Willy Barrett] is self-deprecating eccentric who’s still at it, pouring his heart into his music before an often uncaring world. He has also penned an autobiography, “Cor Baby, That’s Really Me! [Rock & Roll’s Greatest Failure].” I am in fact, obsessed by his 1980 single “DK 50/80.” I’ve almost never heard anything as reckless, exciting and experimental as that song. [Memo to self – I need a copy of that 7″!]

999 were another UK punk-era band that has basically kept at it with a few short breaks, all the way to the present. Their track “Homicide” is what they’re still known best for, with dozens of compilation appearances to keep the band solvent.

X were a L.A. “punk” band who were among the first of their ilk signed to a major label when Elektra picked them up after two acclaimed indie albums. They always failed to meet expectations and have soldiered onward, breaking up and reforming to this day. In spite of the great charm of guitarist Billy Zoom, I always found them hard to stomach. Particularly the off key wailing of vocalist Exene.

On of my absolute favorite groups on this album were Magazine, the seminal UK post-punk band who recorded 5 albums before breaking up in 1981. Singer Howard Devoto released only 4 albums since then but in 2009, Magazine reformed for concerts and an excellent new album.

SkafishJim Skafish is a Chicago eccentric who had really toned down his performing style by the time of this appearance. Known for his Brobdingnagian proboscis as well as his penchant for astonishingly ill-advised drag garb, he produced a classic album of Catholic damaged angst on his debut and one more much more well-behaved followup before retreating to become a music teacher. He releases Christmas albums today! I really need to remaster his two albums, now that I finally have both.

Next: The many competing formats…

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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6 Responses to A Young Person’s Guide To: Urgh! A Music War [part 1]

  1. chas_m says:

    I am, needless to say, really going to enjoy this series.


  2. Echorich says:

    Excellent! Urgh! A Music War seemed like a vindication of my musical taste at the time. Some of it was obvious and I had moved on from – GoGo’s, Toyah, Joan Jett and Fleshtones – but some were deeply important to me and still are – Echo, XTC, Gang of Four, Magazine, Gary Numan (yes it is VERY hard now).


  3. Zach says:

    I finally watched Urgh! A Music War for the first time this past August. I actually checked out a copy of the Warner Archives DVD-R from my library. It was so great, I watched it twice! The only performances I absolutely loathed were Chelsea, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Dead Kennedys, and X. It’s hard for me to single out my favorite performance, what with Toyah’s messianic aerobics routine, Klaus Nomi in his prime, David Thomas of Pere Ubu having a spastic fit, John Cooper Clarke punctuating his poetry with beat box-esque noises, Andy Partridge of XTC jazzing up the crowd with his infectious enthusiasm (Watching this, you’d never know he suffered from stage fright), and Gary Numan driving his intergalactic go-kart across the stage, among other highlights. I picked up the double LP this summer, too for $ 9.99


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Zach – Wow! Your library ordered the DVD-R of “Urgh! A Music War?” That’s dedication! We should be thankful that Warner Archives has put that out there. It’s an amazing time capsule and proof that the Copelands had a finger in almost every pie at the time.


      • Zach says:

        I found Urgh via the online library catalog to which my local library belongs. If the catalog listing is any indication, Urgh is a very popular item, as it’s checked out at least once a month (DVDs are available for 1-week periods, with up to 2 renewals permitted).

        I will be over the moon if Urgh ever receives a proper remastered DVD/Blu-ray release, with loads of extras. If all parties involved can agree to terms and money, it’d be amazing to have each band’s complete set, along with audio commentaries, interviews, and other goodies. Granted, that would all probably require a 4-6 disc box, but one can dream, right?

        Did you know that Human League was slated to perform at the 08/16/80 Santa Monica Civic Auditorium show? This article (http://nightflight.com/war-and-punk-behind-the-lines-at-the-80s-music-doc-urgh/) from Night Flight (a successor to the original 80s show from USA Network) has a clipping that lists Human League mark I among the 5 groups for the second Santa Monica concert. Talk about a missed opportunity! It would have been incredible to see one of their performances captured in the film!


        • postpunkmonk says:

          Zach – Thanks for the Night Flight “Urgh!” revelation! I consider myself lucky just to have gotten the Russell Mulcahy directed “Circus of Death” video on the JPN Human League video album! A full on “Urgh!” release would require enormous amounts of money, but run it as a Pledge Music campaign with the set going for at least $100 and maybe we’re talking.


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