Urgh! A Music War

For Serbian grindcore/alternative rock band, see URGH! (band).
Urgh! A Music War
Directed by Derek Burbidge
Produced by Michael White
Edited by Jim Elderton
Distributed by Filmways (1981, original)
Warner Bros. (2009, DVD)
Release dates
  • May 1982 (1982-05)

VHS/Betamax 1985 (CBS/Fox Video #7720)
(US home release)

Running time
122 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Urgh! A Music War is a British film released in 1982 featuring performances by punk rock, new wave, and post-punk acts, filmed in 1980. Among the artists featured in the movie are Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD), Magazine, The Go-Go's, Toyah Willcox, The Fleshtones, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, X, XTC, Devo, The Cramps, Oingo Boingo, Dead Kennedys, Gary Numan, Klaus Nomi, Wall of Voodoo, Pere Ubu, Steel Pulse, Surf Punks, 999, UB40, Echo & the Bunnymen and The Police. These were many of the most popular groups on the New Wave scene; in keeping with the spirit of the scene, the film also features several less famous acts, and one completely obscure group, Invisible Sex, in what appears to be their single public outing.

Original release

Urgh! A Music War consists of a series of performances, without narration or explanatory text. All performances are live, recorded around 1980, mainly in England and the USA. Clips were also taken from a concert in Fréjus, Var, France with The Police, XTC, Skafish and UB40 among others.

In 1981, a year before release of the film, A&M Records released a double-album soundtrack. The selection of songs was almost the same as the film, but there were a few minor changes and several acts featured in the film did not make it to the album (Dead Kennedys, John Cooper Clarke, Chelsea, Surf Punks, Invisible Sex, Splodgenessabounds).

Subsequent distribution

Urgh! A Music War was briefly released to theatres by Filmways Pictures, but acquired a cult following in the United States in the 1980s due to its frequent showings on USA Network. It aired on VH1 Classic on 30 October 2006 as part of its Rock and Roll Picture series. The film has been released on videocassette, LaserDisc, and as of the present time, on DVD.

The film rights are owned by both its original producer, Miles Copeland III (founder of IRS Records), and Warner Bros. Pictures (successor-in-interest to production company Lorimar). However, the rights to distribute the film on electronic media have been, until recently, mired in red tape. A popular theory was that the rights were "lost" as a result of the collapse of the failed CED or SelectaVision videodisc format – to promote the adoption of the format, RCA reportedly purchased exclusive rights to Urgh! such that it could not appear on any other media without re-negotiation. When Thomson Electronics acquired RCA, SelectaVision was a dead issue for them.

The more likely scenario is that much like other films from the 1970s and 1980s, the original contracts covering the artists and songs in the film only covered existing media, and that all those details would have to be renegotiated for any new media such as CDs, DVDs, or mp3 downloading. Naturally, with the large number of labels and publishers controlling the material, combined with the increased value of the music, to reclear the performances would be extremely cost-prohibitive and time-consuming. It is rumored that three songs from each band were filmed and saved during the editing process and that Copeland has these in storage. There is the potential for a six-hour special edition, possibly containing over 100 songs, should Copeland and Warner Bros. decide to release it later. At least one extra song from these recordings, "Imposter" by Oingo Boingo, is circulating as a bootleg.

Exhibition rights were retained by Copeland, and Urgh! has been shown on TV numerous times, including recent airings on VH1 and various cable-only channels. As the film prints aged and songs became damaged, airings were often edited to remove damaged songs. In some cases, additional material not filmed for the movie was added to fill space. In particular, Night Flight aired a heavily augmented version of the movie spread out over an entire night on several occasions. This included additional material by Wall of Voodoo, The Cramps and Alley Cats that were not filmed for the movie, as well as other bands that were popular at the time. Notably missing from almost all recent broadcasts is the Gary Numan song "Down in the Park."

Other portions of Urgh! appear elsewhere in film and video: The Klaus Nomi clip "Total Eclipse" appears in the 2004 documentary The Nomi Song, and details of its filming are discussed. The 1982 documentary The Police: Around The World was also filmed by Derek Burbidge and features footage used in Urgh! as well as other footage filmed at the same concert. Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation" footage was used in the 2003 Blackheart Records DVD release of "Real Wild Child" Video Anthology. "Bad Reputation" (Audio only) was also issued on Blackheart Records 2006's Reissue of "Flashback".

In addition to recent cable showings, some remaining intact prints of the movie have toured the USA in recent years (one tour sponsored by the humor periodical The Onion), and video showings in clubs and film houses have sparked a resurgence of interest in the film, which resulted in a DVD release by Warner Bros. as part of its "Warner Archive" series of DVD issues of their lesser-known titles from the WB vaults. It is now available via the WB website.

Official DVD release

In August 2009, Warner Archive released an official DVD-R of the movie, which is burned on a made-to-order basis.[1] As noted on the Warner Archive Website, the movie has not been remastered or restored, but is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio widescreen format. There is a trailer included, which is the only feature other than the film itself. There are no chapter indexes for the individual tracks, but rather 10-minute chapters. Splodgenessabounds' performance of "Two Little Boys" is omitted from the DVD, with the other original performances remaining. The DVD is for US distribution only.

Track listing

  1. Opening credits
  2. The Police "Driven to Tears"
  3. Wall of Voodoo "Back in Flesh"
  4. Toyah Willcox "Dance"
  5. John Cooper Clarke "Health Fanatic"
  6. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark "Enola Gay"
  7. Chelsea "I'm on Fire"
  8. Oingo Boingo "Ain't This the Life"
  9. Echo & the Bunnymen "The Puppet"
  10. Jools Holland "Foolish I Know"
  11. XTC "Respectable Street"
  12. Klaus Nomi "Total Eclipse"
  13. Athletico Spizz 80 "Clocks are Big; Machines are Heavy/Where's Captain Kirk?"
  14. The Go-Go's "We Got the Beat"
  15. Dead Kennedys "Bleed for Me"
  16. Steel Pulse "Ku Klux Klan"
  17. Gary Numan "Down in the Park"
  18. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts "Bad Reputation"
  19. Magazine "Model Worker"
  20. Surf Punks "My Beach"
  21. The Members "Offshore Banking Business"
  22. Au Pairs "Come Again"
  23. The Cramps "Tear It Up"
  24. Invisible Sex "Valium"
  25. Pere Ubu "Birdies"
  26. Devo "Uncontrollable Urge"
  27. The Alley Cats "Nothing Means Nothing Anymore"
  28. John Otway "Cheryl's Going Home"
  29. Gang of Four "He'd Send in the Army"
  30. 999 "Homicide"
  31. The Fleshtones "Shadowline"
  32. X "Beyond and Back"
  33. Skafish "Sign of the Cross"
  34. Splodgenessabounds "Two Little Boys"
  35. UB40 "Madame Medusa"
  36. The Police "Roxanne"
  37. The Police "So Lonely"
  38. Klaus Nomi "Aria" ("Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix" from Camille Saint-Saëns' opera Samson and Delilah) (End credits)

Original soundtrack LP and cassette track listing

The original 1981 soundtrack was released as both a double LP (A&M SP-6019 in the U.S., SP 96019 in Canada, and AMLM 66019 in Europe) and double cassette (CS-6019 in the U.S.). Each contained the following track listing:

Side 1

  1. The Police – "Driven to Tears"
  2. Wall of Voodoo – "Back in Flesh"
  3. Toyah Wilcox – "Dance"
  4. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – "Enola Gay"
  5. Oingo Boingo – "Ain't This the Life"
  6. XTC – "Respectable Street"

Side 2

  1. The Members – "Offshore Banking Business"
  2. Go-Go's – "We Got the Beat"
  3. Klaus Nomi – "Total Eclipse"
  4. Althletico Spizz '80 – "Where's Captain Kirk"
  5. Alley Cats – "Nothing Means Nothing Anymore"
  6. Jools Holland – "Foolish I Know"
  7. Steel Pulse – "Ku Klux Klan"

Side 3

  1. Devo – "Uncontrollable Urge"
  2. Echo and the Bunnymen – "The Puppet"
  3. The Au Pairs – "Come Again"
  4. The Cramps – "Tear It Up"
  5. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – "Bad Reputation"
  6. Pere Ubu – "Birdies"
  7. Gary Numan – "Down in the Park"

Side 4

  1. Fleshtones – "Shadow Line"
  2. Gang of Four – "He'd Send in the Army"
  3. John Otway – "Cheryl's Going Home"
  4. 999 – "Homicide"
  5. X – "Beyond and Back"
  6. Magazine – "Model Worker"
  7. Skafish – "Sign of the Cross"

According to the official site of Toyah Willcox, the artist was credited incorrectly with ‘Toyah Wilcox’ as artist (instead of ‘Toyah’, the name of the band she was fronting at that time) and the song incorrectly titled ‘Dance’ instead of ‘Danced’.[2]

CD Track Listing

At some later date, presumably in the 1980s, the soundtrack was released on CD (A&M CD 6019 in the U.S.). The accompanying booklet states, "This is an abridged version of the original album and cassette releases." The disc omits six performances: those by Toyah Wilcox, The Members, Althletico Spizz '80, Alley Cats, The Au Pairs, and John Otway.

The track listing for the CD is:

  1. The Police – "Driven to Tears"
  2. Wall of Voodoo – "Back in Flesh"
  3. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – "Enola Gay"
  4. Oingo Boingo – "Ain't This the Life"
  5. XTC – "Respectable Street"
  6. Go Go's – "We Got the Beat"
  7. Klaus Nomi – "Total Eclipse"
  8. Jools Holland – "Foolish I Know"
  9. Steel Pulse – "Ku Klux Klan"
  10. Devo – "Uncontrollable Urge"
  11. Echo and the Bunnymen – "The Puppet"
  12. The Cramps – "Tear It Up"
  13. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – "Bad Reputation"
  14. Pere Ubu – "Birdies"
  15. Gary Numan – "Down in the Park"
  16. The Fleshtones – "Shadow Line" (listed as "Shadow-line.")
  17. Gang of Four – "He'd Send in the Army"
  18. 999 – "Homicide"
  19. X – "Beyond and Back"
  20. Magazine – "Model Worker"
  21. Skafish – "Sign of the Cross"


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