Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Warner Archive Grab Bag - URGH! A MUSIC WAR ""

Monday, October 13, 2014

Warner Archive Grab Bag - URGH! A MUSIC WAR

Way back when I was first working at a video store during my high school years (I worked for the now defunct corporate behemoth) I spent a lot of my time putting VHS tapes back on our rental shelves. It was an interesting exercise in learning where different kinds of movies belonged as we had many different sections. One section that befuddled me at the time was our "Music" section. I can't recall if we had it mixed with the documentaries and stuff, all under the banner of "Special Interest", but we had several titles in this category. What confused me (at the time, keep in mind I was a dumb high school kid) was why someone would want to rent a tape of a concert performance. I had only been to a few concerts in my life at that point, so watching a recording of one sounded about as interesting as watching golf on television to me. I hadn't fully embraced music at that point and the concerts I had been to weren't the transcendent experiences I had been led to believe they could be. The music/concert tapes didn't get too much action at the suburban Madison Wisconsin location where I was working so I think I assumed my theory was being reenforced. A few years later, I transferred to our on-campus location(the campus being that of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I went to college). We had a much more diverse music section there and those titles got much more action amongst our clientele. I think it was there that I first watched Talking Heads' STOP MAKING SENSE. That was one of the concert films that turned me around. I mean, I was aware of things like WOODSTOCK on VHS and I was even into several of those bands, but it never blew me away outside of the number of great acts that played there and the historical "event" status of the thing. STOP MAKING SENSE though was another thing entirely for me. At first, I found myself migrating to the music section when I would open the video store on weekends. It was nice to have some tunes playing while I did my pre-opening prep. I think that's how I stumbled across STOP MAKING SENSE. It became a semi-regularly go-to for me in the AM. It was vibrant and alive in a way that was different from any other concert film I had sampled. This no doubt had something to do with Jonathan Demme being behind the camera of course. Also, the music was just so infectious.
So I don't ever remember seeing or hearing of URGH! until Warner Archive released it on DVD in 2009 (it was one of their earliest titles). It had apparently developed a significant cult following over the years due in part to numerous airings on The USA Network in the 1980s (the film also did see releases on Videocassette and Laserdisc which certainly allowed for more people to find it). When I finally got around to seeing it, it floored me. Not quite in the same way STOP MAKING SENSE had years earlier, but I was floored by the sheer magnitude and breadth of amazing bands that appear as part of the film. Not only that, but the mix of punk rock, post-punk, and new wave acts put it pretty squarely in my musical wheelhouse. Among the artists featured in the movie are The PoliceThe Go-Go's, The Fleshtones, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, X,XTC, Devo, The Cramps, Oingo Boingo, Dead Kennedys, Gary Numan, Wall of Voodoo, Pere Ubu, UB40, Echo & the BunnymenGang of Four  and more. It's a pretty remarkable spectacle and an amazing mix tape of great music to boot. What's interesting too is that the performances by bands you know well aren't necessarily them playing their most well-known songs. For instance, the movie opens with the Police playing "Driven To Tears", which is certainly a song people know, but not necessarily the one you'd expect (though they are featured playing "Roxanne" later). Even when the band performing is playing a popular track from their oeuvre, these live versions have such a neat energy to them that it is a beautiful thing to behold. For instance, when the Go-Gos play their classic tune "We Got the Beat", it is even more infectious than ever before. 
All in all, it is nearly two hours of music. Here is the full track listing to give you a sense of all that's here:
1. The Police – "Driven to Tears"
2. Wall of Voodoo – "Back in Flesh"
3. Toyah Willcox – "Dance"
4. John Cooper Clarke – "Health Fanatic"
5. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – "Enola Gay"
6. Chelsea – "I'm on Fire"
7. Oingo Boingo – "Ain't This the Life"
8. Echo & the Bunnymen – "The Puppet"
9. Jools Holland – "Foolish I Know"
10. XTC – "Respectable Street"
11. Klaus Nomi – "Total Eclipse"
12. Athletico Spizz 80 – "Clocks are Big; Machines are Heavy/Where's Captain Kirk?"
13, The Go-Go's – "We Got the Beat"
14. Dead Kennedys – "Bleed for Me"
15. Steel Pulse – "Ku Klux Klan"
16. Gary Numan – "Down in the Park"
17. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts – "Bad Reputation"
18. Magazine – "Model Worker"
19. Surf Punks – "My Beach"
20. The Members – "Offshore Banking Business"
21. Au Pairs – "Come Again"
22. The Cramps – "Tear It Up"
23. Invisible Sex – "Valium"
24. Pere Ubu – "Birdies"
25. Devo – "Uncontrollable Urge"
26. The Alley Cats – "Nothing Means Nothing Anymore"
27. John Otway – "Cheryl's Going Home"
28. Gang of Four – "He'd Send in the Army"
29. 999 – "Homicide"
30. The Fleshtones – "Shadowline"
31. X – "Beyond and Back"
32. Skafish – "Sign of the Cross"
33. UB40 – "Madame Medusa"
34. The Police – "Roxanne"
35. The Police – "So Lonely"
36. Klaus Nomi – "Aria" ("Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix" from Camille Saint-Saëns' opera Samson and Delilah) (End credits)

There is one song omitted from the Warner Archive release and it is Splodgenessabounds' performance of their song "Two Little Boys" (it originally fell between the Skafish and UB40 performances). Here is that excised song:

And here is the original trailer for URGH!:
URGH! can be purchased via Warner Archive here:

(and BTW, they are having a 5 for $50 sale at the moment...)


Hal said...

This really brings back memories, of seeing this on PreVue late at night in those early days of cable boxes (before they were bought out by OnTV). Loved seeing this turn up, and it frequently did.

Rupert Pupkin said...

very cool Hal, I wish I'd seen it then, would have blown my mind!