Urgh A Music War is a 1981 British film featuring performances by punk rock, new wave, and post-punk acts, filmed in 1980. For me personally, the movie holds a special place in my heart as it provided me with a gateway to the new music that was sweeping over the UK and the USA, in the wake of punk.
Back in the early 70s, the Singapore government clamped down on the arts, labelling it “yellow culture” and therefore undesirable. Live rock music was banned in 1974 and the Ministry of Culture practiced an active censorship of pop culture. When punk emerged in the mid-70s, the authorities blocked releases by punk bands in Singapore. Suffice to say there was no rock music on TV either.
Thus, when I saw in the newspapers that Urgh A Music War was playing at the Rex Cinema, a relatively small theatre, I did not hesitate. The main attraction to me back then were The Police. Sting and company were one of the first newly styled rock bands that I had latched on too, together with the likes of The Jam and The Knack in 1979/80.
The movie was about two hours long and featured bands that I mostly had no clue about and styles of music that I was unfamiliar with. The Police opened the movie with “Driven to Tears” and it was a treat to finally watch them live, even if it was only on a movie screen.
The bands that followed made little impression until Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. That performance of “Enola Gay” blew my mind. I had not yet heard of synth-pop yet and it was a mind-ending experience.
This first exposure to electronic pop was cemented by the highlight of the movie – Gary Numan’s performance of “Down in the Park” with him seated in a moving chair! Both OMD and Numan certainly opened my mind (and ears) to brand new musical possibilities.
Strangely enough, I never quite felt any affinity with the out and out punk bands in the movie – they seemed somewhat insubstantial to me. But what did get my attention were the guitar bands that demonstrated more sophistication like Echo and the Bunnymen and XTC.
Naturally, considering my obsession with The Police, I was also drawn to the reggae outfits like Steel Pulse and UB40. It would be a rich vein that I would definitely tap in the coming years.
I realise now almost 4 decades later that there were probably numerous bands that were cut out of the Singapore release – I am sure I would have remember watching Dead Kennedys and Devo. I wonder how my musical habits might have changed if both were never excised. Would I have leant more towards the American punk scene than the British in the 80s? Who knows??
In the final analysis, I owe much to Urgh A Music War – the movie changed my life! 1982 would be a big year for music discovery.
The torn t-shirts, the spiky coloured short hair, the spitting and most of all the back-to-basics retro-pop caused a seismic shift in musical tastes and styles that was not fully felt till the early 80s. US bands like The Stooges and New York Dolls paved the way ultimately for British punks like The Sex Pistols, The Clash and the Damned. In the wake of punk, a new approach to pop-rock (variously labelled ‘post-punk’ or ‘new wave’) emerged making superstars of the likes of Blondie, The Cars, The Police et al.
But what about the 70s prog rockers? Well, they had to adapt to stay relevant. Here are examples of 80s pop songs made by progressive rockers.
Once upon a time, pop and rock came together and made a baby, and its name was Pop-Rock. Very strictly speaking, Pop-Rock is a fusion genre that mixes a catchy pop style and light lyrics in its (typically) guitar-based rock songs. Other genres that bear similar traits would be Powerpop, Melodic Rock, Soft Rock, Jangle Pop, Glam Rock, New Wave, Indie Pop and of course, Rock ’n’ Roll.
To be honest, I was rather freaked out the first time I heard Talking Heads. That was in 1980 with Remain in Light, the band’s fourth album, which involved ground-breaking pop-rock experiments with African rhythms. And of course, when I first heard David Byrne’s voice, it took some getting used to as well. But when the follow-up, Speaking in Tongues was released in 1983, I found myself enjoying the catchy songwriting especially “Burning Down the House” and “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)”. Presumably that is why I consider Little Creatures to be my favourite Talking Heads LP as it featured more conventional pop-rock, not to mention the introduction of country-folk into the dynamic.
Second EP from these Perth-based smart poppers finds them in the sweet G-spot between British post-punk and American new wave. Simply put – infectious melodies, bouncy rhythms, quirky lyrics and cool vibes overall. Seriously folks, they don’t make pop music like this anymore. This is the kind of pop, Power of Pop was established to drool over!
The title track is a masterwork of tightness and economy, crammed into its 3:31 minutes is more absolutely gorgeous pop (is there a better middle-eight/bridge from anyone else in 2014?) than anything most of the post-punk revivalists will be able to muster in their unreasonably overlong careers (you know who you are!)
Amazingly, the other four tracks do not fall too shy off the pop perfection of the title track. “I Disagree With Myself” is a brilliantly clever pop single that the likes of XTC and Split Enz would be proud to call their own with an irresistible chorus hook to boot – “I don’t wanna be dumb and bored”. No danger of that!
“Far From the Moment” and “Don’t Look at Me” have similarly mellifluous refrains – sweetness perfected in hooks and riffs that dig deeply into the ear. And of course, opener “Uppers and Downers” is a wonderful study in tone – offbeat, sinister and yet funny at the same time. No mean feat.
The Disappointed – check them out cuz believe me, you will not be!
You know the saying, a band takes a lifetime to write and record its first album and then six months to record the follow-up. Sometimes, this results in a poor second album and whether a band can overcome this setback or not is never a certainty. We look to the 80s for 4 examples of how bands coped with the second album syndrome.
THE KNACK – But The Little Girls Understand…
The band’s debut album, Get the Knack, was 1979’s best-selling albums, holding the number one spot on Billboard magazine’s album chart for five consecutive weeks and selling two million copies in the United States. It’s biggest hit – “My Sharona” was the song of ’79. The band rush-released But The Little Girls Understand… (in early 1980) which came across like an inferior version of the debut LP. Although, the album still went gold, the album left fans and critics unimpressed and the third LP – Round Trip – was a flop. But in hindsight, the album is really not as bad as it sounded back in 1980…