Oingo Boingo /ˈɔɪŋɡoʊ ˈbɔɪŋɡoʊ/ was a new wave rock band from the United States, best known for their hits "Dead Man's Party" and "Weird Science". They are also known for their soundtrack contributions, their high energy Halloween concerts, and for their unique mixture of styles including ska, punk, new wave, funk, and other world music genres. The band was founded in 1972 as The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, a performance art group. The band was led by songwriter/vocalist Danny Elfman, who has since achieved success as a composer for film and television.
The group's format changed twice. In 1979, it reshaped from a semi-theatrical music and comedy troupe into a ska-influenced new wave octet and shortened their name to Oingo Boingo. Towards the end of the 1980s, the band began shifting to a more guitar-oriented rock sound, and away from the use of horns and synthesizers. The band retired after a sold-out farewell concert on Halloween 1995.
The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, formed in late 1972 by Richard Elfman, was a musical theater troupe in the tradition of Spike Jones and Frank Zappa, performing an eclectic repertoire ranging from Cab Calloway covers to instrumentals in the style of Balinese gamelan and Russian ballet music. The name was inspired by a fictional secret society on the Amos 'n' Andy TV series called The Mystic Knights of the Sea. Most of the members performed in whiteface and clown makeup, and a typical show contained music ranging from the 1890s to the 1950s, in addition to original material. This version of the band employed as many as 15 musicians at any given time, playing over 30 instruments, including some instruments built by bandmembers. While this Richard Elfman-led incarnation of the group performed live, it did not issue any recordings.
As Richard Elfman's interest shifted to filmmaking, he passed leadership of the band to younger brother Danny Elfman, who had recently returned from spending time in Africa playing violin and studying percussion instruments. They gained a following in Los Angeles, and appeared as contestants on The Gong Show in 1976, winning the episode they appeared on with 24 points out of a possible 30. The Gong Show presentation included an accordion, a purple dragon and a gaseous rocket-man. Later in 1976, The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo released a doo-wop styled novelty single about kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst entitled "You Got Your Baby Back". Both this track and the B-side "Ballad of the Caveman" were written and sung by Danny Elfman. The band appeared as extras in hallucinatory sequences in the 1977 movie I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.
When the group began to move away from its cabaret style towards a more pop/rock format, Richard Elfman made a film based on the band's stage performance, Forbidden Zone, which was released in 1980 and filmed in black and white with a cast mostly made up of band members and friends. In one scene, Danny, as Satan, sings a version of Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher" with modified lyrics integrated into the plot of the film. In another, Richard sings the 1920s novelty song "The Yiddishe Charleston". The movie attained cult status and provided a springboard for the film and music careers of Richard and Danny.
I.R.S. years (1979–1984)
Various reasons were given for the band's transformation from musical theater troupe to rock band. They included cutting costs, increasing mobility, exploring new musical directions such as Danny's interest in ska and a desire to perform music that didn't need theatrics.
While the troupe was transforming itself into a rock band, there was some confusion about what name the band would use. For some gigs, the band used the shortened name The Mystic Knights (and in the animated short "Face Like a Frog" by Sally Cruikshank, the band's song "Don't Go in the Basement" is credited by that name.) Later, the full name was shortened in the other direction to Oingo Boingo in 1979, and the band's song "I'm Afraid" appeared on the Rhino Records Los Angeles rock and new wave compilation, L.A. In.
That same year, the band issued a very limited edition promo-only record called Demo EP intended for distribution to radio stations and recording industry A&R representatives in an attempt to help land a major label recording contract. The effort paid off as the Oingo Boingo Demo EP caught the attention of I.R.S. Records, and a slightly altered version of the EP was reissued by the label in 1980 as the band's first official public release, an EP known as Oingo Boingo.
The band had coalesced into an octet: Danny Elfman on lead vocals; Steve Bartek on guitars; Richard Gibbs on keyboards; Kerry Hatch on bass; Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez on drums; and Leon Schneiderman, Sam "Sluggo" Phipps and Dale Turner on horns. Early success for the group came in 1980 with the song "Only a Lad" from the eponymous EP. The song aired frequently in Los Angeles on KROQ-FM and complemented the station's then-unusual new wave format. Although their sound was classified as new wave and was compared to Devo, Oingo Boingo defied easy categorization. Their use of exotic percussion, a three-piece horn section, unconventional scales and harmony and surrealistic imagery was an unusual combination.
Following regional success of "Only a Lad", the group released its first full-length album, also titled Only a Lad (and featuring a new recording of the song), in 1981. Oingo Boingo also appeared in the 1981 film Longshot, performing their unreleased song "I've Got to Be Entertained". The band, recording for A&M Records, released albums in 1982 (Nothing to Fear) and 1983 (Good for Your Soul) that drew comparisons to Devo and later, Wall of Voodoo. At this point, new manager Mike Gormley, who had just left the position of VP of Publicity and Asst. to the Chairman of A&M, negotiated a release from the label and signed the band to MCA Records. The first release was officially a Danny Elfman solo record in 1984 (titled So-Lo); it was actually a group effort released under Elfman's name. Subsequently, the band would record under their own name for MCA.
MCA years (1985–1990)
With the move to MCA, the band made two personnel switches: Mike Bacich took over on keyboards from departing member Richard Gibbs, and John Avila replaced Kerry Hatch on bass. Oingo Boingo appeared in a number of soundtracks in the early to mid-1980s, including Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which features "Goodbye, Goodbye". Their best-known song, "Weird Science", was written for the John Hughes film of the same name, and was later included on their 1985 album Dead Man's Party.
Later, the band made an appearance playing their hit "Dead Man's Party" on stage in the film Back to School. In addition, they appeared in and performed several songs in the quirky 1984 Tom Hanks movie Bachelor Party, including "Who Do You Want to Be?", "Bachelor Party" and "Something Isn't Right". Then, starting with 1985's Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Danny Elfman began scoring major films with increasing frequency, including almost all of Tim Burton's films.
Oingo Boingo's 1987 album BOI-NGO was released as a follow-up to the popular Dead Man's Party, but its chart performance was considered an underperformance. After this album, Bacich was replaced by new keyboardist Carl Graves. The band's 1988 release Boingo Alive was actually recorded live on a soundstage, with no studio audience; it consisted of a selection of songs from earlier albums, plus two new compositions. The Boingo Alive track "Winning Side" became a No. 14 hit on US Modern Rock radio stations.
Final years (1991–1995)
After being dropped from MCA, the band explored a new musical direction and reshuffled their lineup somewhat. Graves was dropped (after recording "Lost Like This"), and added were Warren Fitzgerald on guitar, Marc Mann on keyboards and Doug Lacy on accordion. In 1994, the band released an album, titled Boingo, on Giant Records. Though the band was officially a ten-piece ensemble, only five members (Elfman, Bartek, Avila, Hernandez and Fitzgerald) were pictured in the album's liner notes. The Boingo album also continued in the less party-friendly vibe of Dark at the End of the Tunnel, although it contained the modern rock hit "Hey!". The more guitar-oriented album used the keyboards and horns of the five remaining members sparingly.
Live performances from the period excluded the horn section entirely. The quintet was often backed by an orchestra, conducted by Bartek, which featured prominent cello by Fred Seykora. Some have speculated that the change of instrumentation is reflected by the band changing its name to "Boingo". However, Danny Elfman insists that the name change was virtually meaningless, and "kind of an afterthought". Restoring the horn section and the name back to "Oingo Boingo", the band embarked on a brief farewell tour in 1995, culminating in a final annual Halloween performance at the Universal Amphitheatre. The final concert is available on both audio and video recordings.
Following the band's dissolution, frontman Danny Elfman turned full-time to writing film scores, having composed several scores through the 1980s and early 1990s while the band was active. He has been nominated for four Academy Awards. His first major motion picture score was Pee-wee's Big Adventure in 1985, and he continues to be much sought-after in the movie business, particularly in collaboration with director Tim Burton. Elfman almost exclusively employs Oingo Boingo guitarist Steve Bartek as orchestrator. His film scores have included Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Good Will Hunting, Men in Black, Spider-Man, Big Fish, The Nightmare Before Christmas and dozens more. Elfman also wrote the themes for more than a dozen TV series, including The Simpsons, Batman: The Animated Series, Tales from the Crypt and Desperate Housewives.
John Avila and Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez were two members of the trio Food For Feet. They also formed the rhythm section of Tito & Tarantula, a Los Angeles band fronted by Tito Larriva of The Plugz and the Cruzados. Avila and Hernandez also joined Larriva and guitarist Stevie Hufstetter in a one-off project band called Psychotic Aztecs. The Aztecs released one album on the Grita label called Santa Sangre. Doug Lacy (Boingo live keyboardist and percussionist) recruited bassist John Avila, guitarist Steve Bartek, drummer Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez, and saxophonist Sam Phipps (along other musicians) for band called Doug & The Mystics. They recorded one album, New Hat, which included a cover of the Oingo Boingo song "Try to Believe", original songs, and covers of songs by Frank Zappa and other artists. Doug had released one solo album previously.
In the popular manga series JoJo's Bizarre Adventure written by Hirohiko Araki, two Stand-wielding brothers named Oingo and Boingo (after the band) appear as minor antagonists in Part 3, Stardust Crusaders.
During the 2005 Halloween season, Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez put together an Oingo Boingo tribute show, joined by former Oingo Boingo members Steve Bartek, John Avila, and Sam "Sluggo" Phipps, at The Grove of Anaheim. Standing in for Elfman was Brendan McCreary. In 2003, Richard Gibbs scored the Battlestar Galactica miniseries with composer Bear McCreary. In 2005, John Avila, Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez and Steve Bartek began contributing to the subsequent McCreary-scored Battlestar Galactica television series. During the 2006 Halloween season, there were two Johnny Vatos Tribute to Halloween shows, one in Los Angeles and one in Orange County, with Vatos, Bartek, Avila, Phipps, and Legacy. "Johnny Vatos Boingo Dance Party" singer CPO (Chris Paul Overall) appears on the "Johnny Vatos Boingo Dance Party" Vol 1. CD sold at shows and released through iTunes.
In early 2007, Danny Elfman said there would not be a reunion. He has irreversible hearing loss and is worried that playing live would exacerbate it. He stated that some other members of the band may also suffer from the condition.
As a small tribute to the band, Southern California based Blizzard Entertainment included character references to some band members in the starting area for undead characters "The Forsaken" in the immensely popular computer game World of Warcraft. Fitting to one of the band's running themes, new adventurers can find skeletons and zombies with names such as Daniel Ulfman, Karrel Grayves, Stephen Bhartec and Samuel Fipps.
In 2012, some members of the band, including Johnny Vatos, announced they would host a Dance Party show, not a reunion, but under a different name of "Johnny Vatos Boingo Dance Party" in Redondo Beach, California on May 4, 2012.
On Halloween 2015, Danny Elfman along with the other original voices of the movie "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (including Cathrine O'Hara), did a performance at the Hollywood Bowl singing all of the songs of the movie while it played in its entirety with a complete orchestra playing the music. The encore for the event culminated in Danny Elfman and Steve Bartek performing "Dead Man's Party" for the first time in 20 years to the day.