Although Oingo Boingo (later known simply as “Boingo”) enjoyed a substantial following throughout Southern California, the Los Angeles-based 1980s New Wave group never made a lasting impression on mainstream nationwide audiences. Besides college radio listeners and a cult following, most young people in the United States knew little about Oingo Boingo. However, with an impressive horn section and a wacky sense of humor, the group is considered one of the best of its genre, inspiring such later bands as No Doubt, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and the Presidents of the United States of America. Oingo Boingo’s sound and keen lyrical sense of humor often draw comparisons to Devo, XTC, Frank Zappa, and Madness. The group’s most memorable semi-hits include the ominous “Dead Man’s Party,” the quirky “Weird Science,” heard on several soundtracks, and the affectionate “We Close Our Eyes.”
Oingo Boingo’s frontman and constant focal point amid various lineup changes and guest memberships, singer-songwriter Danny Elfman, earned greater recognition as one of Hollywood’s most prolific and indernand film scorers. His credits include, among numerous others, Beetlejuice, Midnight Run, and Big Top Pee-wee (all in 1988); Batman (1989); Edward Scissorhands, Dick Tracy, and Darkman (all in 1990); Batman Returns (1992); The Nightmare before Christmas and Sommersby (both in 1993); Black Beauty (1994); To Die For and Dead Presidents (both in 1995); Mission: Impossible (1996); A Civil Action (1998); A Simple Plan and Sleepy Hollow (both in 1999); and Family Man (2000).
In 1997 Elfman received two Academy Award nominations for scoring music for the films Men in Black and Good Will Hunting. That same year, he signed a non-exclusive contract with Disney to write, direct, and produce films, while continuing to compose for Disney and others. Elfman also composes music for television, most notably the theme song for the popular Fox network series The Simpsons. He is the brother of Richard Elfman, a director; the uncle of Bohdi Elfman, an actor and son of Richard; an uncle by marriage to well-known actress Jenna Elfman, Bohdi’s wife; and son of Blossom Elfman, an author of children’s novels.
Elfman, the son of two teachers, was born on May 29, 1953, in Amarillo, Texas, and raised in Los Angeles. During the 1960s, his family lived in the Baldwin Hills community, where, he described to the Los Angeles Times in 1999, he was an “oddball” and the “whitest white kid.” He became friends with the science-club clique at school and began experimenting with music in his basement at home. Growing up, he learned guitar, took piano lessons, and later played the violin. He also watched movies regularly at the local theater and became especially enamored of Alfred Hitchcock, science fiction adventures, and dubbed Mexican horror films.
Members include John Avila (joined group, 1983), bass guitar, vocals; Steve Bartek guitar; Danny Elfman (born on May 29, 1953, in Amarillo, TX), vocals, guitar; Rich Gibbs (left group, 1983), keyboards; Kerry Hatch (left group, 1983), bass guitar; Johnny “Vatos” Hernandez, drums; Sam Phipps, tenor saxophone; Leon Schneiderman, baritone saxophone; Dale Turner, trumpet, trombone.
Group formed in Los Angeles, CA, 1979; released debut full-length album, Just a Lad, 1981; released Nothing to Fear, 1982; released Good for Your Soul 1983; released gold album Dead Man’s Party, 1985; released Dark at the End of the Tunnel, 1990; released Boingo, 1994; disbanded, 1995.
Meanwhile, the Elfman family had relocated to the upscale Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood. Graduating early from high school, Elfman decided to travel around the world. First, in 1971, he moved to Paris with brother Richard. There he joined an avantgarde theatrical group and played violin on the streets. Next, Elfman traveled to western Africa, but he soon returned to the United States after a bout with malaria. Upon his arrival back in Los Angeles, Elfman was approached by Richard about contributing a musical element to his low-budget film The Forbidden Zone. Thus, the two organized a musical/theatrical group called the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo.
During the six years it took to complete the film, the ensemble, tired of waiting, performed shows around Los Angeles. Soon the band had built a substantial following among the local punk/New Wave set. But in contrast to other local outfits—such as the slick, anti-suburban punk band X—Oingo Boingo concentrated on the lives of everyday dorks and outsiders, infusing uptempo songs with horns and world-music rhythms. They were fun, energetic, and offbeat for each performance. “I loved those shows,” recalled Efman to Los Angeles Times writer John M. Glionna in 1999. “The sweat. I’d make a gesture with my hands and see the sweat fly. I’d play with it, watching the sweat hit the crowd, and they’d throw some back. It was a trip.”
After recording the soundtrack for The Forbidden Zone, which was issued in 1980, Elfman shortened the name of the group to Oingo Boingo. That same year, the band recorded the four-song release 10 Inch EP for IRS Records, then secured a contract with Capitol Records. In 1981 the band made its full-length debut with Only a Lad, with the title track receiving regular airplay on the Los Angeles rock station KROQ. The following year saw the release of Nothing to Fear, while Good for Your Soul, featuring an MTV video favorite “Nothing Bad Ever Happens,” appeared in 1983. Elfman also found time away from Oingo Boingo to record a solo album, So Lo, released in 1984 on MCA Records.
After Oingo Boingo followed Elfman’s lead and switched to MCA, the group scored a success with Dead Man’s Party. Issued in 1985 and featuring a hit title track, the album eventually earned gold status. Subsequently, Oingo Boingo landed a cameo appearance in the Rodney Danger-field comedy Back to School, then enjoyed a moderate hit with the theme song for the John Hughes teen comedy Weird Science. Unfortunately, Oingo Boingo failed to sustain their growing popularity outside Los Angeles. And though the albums Boingo (1987), Boingo Alive (1988), and Dark at the End of the Tunnel (1990) pleased longtime fans, all went largely overlooked.
Afterwards, Elfman, who had struck up a friendship with filmmaker Tim Burton (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Batman, The Nightmare before Christmas, and Mars Attacks!) in the mid-1980s and was generating more film composition work, unofficially left Oingo Boingo to concentrate on scoring. “I reached a point in the ‘80s and the beginning of the ‘90s where I started drifting,” he told Chris Willman of the Los Angeles Times in May of 1994. “And I probably was more into film scoring than the band at that point. I think I kept the band together more for the sake of the band than for myself.”
In 1994, under the shortened name “Boingo,” the group returned with a self-titled album that critics agreed was overblown. Finally, in 1995, Oingo Boingo disbanded after farewell Halloween-season shows at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles and at Irvine Meadows in Orange County. Aside from demonstrating musical complexity and cartoonery on stage, “what really came through was something that’s often lost in leader Danny Elfman’s cleverness: warmth and affection,” concluded Los Angeles Times writer Steve Hochman in a November of 1995 review of one concert. “Musically, it was most evident in a semi-acoustic version of ‘We Close Our Eyes,’ a 1987 song that transcended Boingo’s novelty-song expression of life’s big terrors.”
Elfman, a divorced father of two daughters, resides in the mountains above Malibu, California, with girlfriend Caroline Thompson, a screenwriter and director. Additional film scores include the Planet of the Apes (2001) and the blockbuster Spider-Man (2002).
10 Inch EP, IRS, 1980.
Only a Lad, A&M, 1981.
Nothing to Fear, A&M, 1982.
Good for Your Soul, A&M, 1983.
Dead Man’s Party, MCA, 1985.
Boi-ngo, MCA, 1987.
Boingo Alive: Celebration of a Decade 1979-1988, MCA, 1988.
Skeletons in the Closet: The Best of Oingo Boingo, A&M, 1988.
Dark at the End of the Tunnel, MCA, 1990.
Best o’ Boingo, A&M, 1991.
Boingo, Giant, 1994.
Farewell: Live from the Universal Amphitheatre, Halloween 1995, A&M, 1996.
Graff, Gary, and Daniel Durchholz, editors, MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1999.
Los Angeles Times, October 31, 1988, p. 8; October 30, 1989, p. 2; February 25, 1990, p. 59; July 3, 1990, p. 7; October 25, 1990, p. 1, 6; October 29, 1990, p. 1; November 2, 1991, p. 2; January 15, 1993, p. 12; October 28, 1993, p. 1; November 1, 1993, p. 2, 5; May 15, 1994, p. 55; May 29, 1994, p. 79; June 24, 1994, p. 13; October 23, 1995, p. 1; October 28, 1995, p. 2; November 2, 1995, p. 2; April 27, 1996, p. 6; November 23, 1997, p. 31; July 16, 1998, p. 26; April 18, 1999, p. 10; January 4, 2001, p. T2.
USA Today, October 27, 2000, p. E1.
Washington Post, September 16, 1994, p. N20.
“Danny Elfman,” Internet Movie Database (IMDb), http://us.imdb.com/Name?Elfman,+Danny (July 4, 2002).
“Oingo Boingo,” CDNOW, http//www.cdnow.com (July 4, 2002).
“Oingo Boingo,” RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/default.asp?oid=3190 (July 4, 2002).
“Oingo Boingo,” “Danny Elfman,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (July 4, 2002).
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