Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Oingo Boingo

Dead Mans Party

Oingo Boingo was an American New Wave band. They are better known for their influence, soundtrack contributions and high energy Halloween concerts than their chart successes. The band was founded in 1972 as a performance art group called The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo; from 1976 it was led by songwriter/vocalist Danny Elfman, who later achieved substantial renown as a composer for film and television.

The group's format was changed twice. In 1980, it changed from a semi-theatrical music and comedy troupe into a new-wave octet, and shortened its name to "Oingo Boingo". In 1994, the band reshuffled its lineup, adopted a more modern rock sound and rechristened themselves Boingo. The band retired in 1995, having reverted to the name Oingo Boingo.

The Mystic Knights years (1972-1980)
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's Mothers of Invention, 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; a typical show would contain music ranging from the 1890s to the 1950s, in addition to original material. This version of the band employed as many as fifteen musicians at any given time, playing over thirty instruments, including some instruments built by band members.

Few recordings from this period exist, although they did produce a novelty record about kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst, "You've Got Your Baby Back."

As Richard'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 music. 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 (and without getting gonged).

When the group began to move away from its cabaret style towards a more pop/rock format, Richard Elfman decided to capture the essence of their live shows on film. The result was the 1980 movie Forbidden Zone. Filmed in black and white with a cast mostly made up of band members and friends, the movie's music and visuals elaborated on the spirit of the Mystic Knights' concerts. 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, captured the essence of the Mystic Knights, and provided a springboard for the film and music careers of Richard and Danny.

Oingo Boingo: the A&M years (1980-1984)
Various reasons for the band's transformation from musical theater troupe to rock band were given, including cutting costs and increasing mobility, exploring new musical directions (such as Danny's interest in Ska and New Wave)[3], and a desire to perform music that didn't need theatrics to support it. There was some confusion about what name this new venture would operate under. In the 1987 animated short subject "Face Like A Frog", by Sally Kruikshank, the band is credited simply as The Mystic Knights. The song was "Don't Go In The Basement". The name was eventually and permanently shortened to Oingo Boingo for the Rhino Records "Los Angeles Rock And New Wave Band" compilation, L.A. In, featuring their song "I'm Afraid."
By this time, Richard was no longer a group member, and 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 Schniederman, Sam "Sluggo" Phipps, and Dale Turner on horns.

Early success for the group came in 1980 with the song "Only a Lad" from their eponymous EP. The song aired frequently in Los Angeles on KROQ and complemented the station's then-unusual New Wave format. Although the song 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".

Cult success followed, especially in Southern California. The band, recording for A&M Records, released albums in 1982 (Nothing To Fear) and 1983 (Good For Your Soul) that continued to draw comparisons to Devo and later, Wall of Voodoo.

A dispute with A&M led to Danny Elfman cutting a 'solo' record in 1984 for MCA -- in fact, it was a group effort released under Elfman's name simply to circumvent a clause in Oingo Boingo's A&M contract. Subsequently, the band was allowed to record under their own name for MCA.

Oingo Boingo: the 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.

The group's first MCA album (1985's Dead Man's Party) contained Oingo Boingo's first real hit singles, which included "Weird Science" and "Just Another Day". However, it was exposure in motion pictures, not on radio or MTV, that really catapulted the band into the public eye.
To this day, Oingo Boingo is probably best known for appearing on a number of soundtracks in the early- to mid-1980s, including Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which features "Goodbye, Goodbye". Their most well-known song, "Weird Science", was written for the John Hughes movie of the same name, and was later included on Dead Man's Party. The song was one of the band's least favorites. It was rushed out of the studio for the film before they were finished with it, and it was almost never performed live.

Later, the band made an appearance playing their hit "Dead Man's Party" on stage in the movie Back to School. Three more songs from Dead Man's Party were used in soundtracks: the song "No One Lives Forever" was featured in Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, "Stay" was used as the theme music for the popular Brazilian soap opera Top Model, and "Just Another Day" opened the 1985 film adaptation of S.E. Hinton's That Was Then, This Is Now. (for more soundtrack appearances, see below under "Soundtrack appearances")

Oingo Boingo's 1987 album BOI-NGO didn't make a huge impression on the charts. 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, and contained a selection of songs from earlier albums, plus two new compositions. The Boingo Alive track "Winning Side" became a #14 hit on US Modern Rock radio stations.

Beginning with 1985's Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Oingo Boingo vocalist and composer Danny Elfman had been scoring major motion pictures with increasing frequency. On 1990's Dark at the End of the Tunnel Elfman's growing orchestral soundtrack career was obviously playing a big part in his songwriting.

Boingo: the final years (1991-1995)
The group, now dropped from MCA, responded by officially shortening their name to Boingo, and reshuffling 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.

Boingo's lone self-titled album was issued on Giant Records in 1994. Though the band was officially a ten-piece ensemble, only five members (Elfman, Bartek, Avila, Hernadez and Fitzgerald) were pictured in the album's liner notes, and indeed the guitar-oriented album used the keyboards and horns of the five remaining members sparingly, although it was backed by an orchestra conducted by Bartek and featured prominent cello by Fred Seykora. The Boingo album also continued in the less party-friendly vibe of Dark at the End of the Tunnel, although it did contain the Modern Rock hit "Hey!"

Reverting to the Oingo Boingo name, the band amicably parted ways after their annual Halloween concert in 1995. The final concert is available on both audio and video recordings.
Quite simply... the time was right. After 17 years together, it finally occurred to me that we had survived about 16 years longer than I had expected... pretty good by any standards I think. It's been good, crazy times, and I'm always amazed how loyal our fans have been, but I think it's better to let things go before they turn sour. Also, scientifically speaking, modern research has recently proven that after a band has been together longer than a decade, the risk of the dinosaur factor kicking in increases exponentially each year thereafter. In short, it's been fun. Adios Amigos.
Danny Elfman

Since the band's dissolution, frontman Danny Elfman has continued to find success in his career writing film scores, particularly in collaboration with director Tim Burton; he almost exclusively employs 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, Sam Raimi's 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, Desperate Housewives, Tales from the Crypt, Sledge Hammer!, and The Flash (TV series).
Vatos formed a concert show along with Sluggo, Bartek, and Avila in California. The concert show features performances on Oingo Boingo's most popular songs. This has led to speculation about a reunion.

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 members may also suffer from the condition.

The membership in both the theatre troupe and the rock band changed over time.

1981: Only a Lad
1982: Nothing to Fear
1983: Good for Your Soul
1985: Dead Man's Party
1987: BOI-NGO
1990: Dark at the End of the Tunnel
1994: Boingo
1988: Boingo Alive
1996: Farewell: Live from the Universal Amphitheater, Halloween 1995
1989: The Best of Oingo Boingo: Skeletons in the Closet
1990: Stay
1991: Best O' Boingo
1999: Anthology
2002: The Best of Oingo Boingo: 20th Century Masters The Millennium Collection
1980: Oingo Boingo
1980: Forbidden Zone soundtrack
1984: So-Lo (solo album by Danny Elfman, generally considered an Oingo Boingo release)

As the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo
Mr. Sycamore (uncredited cameo)
Forbidden Zone
Hot Tomorrows
As Oingo Boingo
Urgh! A Music War (1981)
Good Morning, Mr. Orwell (1984)
Weird Science starring Kelly LeBrock and Anthony Michael Hall 1984
Back to School (1986)
Skeletons in the Closet (1989; music video compilation)
Farewell: Live from the Universal Amphitheatre Halloween 1995

Soundtrack appearances
The studio recording of "Goodbye, Goodbye" appears on the soundtrack to the 1982 film Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The song can only be found elsewhere on Boingo Alive and Best O' Boingo as a live recording.
"Bachelor Party" and "Something Isn't Right" appear on the soundtrack to the 1984 film Bachelor Party. These songs can not be found on any Oingo Boingo albums. The soundtrack also includes "Who Do You Want To Be", from the album Good for Your Soul.
In the 1984 John Hughes film Sixteen Candles, the character of Farmer Ted dances spastically to "Wild Sex (In The Working Class)", from the album Nothing To Fear.
"Hold Me Back" and "Only A Lad" are featured during the opening and closing credits, respectively, of the 1984 film Surf II.
"No One Lives Forever" can be heard during the bridge scene in the 1986 film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.
"Not My Slave" can be heard on the car radio during a scene in the 1986 film Something Wild.
"Happy" appears on the soundtrack to the 1987 film Summer School. This song can not be found on any Oingo Boingo albums.
"Better Luck Next Time" appears on the soundtrack to the 1982 film The Last American Virgin. This song can not be found on any Oingo Boingo albums.
"Who Do You Want To Be" appears on the soundtrack to the 1987 film Teen Wolf Too.
"Try To Believe" (performed by Oingo Boingo under the alias "Mosley and the B-Men") can be heard in the 1988 film Midnight Run, which was scored by Danny Elfman. This version of the song is different from the version on the album Dark at the End of the Tunnel.
"Same Man I Was Before" can be heard in the 1988 film My Best Friend Is a Vampire.
The studio version of "Winning Side" appears on the soundtrack to the 1989 film She's Out of Control

"Flesh 'N Blood" appears on the soundtrack to the 1989 film Ghostbusters II. A short snippet is played as background music during the film.
"Skin" can be heard on the radio (though not performed by Oingo Boingo) during a scene in the 1990 Clive Barker film Nightbreed.
Susanna Hoffs covered "We Close Our Eyes" for the soundtrack to the 1992 film Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The song can be heard during the closing credits.
"No One Lives Forever" can be heard in the 1997 television film Casper: A Spirited Beginning.
"Home Again" appeared in the John Hughes film Home Alone 3 in 1997.
A slightly altered version of "Forbidden Zone" was the theme song to the animated Dilbert Cartoon

"Stay" can be heard in the director's cut of the 2001 film Donnie Darko.
"Violent Love" can be heard in the 1990 film The Adventures of Ford Fairlane.
"Capitalism" appears on the soundtrack to the 2005 film Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.
"Dead Man's Party" can be heard during a costume party in the "Witch Hunt" (2006) episode of the television show NCIS.
The live recording of "Who Do You Want To Be" (from the album Boingo Alive) appears on the soundtrack to the 2005 video game Tony Hawk's American Wasteland. It is also featured in the 2005 Nintendo DS version of Tony Hawk's American Sk8land.
"Dead Man's Party" is a selectable song in the 2006 Xbox video game Dance Dance Revolution Ultramix 4.
"Only A Lad" was featured in the 2007 video game Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s.
"Weird Science" made an appearance in Beavis and butthead as a music video. however the duo disliked the song because Butthead believes that "this guy (Danny Elfman) thinks he's smart". Beavis disliked it because he said that " college music sucks". The duo decided to change the channel.
"Home Again" can be heard at the end credits of the 1986 film Wisdom Written and Directed by Emilio Estevez. The soundtrack to Wisdom is also the first all electronic film score that Danny Elfman created for the film.
"Not My Slave" plays during the 1987 film Like Father Like Son starring Kirk Cameron.

External links
The Official Oingo Boingo Website (Entertainment networking site; no endorsement from the band or its members)
The Official John Avila Website (Band member: 1984 - 1995)
The Official Steve Bartek Website (Band member: 1976 - 1995)
The Official Richard Gibbs Website (Band member: 1980 - 1984)
The Official Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez Website (Band member: 1979 - 1995)
Dan's Boingo Page

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