In 1972, a young Californian visionary named Rick Elfman decided to form a circus band. The lineup soon consisted of over a dozen people, including his wife Marie-Pascale, his best friend Matthew Bright (who would go on to direct Freeway), a young Steve Bartek, and Rick's little brother Danny Elfman, who had just returned from traveling Africa and Europe.
With Danny as a frontman, and using his skills on the violin, xylophone, trombone and Balinese dance to give the band its unique sound, The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo were formed. Their fans included a young "Weird Al" Yankovic, an up-and-coming Paul Reubens, and a very young Tim Burton, who was attending CalArts at the time.
At the end of The '70s, the band sold everything they had to create the no-budget sci-fi cult classic Forbidden Zone. Having no money to hire a proper crew, Danny decided to score the film himself, and realized he enjoyed being a film composer.
During the film's Development Hell, Danny had taken over and re-formed the band to incorporate his new symphonic sound into their music, and the group very quickly took off in the direction of Ska-tinged New Wave. The new band, called Oingo Boingo, was formed in 1979.
The band became known for its quirky sound and its high-energy Halloween concerts. By 1985, they were scoring hits including "Dead Man's Party" and "Weird Science", and Tim Burton and Paul Reubens (both fans of Forbidden Zone, coincidentally) had given Danny his first real job as a film composer. Many, many others soon followed.
In 1994, Danny Elfman suffered a breakdown, resulting in a brief falling out with Tim Burton. Because Danny wanted to go in a different direction, the band reshuffled its lineup, rechristened themselves Boingo, and recorded a Self-Titled Album which focused most on the rock and orchestral influences of the band's sound. It was partly inspired by Danny listening to his daughter's album collection, which included The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Their new sound alienated many old fans and gave them plenty of new ones. But by that time, and particularly after a truly terrible gig at the KROQ Weenie Roast, the group realized that their time together was over.
The band retired after a farewell concert on Halloween 1995, having reverted to the name Oingo Boingo for the concert. A reunion is confirmed to be out of the question, as many of the original members, including Elfman, have developed irreversible hearing loss as a result of playing loud rock music in front of huge amps for so long. Nevertheless, each member has done well for himself: bassist John Avila went on to produce Reel Big Fish and is currently playing with The Mutaytor. Keyboardist Richard Gibbs got hired to score Battlestar Galactica. Drummer Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez continued playing in various bands and had a cameo in From Dusk Till Dawn. Guitarist Warren Fitzgerald joined The Vandals. Richard Elfman and Matthew Bright created half a dozen film projects together. And Danny Elfman became a full-time film composer, with Steve Bartek as his arranger.
Oingo Boingo discographynote
- Only a Lad (1981)
- Nothing to Fear (1982)
- Good for Your Soul (1983)
- So-Lo note (1984)
- Dead Man's Party (1985)
- Boi-Ngo (1987)
- Dark at the End of the Tunnel (1990)
- Boingo note (1994)
the music of Oingo Boingo provides examples of:
- All Take and No Give: Defied in "Not My Slave". The narrator tries to talk his love interest out of her submissive tendencies, insisting she's not his property and that he just wants her to be happy.
- Big Brother Is Watching: "Perfect System", “Wake Up (It's 1984)”, "Grey Matter", “Controller” and "Burn Me Up". "Marching In Time" may count as well.
- Black Comedy: "No One Lives Forever" and "Only a Lad", among others.
- Break-Up Song: "Goodbye Goodbye", "Better Luck Next Time", and "Can't See (Useless)".
- Bystander Syndrome: “Nothing Bad Ever Happens to Me”
- Concept Video: The music videos for "Little Girls", "Private Life", "Nothing Bad Ever Happens to Me" and "Gratitude".
- Conspiracy Theorist: The narrator of “Controller”. "Perfect System" might count.
- Cover Version: "You Really Got Me", "I Am the Walrus" and "Violent Love"note .
- And as The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, they covered "St. James Infirmary Blues".
- Crapsack World: A distressingly large number of their songs seem to be about (with apologies to Iron Maiden) the evil that men do. Murder, statutory rape, and mindless mischief are all on hand in abundance, along with plenty of paranoia and apocalyptic imagery. And the most horrifying part? It's all served up in the form of infectiously catchy Latin/Caribbean-styled pop-rock!
- Creepy Children Singing / Kids Rock: In the chorus of "Insanity".
- Dark Is Not Evil: “Dead Man’s Party” and many other songs.
- A Date with Rosie Palms: “Nasty Habits”, “Good For Your Soul" and "Burn Me Up”.
- The Dead Can Dance: “Dead Man’s Party”
- Don't Fear the Reaper: Again, "Dead Man’s Party”.
- Dystopia: “Perfect System”
- Elevator Going Down: "Elevator Man". It doesn't end well.
- Epic Rocking: Much their final studio album Boingo. Four songs exceed 7 minutes: "Insanity", "Hey!", "Pedestrian Wolves" and "Change" (with "Change" clocking in at just under 16 minutes). Even including the 37-second doggerel track "Tender Lumplings" in the mix, the 12 songs on the album average over 6 minutes each.
- Evil Redhead: Or at least creepy as hell - Elfman's persona in the videos.
- Fake-Out Fade-Out: "Change" glides to a comfortable ending after 15 minutes, only to return for the final verse and chorus.
- Faux Affably Evil: The eponymous Elevator Man. "I'm so polite" indeed.
- Foreshadowing: The marimba lead break on "No One Lives Forever" sounds like a test run for Elfman's score for Beetlejuice.
- "Nasty Habits" resembles an early version of "Breakfast Machine" from Pee-wee's Big Adventure.
- Filk Song: "No Spill Blood" is one for The Island of Doctor Moreau.
- Fish out of Water: "On The Outside"
- For Science!: "Weird Science"
- Fractured Fairy Tale: "Cinderella Undercover"
- Friend to All Children: In "Long Breakdown":I believe, I believe in the cry of little childrenThere's a thorn in my side that makes me want to free them
- Genre Roulette: Sometimes. Probably the weirdest examples are "Country Sweat" (a slowed-down country version of "Sweat"), "Water" (Blue Grass), and "Burn Me Up" (thrash metal with a saxophone chorus).
- Girls in White: The doll-dismembering girls in the "Insanity" video.
- The Gong Show: Here they are in a 1976 appearance.
- Referenced in "Weird Al" Yankovic's Oingo Boingo style parody "You Make Me".
- Hellevator: "Elevator Man"... possibly.
- Hypocritical Humor: The adults in "Only a Lad" say of the title character, "society made him" and "he's our responsibility"...then proceed to do absolutely nothing to curb his behavior.
- I Just Want to Have Friends: "Private Life"This is my private life, come and get me out of here
- Intercourse with You: "Wild Sex (In the Working Class)", "Violent Love", "Elevator Man" and "Elementary Physics".
- I See Dead People: "Mama"
- Karma Houdini: Johnny in "Only a Lad" gets away with arson, theft, assault, and vehicular manslaughter because the judge believes it's society's fault he's such a psychopath. However, the narrator predicts - or at least hopes - that Johnny will go to Hell when he dies.
- Little People Are Surreal: The music videos for "Little Girls", "Nothing Bad Ever Happens To Me" and "Stay".
- Loners Are Freaks: Played with in "On The Outside": the narrator thinks himself a weirdo for not fitting into certain social norms and is laughed at for trying, but the last verse indicates that he'd rather be a weirdo than a slave to trends.
- Lyrical Dissonance: Lots; “Controller” and "Little Girls" spring to mind, and especially “Tender Lumplings”.
- Mad Scientist: The narrator of “Weird Science”.
- Manipulative Bastard: The song "Gratitude" is sung from the point of view of one who appears to be mocking the people they manipulated.
- Mohs Scale of Lyrical Hardness: Typically between 4 and 8. Expect lots of Black Humor and Nightmare Fuel.
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Usually between 3 and 6, though much of Dark at the End of the Tunnel is a 2.
- Motor Mouth: Danny in "Goodbye Goodbye":You're always puttin' the make on my friends always giving them eyes and the dirty lies 'bout me and you well I'm through it's the end of the line for you babe here's a ticket one way Cincinnati I'm sendin' you home to your ma and your daddy so don't try to call me you'll only be wastin' your tiiiime! note
- New Sound Album: So-Lo (slower and synth-ier) and Boingo (Alternative Rock).
- New Wave
- Nightmare Fetishist: The narrator of "Pedestrian Wolves":I'm so excited about the prospectsOf meeting with a stranger in an alleyI'm so excited, I hope they're roughI hope their skin is tough like Spanish leather
- Obligatory Bondage Song: "Nasty Habits"
- Officially Shortened Title: They were originally The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, then Oingo Boingo, and finally just Boingo. (They went back to Oingo Boingo for their farewell concert.)
- One-Woman Song: "Louise" and "Mary".
- Performance Video: "Dead Man's Party" is the most straightforward example. "Private Life", "Stay" and "Weird Science" combine this with Concept Video, while "Just Another Day" shows the band onstage but has some odd touches.
- Precision F-Strike: In "Capitalism" and "Helpless".
- Raised by Wolves: “Pedestrian Wolves”
- Sanity Slippage Song: "Insanity" and so many others. "Whole Day Off", "Insects", "I'm Afraid", "Just Another Day", "Mama", "Something Isn't Right", "Did It There" and "Helpless" readily come to mind.
- Shout-Out: "Wake Up (It's 1984)", for obvious reasons.
- “No Spill Blood” is one long shout-out to The Island of Doctor Moreau.
- Single Stanza Song: "Tender Lumplings"
- The '60s: Both "Just Another Day" and "Dead Man's Party" evoke this - "Just Another Day" with its psychedelic imagery and wailing synthesizer, and "Dead Man's Party" with its surf-rock guitar and a pre-climactic bridge that is eerily reminiscent of "Light My Fire".
- Skeletal Musician: The cover art of "Dead Man's Party" features a skeletal mariachi band.
- Slasher Smile: Danny in most of their music videos.
- If it's not this, it's the Kubrick Stare.
- Society Is to Blame: Mocked in "Only a Lad":It’s not his fault that he can’t behaveSociety’s made him go astrayPerhaps if we’re nice he’ll go away!
- Stalker with a Crush: "Something Isn't Right". "Insanity" might also count, but it's unclear what the relationship is between the narrator and the owner of the "pretty head".
- Subliminal Seduction: "Cry of the Vatos" which features heavy drums, frantic screaming, and full-volume backmasked lyrics... which when played in reverse, says things like "Accept Jesus into your heart and you will be saved. You will receive everlasting life."
- Take That, Critics!: "Imposter", written after a scathing review the band got in 1981.You're just a critic, we know why you drink so muchJealousy slowly consuming your gut
- Take That!
You're just a middle class socialist brat
- The song "Capitalism" is a Take That inspired by the left-leaning Punk Rock bands at the time.note It includes the immortal tirade:
From a suburban family and you never really had to work
And you tell me that you've got to get back
To the struggling masses, whoever they are
You talk, talk, talk about the suffering and pain
Your mouth is bigger than your entire brain
What the hell do you know about suffering and pain, ya dumbfuck?
Let's talk of family values while we sit and watch the slaughter
- Conversely, "Insanity" is a Take That towards the Christian Right:
Hypothetical abortions on imaginary daughters
The white folks think they're at the top, ask any proud white male
A million years of evolution; we get Danny Quayle
- Talking Down the Suicidal: "Out of Control"
- Teen Pregnancy: In "Sweat":The cool girls got knocked up
- Testosterone Poisoning: Deconstructed in "Tough As Nails". The protagonist, "Mr. Macho", constantly daydreams about being a ladykilling action hero as an escape from his depressing life.
- Video Full of Film Clips: The videos for "Dead Man's Party" and "Weird Science".
- Villain Protagonist: The narrator of "Little Girls".
- White Guilt: "Capitalism" is, in part, about this.
- Word-Salad Horror/Word Salad Lyrics: "Just Another Day", "Whole Day Off", "Reptiles and Samurai", and "Dead or Alive", among others.