Oingo Boingo was an American new wave band. They are best known for their influence on other musicians, their soundtrack contributions and their high energy Halloween concerts. The band was founded in 1972 as a performance art group called The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, and from 1976 it was led by songwriter/vocalist Danny Elfman, who has since achieved substantial renown as a composer for film and television.
The group's format changed twice. In 1980, it changed from a semi-theatrical music and comedy troupe into a ska-influenced New Wave octet and shortened their name to Oingo Boingo. In 1994, the band reshuffled its lineup, adopted an alternative rock sound and rechristened themselves Boingo. The band retired in 1995, having reverted to the name Oingo Boingo.
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 band members. Few recordings from this period exist, although they released a novelty record about kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst, "You've Got Your Baby Back".
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 (and without getting gonged). The band appeared in the 1977 movie I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. Their appearance was in the dream sequences of the main character.
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.
A&M years (1980?1984)
Various reasons were given for the band's transformation from musical theater troupe to rock band, including cutting costs, increasing mobility, exploring new musical directions (such as Danny's interest in ska and New Wave), and a desire to perform music that didn't need theatrics. There was some confusion about what name the band would use. In the 1978 animated short "Face Like a Frog", by Sally Cruikshank, the band's song "Don't Go in the Basement" is credited to The Mystic Knights. The name was shortened to Oingo Boingo for the Rhino Records Los Angeles rock and New Wave compilation, L.A. In, which included 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". 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 (cleverly 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 movie 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 movie Back to School. Four more songs from the album Dead Man's Party were used in soundtracks: "No One Lives Forever" was featured in Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, "Stay" (in the Boingo Alive version) was used as the theme music for the Brazilian soap opera Top Model, "Same Man I Was Before" was used in My Best Friend Is a Vampire, and "Just Another Day" opened the 1985 film adaptation of S. E. Hinton's That Was Then, This Is Now. Beginning with 1985's Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Danny Elfman had been scoring major films with increasing frequency, including almost all of Tim Burton's films.
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.
Final years (1991?1995)
After being dropped from MCA, the band officially shortened their name to Boingo, 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. 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 the guitar-oriented album used the keyboards and horns of the five remaining members sparingly, and excluded the horn section entirely from live performances of the period. The quintet was often backed by an orchestra conducted by Bartek, and which 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 contained the modern rock hit "Hey!" Reverting to the Oingo Boingo name and restoring the horn section, 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 has continued to find success in his career writing film scores, 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, Desperate Housewives, Tales from the Crypt, Sledge Hammer!, Dilbert (TV series), and The Flash (TV series).
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. After the breakup, bassist John Avila, guitarist Steve Bartek, drummer Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez, and saxophonist Sam Phipps (along with Doug Lacy and other musicians) formed a 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.
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 Bt4. In 2005, John Avila, Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez and Steve Bartek joined the list of performers on the soundtrack of 2003 re-imagination of the sci-fi series, Battlestar Galactica. Richard Gibbs joined as well, and is credited as both a performer and composer. Their performances can be heard in seasons 2 and 3, and will likely be heard on subsequent seasons of the series as well. 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 and Bt4.
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 World of Warcraft PC game. New adventurers can find skeletons with names such as Daniel Ulfman, fitting to one of the bands running themes.
Main article: List of Oingo Boingo band members