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Music Tidbits: Oingo Boingo

  • Oingo Boingo is a strange band with an odd name, but not quite as strange as the group started out. In 1972, they were originally a performance art group called The Mystic Knights of The Oingo Boingo. The group was a blend of theater, comedy and music. There were up to 15 members at any given time and over 30 instruments involved in the show –some of them handmade by band members. Most of the members would wear clown make up and the band played tunes from anywhere between the 1890’s and 1950’s.

  • In fact, the band’s most famous member, Danny Elfman, wasn’t even in the group when it started. Instead, his brother, Richard, was the band’s leader and founder. Both Danny and Richard grew up listening to music very outdated for kid’s their age –Danny’s said his favorite tunes were obscure jazz records from the thirties.

  • The original band was named after a fictional secret society in Amos n’ Andy called The Mystic Knights of the Sea. As far as the “Oingo Boingo” part of the name, it’s hard to say. The words mean nothing and there seems to be no reason for the band using the title other than liking the way the two words sounded.

  • There are few recordings of the group in their pre-Danny Elfman times, but during the period, they did release a record about Patty Hearst called “You’ve Got Your Baby Back.”

  • In 1976, Richard decided he needed to focus more time on his film-making, so Danny took his place in the group and they began shifting their efforts from the theatric side into the musical aspect they are now known for.

  • One of Oingo Boingo’s most famous performances during this transition period of the band was on The Gong Show. The group won with 24 out of a possible 30 points.

    • In 1977, the group played in the movie “I Never Promised You A Rose Garden.” They appeared during the dream sequences of the main character. This was to be the first of many movie and soundtrack appearances for the group, including “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Weird Science,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,” “Back To School” and “Bachelor Party.” By this time, they started getting a decent underground following from their Gong Show appearance and part in the film.

    • Interestingly, one of the least known movies Oingo Boingo took part in may have been the best insight into both the psyches of the Elfman brothers and the essence of the early work of the Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo. That movie is Richard Elfman’s cult classic, “Forbidden Zone.” This strange movie was filmed in black and white with the intention of post-production colorization (something which wasn’t completed until last year). In the movie, Danny plays the devil and sings a swinging cover of Minnie the Moocher with some modified lyrics to suit the film’s plot.

    • By 1980, The Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo became an actual rock group, which was cheaper and easier to travel with than a full stage show. They also slimmed down their line up to a respectable 8 members, fittingly, they also shortened their name to only two memorable words: Oingo Boingo. At this time, the group also released their first hit single, “Only a Lad.” By 1981, the group was signed on A&M and released their first full length album, also called “Only a Lad.”

    • One of the tracks from this first album, “Capitalism,” was considered to be one of the “50 greatest conservative rock songs” by The National Review.

    • The group's third album was “Good For Your Soul.” On this record, the group inserted a secret message on the song “Cry of the Vatos.” When you play the song backwards, a pro-Christian message is heard. They wanted to make fun of all the conservative paranoia about music that was popular at the time.

    • Within a few years, Danny already had some issues with A&M and he decided to release a “solo” album under MCA Records. In actuality, the record was a group effort that was only released under Danny Elfman’s name to get around the band’s contract with A&M.

    • Oingo Boingo’s best known song, “Weird Science” was actually written specifically for the John Hughes movie and was included on the 1985 album “Dead Man’s Party.” By the mid eighties, Danny Elfman already began working heavily on movie themes and had began his long-term work with director Tim Burton. Elfman has done almost all of the soundtracks for the Tim Burton collection of films.

    • 1988’s “Boingo Alive” was recorded live on a soundstage, without an audience.

    • Oingo Boingo left MCA in 1991 and rearranged its line up, removing a lot of the influence of the group’s horns. They also decided to shorten their name even further, this time to only Boingo.

    • After that album, the group went back to their old name. The momentum seemed to have left the band by this point though and they opted to separate after their yearly Halloween performance in 1995. This show was recorded and while the cd is not hard to get, the DVD is rare enough to be worth over $100.

    • Since the group’s parting of ways, Danny Elfman has become one of the most famous composers in the movie industry. He almost exclusively hires Boingo guitarist Steve Bartek as his orchestrator. You may know some of his theme songs from such classics as The Simpsons, Batman, Spider Man and Tales From The Crypt.

    • John Avila and Johnny Hernandez have continued to work in a number of groups together, including Food For Feet, Tito & Tarantula, Psychotic Aztecs and Doug & The Mystics. Additionally, these two members and a few other ex-Boingo members put together an Oingo Boing tribute show in Anaheim in 2005.

    • Throughout the entire span of Oingo Boingo and The Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo, over 30 people were in the group.

    • Danny Elfman insists that there will never be an Oingo Boingo reunion. He says he suffers from irreversible hearing loss and does not want to make it worse by touring.

    Source #1 and #2

    Great Article! It should be noted though the second album was actually "Nothing to Fear" followed by "Good for your Soul". I saw them at the Arlington in Santa Barbara in 1982. This I believe was the apex their high energy stage shows.
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    You know, for such an odd band, they did really well for themselves. I had forgotten about some of the movie appearances. I must have seen them in 'Back to School' a thousand times on HBO as a kid.
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    Great stuff. I'm a big fan but I noticed some things weren't mentioned. One, Richard Elfman is a director and I love Forbidden Zone. Also, there are rumors as to the Oingo Boingo name. One, is that Danny Elfman had said once that it is the sound that it makes when you hit a basketball against a dog. Two, it means something in Swahili although I'm not sure if either one is true, hint; rumors. There's a lot more info that could've been added, like Gibbs is now a composer as well and that the tribute band will be performing in Anaheim again later this year around Halloween (if not on Halloween). Lots of info but what there was, very cool. Thanks! :D
    Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
    This sounds a bit apocryphal, but I heard from a filmmaker friend that when Paul Thomas Anderson met Tim Burton for the first time, he said only, "You stole Danny Elfman from me."
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    There was an EP first, which contained Only a Lad, but which had three other bad ass songs (like Violent Love)--which I have always thought were some of their best.

    Also, you failed to mention the influence of El Muerto art on their style, which I consider to be very important.

    Their live act ruled. I've seen them like 10 times. Scholar Brad, I was at that show, but it wasn't their apex--they kept putting on incredible shows well into the 90s.

    I was very happily surprised to see this. Good job.
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    I believe that the name, "Oingo Boingo," was inspired by the name, "Bongo Congo," as mentioned in this article about a cartoon series from my childhood:
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    I have great memories of many Oingo Boingo shows from the late 70s and early 80s. That was a great time when they still did a lot of the costume stuff, as well as huge jams on their homemade instruments.

    Sadly, I don't think their music has aged all that well. The motifs that Elfman became known for work much better in the later, orchestral soundtrack formats that Elfman pursued.

    And #9 is right - the first EP still ruled over all the later stuff. It also had great cover art by artist Louis Wain, created during the later stages of his schizophrenia.
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    Good catch on the Bartek and the album numbers.

    One other thing I thought was interesting but didn't include in the article was that No Spill Blood was written about the Island Of Dr. Moreau.
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    I can honestly say that I was not expecting to see my favorite eighties/early nineties band featured on Neatorama. I think I attended one of their concerts in the womb even. Thanks for sharing the Gong show bit too, I haven't seen much of their Mystic Knights galavantings, just heard some of their performances from that time period.
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    Oh yeah, so Nothing to Fear (I guess which was before Only a Lad) and then the Oingo Boingo album (with electric cat), wouldn't those be considered their first albums?
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    It should also be noted that while there's never been an "official" Oingo Boingo reunion, there has been plenty of times where most of the band members (Not Elfman) will get together and play in LA for Halloween. I went to a show in 2006, and it was amazing. They did songs from Boingo, Nightmare Before Christmas, and other covers as well. It's usually billed as "Tribute to Halloween", but I think in recent years they've changed it to "Tribute to Oingo Boingo.
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    HUGE fan of the band and Danny. Wonderful clip of the Gong Show - I had not seen that before!

    I have all their albums and saw them live numerous times when their tour would bring them to Houston, TX! I have autographs of everyone except Bartek... sneeky bastard would always slip

    So sorry to hear of Danny's hearing loss. That man has the most beautiful voice I've ever heard and it saddens me to know I will never see the band and him live again.
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    The name will be debated forever but I saw an old cartoon (forgive me, can't remember the's the cat and his sidekick, very famous old comic!) where the cat was bouncing down the street and the sound it made was (apparently 'Oingo Boingo!' written in big bold letters...I'd be very surprised if it was a coincidence knowing what they are into!
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    Great info here. there is so much more of their history, I wish someone would put together a book ( like the Kisstory ) on oingo boingo. The band is still one of my favorites, genius pure genius. I listen to music from swing , counrty to hard rock. I have still never heard any band that is so complex and musically satisfying. Back in the eightys I would say " Danny Elfman is a god" and few got it. But I think now many understand he was so ahead of the rest. I saw them live twice in Richmond Va, once around 1983 and there wasn't 100 people there so I rocked out front and center. It was like it was just me and the band.I think Danny thought I was crazy.We high fived after a few songs, the stage was not 18" tall.So we were inches apart. Not many on the east coast knew how great they were. I still listen to the last halloween concert album it makes me sad to think that that would never happen again. I own a Sound lighting and Video Production company and I give credit to the love of bands like oingo boingo and kiss as major reasons I am here. They realized that it was not just music but performance and style.
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