Oingo Boingo Biography

Based in Los Angeles, California, USA, this new wave band’s prolific, if unspectacular, career was centred on the compositional skills of leader Danny Elfman (Daniel Robert Elfman, 29 May 1953, Los Angeles County, California, USA; guitar/vocals). The band’s history went back to 1972, when Danny’s brother Rick Elfman (b. Richard Elfman, 6 March 1949, Los Angeles, California, USA) formed the musical theatre troupe the Mystic Knights Of The Oingo Boingo. With Danny’s involvement the emphasis shifted from theatre to pop, although the group’s cabaret-style live act was captured on the 1980 film Forbidden Zone. As Oingo Boingo, the line-up originally featured Danny Elfman, Steve Bartek (guitar/vocals), Richard Gibbs (keyboards/vocals), Kerry Hatch (bass/vocals), Johnny Hernandez (drums), Sam Phipps (saxophone), Leon Schneiderman (saxophone) and Dale Turner (trumpet/trombone). Their early recordings for A&M Records were mainly synthesizer-led songs accompanied by a three-piece horn section, and many critics compared them to a ‘west coast Devo’. They developed their sound, however, and on 1982’s Nothing To Fear, for example, they attempted to achieve commercial recognition with electronic funk. The following year’s Good For Your Soul, produced by Robert Margouleff, was more effective and included the notable ‘Wake Up (It’s 1984)’, although too many of the band’s songs remained slight and insubstantial.

Elfman’s solo debut, So-Lo, on which other members of the band played, gave prominence to his sometimes grandiose vocals and lyrical themes, but made little impression on the charts or the critics. With John Avila (bass) and Mike Bacich (keyboards) replacing Hatch and Gibbs, 1985’s Dead Man’s Party anticipated Elfman’s future solo career with material suited to film soundtracks (most obviously on ‘Weird Science’, which accompanied the movie of the same name and was released as a single). With forceful songs such as ‘Help Me’ and ‘Stay’, many see Dead Man’s Party as Oingo Boingo’s finest hour. Boingo retreated to a more experimental stance, offering an intricate but difficult listening climate, in which instruments vied with each other and stereo effects in an aural collage, but not one destined for repeated listening.

In the 90s Danny Elfman concentrated increasingly on film and television soundtrack work, finding particular success in collaboration with director Tim Burton. Despite this, he continued to return to the Oingo Boingo format, releasing a double live album before a new studio set, Dark At The End Of The Tunnel, in 1990. The band’s name was shortened to Boingo in 1994 for a self-titled set, which featured Warren Fitzgerald of the Vandals on guitar. Two years later the band released a valedictory live album, Farewell.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.