Oingo Boingo was never one of the biggest bands in the world, even at the height of its popularity in the ’80s. They were, however, a ubiquitous part of pop culture at the time. The band mixed absurdity with ridiculous musical chops on songs crafted by a true master, the great Danny Elfman.
The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo
The first time Oingo Boingo got any mainstream attention was, incredibly, on the The Gong Show in 1976. Before they were even a proper band, they were a surrealist performance troupe know as The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. Led by Elfman and his brother Richard, the ensemble formed in Los Angeles in early seventies, inspired by other surrealists in music, like Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart. In ‘76, they appeared on the legendary Gong Show and if you’ve never seen it, I urge you to seek it out. It’s almost impossible to explain all that happens in their performance, but—spoiler alert: they won.
So Many Movie Soundtracks
By the end of the ‘70s, Danny Elfman started taking the band in a more mainstream direction, though they never lost their quirkiness. Most people in the ’80s were introduced to Oingo Boingo through their seemingly constant inclusion in movie soundtracks. “Goodbye, Goodbye” played over the credits of Fast Times At Ridgemont High; “Wild Sex in the Working Class” popped up in Sixteen Candles when Anthony Michael Hall awkwardly dances with Molly Ringwald at the school dance.
Elfman and the band wrote and performed the theme song to Weird Science, and they appeared as a bar band in the Rodney Dangerfield classic Back To School, performing their hit “Dead Man’s Party”. More recently, they’ve been heard in TV shows like Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin and Stranger Things, among many others. In all, they have a whopping 70 credits to their name on IMDb.
Danny Elfman Goes In A Different Direction
It seems while appearing on all those soundtracks, Danny Elfman learned something: making music for movies is what he wanted to do. It was another surrealist artist, director Tim Burton, who first talked Elfman into writing a complete movie score. The result was the music for Burton’s breakout film, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure starring Paul Ruebens as his iconic Pee-wee Herman character. From there, Elfman’s career as a composer exploded.
In addition to scoring almost all of Tim Burton’s movies, including Batman, Edward Scissorhands, and Alice In Wonderland, Danny Elfman has composed some of the most legendary soundtracks of all time for other directors as well, finding his way into the MCU and the DCEU, among his many credits. The list of movies is staggering and too long to list here, but the single piece of music of his that might be the most recognizable is the theme song to a somewhat popular cartoon, The Simpsons.
Oingo Boingo Break Up
In the midst of all of Elfman’s soundtrack success, Oingo Boingo was still regularly touring and blowing audiences away with their frenetic performances. They developed a huge cult following and their Halloween shows in southern California become the stuff of legend. It was one of these shows, in 1995, that marked the band’s final concert together. Elfman, citing hearing loss, decided it was time to completely move away from rock music and concentrate solely on soundtracks. The final song the band played was “Only A Lad” from their second album of the same name. The band’s final performances were released as a live album and video, appropriately called Farewell.
Hope For A Reunion?
Since those last shows in the fall of 1995, Danny Elfman has consistently dismissed the idea of the band reunited, citing his hearing loss again, as well as the fact that reunions of other bands have left a bad taste in his mouth. Elfman has always been an artist looking forward, not reminiscing on past glories. Lately, though, Elfman is looking back.
On Halloween 2015, Elfman and his Oingo Boingo bandmate Steve Bartek brought together an orchestra and some of the original cast of A Nightmare Before Christmas to do a full performance of Elfman’s score. At the very end of the night, Elfman and Bartek performed the Oingo Boingo song “Dead Man’s Party” together for the first time since that farewell concert 20 years earlier. It was the first time in decades that Elfman had played anything by his original band.
Then Came Coachella 2022
During the Covid-19 lockdowns, Elfman got an itch to play and record rock music for the first time in years. The result was his first album of pop/rock music since Oingo Boingo broke up, called Big Mess. Elfman followed the release with a couple of performances at Coachella earlier this year that included songs from the album, a selection of pieces from movie soundtracks he’d done, and, to the joy of fans everywhere, quite a few Oingo Boingo songs. The album and the concerts also feature two former band members, Bartek and guitarist Warren Fitzgerald.
Now, it seems, the nostalgia bug might have caught up with Elfman even more as he just announced he’s going to be playing two shows at the Hollywood Bowl over Halloween weekend in 2022. The concert, Elfman noted in a tweet announcing the gig, will include more than the Coachella performance, including “More Boingo.” So while it’s still a long shot that Oingo Boingo fans will ever get a true reunion, these shows in the band’s hometown, on the band’s favorite holiday, may be as close are they’ll ever get.