Monday, June 28, 2010

New Wave for the New Week #72

They were a band passed down from older brother to younger as the years went on.  They began performing in garish clown make-up, doing painstakingly staged and costumed theatrical presentations of music from as far back as the end of the nineteenth century infused with a certain avant-garde edge that never left even as this troupe of musicians evolved from such arty conceit into a more traditional band.  They appeared on - and won - The Gong Show before achieving their later fame.  They gained a cult following among the New Wave scenesters thanks to early records being played on KROQ and early videos being aired in the fledgling days of MTV.  They achieved limited mainstream success as they shifted once again into writing for movie soundtracks.  And when the band finally dissolved, its leader - the younger brother - achieved his greatest fame.

Books could (and should!) be written about the long and twisting journey of the band best known to the world as Oingo Boingo.  I'll give you the short version:  Richard Elfman and his wife Marie created a musical theater/comedy revue in LA in 1972 which they christened The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo.  A year later, Richard's younger brother, Danny Elfman, joined as the troupe's musical director.  The purpose of The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo is best described in Richard's own words:
"My guiding musical vision for the group was 'nothing contemporary.' We faithfully re-created GREAT music that audiences could no longer hear live anymore – Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Django Rheinhardt, Josephine Baker, and did totally original, off-the-wall compositions by Danny, including numbers using an array of percussion instruments that he and saxophonist Leon Schneiderman created for the group." (source)
Within a few years, Richard's attention was beginning to turn to other projects, and he handed the reigns of The Mystic Knights completely over to Danny.  One of Richard's last perfromances with the troupe - indeed, one of the few extant recordings of the troupe in any form - was captured when they appeared as contestants on the The Gong Show in 1976:

With Danny now at the helm, The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo transformed into a eight-person rock/ska/jazz/art band, creating music that at times virtually defied categorization. By 1980 they had a record deal, and, with name now truncated to the less unwieldy Oingo Boingo, they made their vinyl debut with the single "Only A Lad." DJs at influential radio station KROQ jumped on the disc and its follow-up, "Ain't This The Life?," and before too long Oingo Boingo was one of the most popular of the new music acts coming out of the West Coast.

Their first three albums were simply incredible: Only A Lad appeared in 1981, followed by Nothing To Fear in 1982 and Good For Your Soul in 1983; not a bad song can be found on any of them.  The band's history in musical theater made them perfect candidates for the music video format, and clips from each album ("Little Girls" from Lad, "Private Life" from Fear and "Nothing Bad Ever Happens To Me" from Soul) were very popular.

Oingo Boingo found their greatest success, however, in the movies.  Starting with "Goodbye Goodbye," which plays over the ending credits of 1982's Fast Times At Ridgemont High, a string of movies featured Oingo Boingo cuts in their soundtracks, culminating in perhaps their most well-known song, the theme from 1985's Weird Science.  (Also notable: a couple of their tracks wound up in 1984's Bachelor Party, and the cut "Dead Man's Party" from Back To School charted in 1986.)

Around this time, Danny Elfman began stepping out on his own, releasing a solo album and the single "Gratitude" in late 1984.  The band was moving toward a more polished, mainstream sound in order to better land those lucrative movie soundtrack spots; as a result, later albums paled in comparison to the first three essential LPs.  The band shortened its name once again, to simply "Boingo," as the 1990s approached, but the magic was gone.  Elfman was beginning to gain notice as a composer of entire film scores: Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and Good Will Hunting are among his works.  He has also become well known for his TV show themes, most notably composing the theme for The Simpsons.

Oingo Boingo called it a day in 1995, performing a farewell concert that Halloween.

Picking a favorite clip to feature as this week's NW4NW was not easy - as I say, there's not a bad song to be found among the first three albums.  If pressed, though, I have to go with their wonderful ode to paranoia and social anxiety, 1982's "Private Life." Enjoy!

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