Oingo Boingo originally formed in 1972 as The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo- a musical troupe in the tradition of Frank Zappa, performing an eclectic repertoire ranging from Cab Calloway covers to 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 make-up, and a typical show contained music ranging from the 1890s to the 1950s, in addition to original material.
The band gained a following in Los Angeles and appeared as contestants on The Gong Show in 1976, winning the episode they appeared on.
Shortening their name in 1979 to simply Oingo Boingo, the group had a track (I’m Afraid) appear on a Rhino Records compilation and self-released a demo EP entitled . . . Demo EP.
The EP caught the attention of IRS Records, who reissued a slightly altered version in 1980 as Oingo Boingo – the band’s first official public release.
The group released its first full-length album, Only a Lad, in 1981 and appeared in the 1981 film Longshot. Recording for A&M Records, they released albums – Nothing to Fear (1982) and Good for Your Soul (1983) – that drew comparisons to Devo and later, Wall of Voodoo.
But although their sound was classified as New Wave, Oingo Boingo defied easy categorisation. Their use of exotic percussion, a three-piece horn section, unconventional scales and harmony and surrealistic imagery was an unusual combination.
Their first release for MCA was officially a Danny Elfman solo record – So-Lo (1984), although in reality it was a group effort released under Elfman’s name.
Following some personnel changes (Mike Bacich took over on keyboards from departing member Richard Gibbs, and John Avila replaced Kerry Hatch on bass), Oingo Boingo appeared on a number of soundtracks in the early to mid-1980s, including Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982).
Their best-known song, Weird Science, was written for the John Hughes film of the same name (1985), and was later included on their 1985 album Dead Man’s Party.
Danny Elfman began scoring movies with increasing frequency – starting with Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985), which eventually included almost all of Tim Burton’s films.
Oingo Boingo’s 1987 album BOI-NGO did not fare well in the charts, and Bacich left to be replaced by new keyboardist Carl Graves.
Boingo Alive (1988) was actually recorded live on a soundstage, with no studio audience, and consisted of songs from earlier albums, plus two new compositions.
After being dropped from MCA, the band reshuffled their lineup again. Graves was dropped and new additions were made in the form of Warren Fitzgerald on guitar, Marc Mann on keyboards and Doug Lacy on accordion.
In 1994, the band released an album, titled Boingo, on Giant Records. The more guitar-oriented album used the keyboards and horns of the five remaining members sparingly.
The band embarked on a brief farewell tour in 1995, culminating in a final annual Halloween performance at the Universal Amphitheatre.
Johnny “Vatos” Hernandez
Sam “Sluggo” Phipps