Thursday, May 3, 2012

ThURGHsday! #7 - Oingo Boingo

URGH! A Music War was probably my introduction to Oingo Boingo:

"Ain't This The Life"

But I would hear their music here & there in early 80's movies like Fast Times At Ridgemont HighSurf II, and the "Squeezit the Moocher" segment from Forbidden Zone. (Trivia Nugget: I had a college radio show named "The Forbidden Zone" that I hosted with a friend of mine. Not as schizophrenic as the movie...but close.)

So Oingo Boingo's music was familiar to me by the time I started getting into them, which was probably mid-80's. I recall buying the cassettes for Good for Your Soul and Nothing to Fear, and I'm pretty sure I didn't know songs off either album when I bought them.


If anything, I knew the songs from Only a Lad better, but probably didn't know song titles. In fact, I'm pretty sure I bought those cassettes looking for "Ain't This The Life" or "Violent Love," a song I heard on 91X in San Diego while there on vacation.


Formed in Los Angeles as The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, Danny Elfman decided to focus the band and they cultivated a very different brand of southern California rock that wasn't quite New Wave, but they get lumped in with that early 80's genre. Personally, I think more of synths when I think New Wave (New Order, OMD), not so much the kinetic guitars & horns of Oingo Boingo - but the band did have their share of great keyboard hooks.

But Oingo Boingo always stood out for me in my musical landscape. They weren't a ska band, even though they had a horn section. They weren't New Wave, but they weren't metal or straight-ahead rock, either. They wrote thoughtful lyrics (quite often with an existentialist bent) although few up to "Stay" on Dead Man's Party would be considered actual love-type songs, and even "Stay" is a love song in chorus only. I think.


And that's the tough thing about Oingo Boingo, they're very difficult to pin down, musically - not that every band has to fit neatly in a genre, and I like & respect bands like Boingo precisely because they aren't easily categorized.

I think the first album was mostly Elfman writing the lyrics from the points of view of a lot of characters. The character in "Little Girls" by Oingo Boingo is pretty deplorable, but he's certainly not the same person who sings "Capitalism" later on that same album. After that, though, I think Elfman is more explicit in what he's trying to tell us - listen to "Grey Matter," "Wake Up (It's 1984)," or "Little Guns." Dead Man's Party has its share of fanciful tales - "Dead Man's Party" & "Weird Science." Definitely my favorite cover art of their records - I have a thing for Día de los Muertos.


I readily admit that I haven't listened much to Dark at the End of the Tunnel or Boingo (their final album, not to be confused with Boi-Ngo). Dark End is still Oingo Boingo-like, but "Insanity" - the first track off Boingo - is very much like Eflman's film score work, and the other songs I briefly previewed were more "normal" songs that you'd hear from a regular rock band. And their cover of The Beatles' "I Am the Walrus" is, in my opinion, horrible. (The Oasis cover wasn't much better, but it was better.)

And then Oingo Boingo were no more.

Where URGH! They Now?

Most people know that Danny Elfman has cultivated a very successful career as a composer of movie & TV scores, including The Simpsons opening theme, Forbidden Zone, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Batman, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Good Will Hunting, Spider-Man and  Meet the Robinsons among many, many others.

I don't think many people know that Steve Bartek has also worked on a good number of film & television scores (Desperate Housewives, Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, An Extremely Goofy Movie, Cabin Boy) and has handled orchestration duties for many of Elfman's scores as well as an extensive list of other movies, TV shows & video games.

While Elfman has declined to perform live since the end of the group citing concerns about his hearing, the drummer, Johnny Vatos, has organized "Boingo Dance Party," including members of Oingo Boingo.

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Last ThURGHsday! - Chelsea, "I'm On Fire"
Next ThURGHsday! - Echo & the Bunnymen, "The Puppet"


6 comments:

  1. I was 15 in 82 when all this stuff was going on.

    Classifying bands back then in was tricky. In Los Angeles the "New Wave" bands being played on the stations that weren't playing top 40 and oldies.
    Radio Tijuana on AM 690, KROQ and later KNAC would play the "other stuff" that wasn't on the "soul" stations.
    When Richard Blade started his MV3 TV show on KCAL he showed videos from the stuff he played on KROQ. Most of the videos were new wave but Oingo Boingo's "Private Life" video got a lot of play as well.
    So while they weren't really New Wave, there was a lot of guilt by association.

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    1. I was living in a small mountain town in Colorado, so this type of music just trickled in. I honestly think URGH! was my first intro to Oingo Boingo. I don't know where else I heard them to get me into them -their videos were never much to write home about, as I recall, so probably not that way. I'll have to ponder that some more. :)

      Thanks for reading & commenting!

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  2. Speaking of the Mystic Nights of the Oingo Boingo, here's their appearance on The Gong Show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTRd1a5MVMw

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    1. I love that footage of the Mystic Knights. :) The Gong Show was so incredible when you look back at it.

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  3. Oingo Boingo were one of those bands that seemed to be always around in high school. You've not seen surreal until you've seen cheerleaders dancing to "Little Girls." Just thinking about it brings an impish grin to my face. :D

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    1. Cheerleaders dancing to "Little Girls"? Probably file that one under "This song does not mean what you think it means." :D

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