Oingo Boingo toiled in relative obscurity for most of their career, though at their height were an arena-selling band in their hometown of Los Angeles. Formed in 1979 after the theatrical troupe The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo disbanded, the group was led by songwriter and vocalist Danny Elfman. The group’s early sound relied on New Wave sounds, a quirky public image, a frantic beat, and horn section. Their songs often dealt with social issues, and on later albums more complex sounds were explored, such as reggae and African sounds. Boingo, as they were known by their fanatical fans, is also the favorite group of this author.

Oingo Boingo in 1982

After the regional success of Only a Lad in 1981, featuring the songs “On the Outside”, “Capitalism”, the title track, and the controversial “Little Girls”, Boingo regrouped in 1982 for Nothing to Fear. In addition to the title track, the album featured the single “Private Life” and “Wild Sex (In the Working Class)”, later used in the film Sixteen Candles.

The standout track on Nothing to Fear was “Grey Matter” a song┬áreminding young people to “there’s something inside your head” and to think for themselves. This meaning is clear in the clip below, where Elfman buries the 1960s and demonstrates his trademark charisma. “Grey Matter” was unique that Boingo’s traditional horn section was not used, though members of the horn section helped build the “Rumba-phones” used by Elfman and bassist Kerry Hatch as the visual centerpiece of the song when performed live. The use of unusual sounds became a Boingo trademark, first using handmade instruments and in later years through the use of keyboards.

Due to their popularity in Southern California, they appeared at both US Festivals and were often tapped for soundtrack work. Their song “Goodbye Goodbye” was featured during the finale of the seminal teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the group recorded two songs including the title track for Bachelor Party. The group’s Halloween shows in Southern California became increasingly popular during the decade, drawing over 20,000 fans per night at their peak of popularity.

In late 1983, the group issued Good for Your Soul. That album continued in the same general format, which included songs with social commentary including “Who Do You Want To Be”, “Wake Up (It’s 1984)”, and “Nothing Bad Ever Happens to Me”. “Cry of the Vatos” was an instrumental track with strange vocal noises that turned out to be backwards words that are a satire of religious leaders. “No Spill Blood” included lyrics referencing The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Welles.