Picture sleeve for Oingo Boingo's "Dead Man's Party" single.
Oingo Boingo was formed in 1972 as The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo by Richard Elfman, and was a musical theater troupe in the tradition of Spike Jones and Frank Zappa. This version of the group contained as many as fifteen members, but the core personnel were Elfman, Leon Schneiderman (saxophone) and Sam “Sluggo” Phipps (saxophone, clarinet). They were soon joined by Richard Elfman’s brother, Danny Elfman (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, percussion) and Dale Turner (trumpet, trombone). Few recordings of this period exist, although they did release a novelty record about the Patty Hearst kidnapping called “You Got Your Baby Back”. By 1976, Richard Elfman turned his attention to filmmaking, and leadership of the band shifted to Danny Elfman. That same year, the band appeared on “The Gong Show”, avoiding being gonged and scoring 24 out of a possible 30 points. They also appeared in the movie “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden”.
By 1979, the band had added Steve Bartek (lead guitar), John “Vatos” Hernandez (drums) and Kerry Hatch (bass) to the lineup. Richard Gibbs (keyboards) joined the band in 1980, making the band an octet. In October 1979, Oingo Boingo released a demo EP, limited to 130 pressings for radio stations and A&R representatives. The band signed with I.R.S. Records and released their first official release in September 1980, the “Oingo Boingo” EP, released in both 10-inch and 12-inch formats. The success of this EP led to the band signing with A&M Records, who released their first full-length album, “Only a Lad” (1981). They released their second album “Nothing to Fear” the following year. Their next album, “Good for Your Soul” (1983), was their last album on A&M Records, and also their last album with Richard Gibbs. The band signed with MCA Records and made two personnel shifts: Mike Bacich took over for Richard Gibbs, and John Avila replaced departing Kerry Hatch. They released their fourth album, “Dead Man’s Party” (1985), and released two singles from the album: “Weird Science” and “Dead Man’s Party” b/w “Stay”. This is today’s featured single.
“Dead Man’s Party” is a song with an interesting, minor-key melody, accentuated by interesting percussion and, as always, Oingo Boingo’s horn section. The band’s quirky sense of humor is in evidence in the song’s lyrics: “I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go/Walkin’ with a dead man over my shoulder/Waiting for an invitation to arrive/Goin’ to a party where no one’s still alive”. About 3 minutes and 50 seconds into the track, there is an instrumental break with a tuneful keyboard solo. Overall, the track is a good example of the tighter, more commercial sound manifest on the parent album, which made “Dead Man’s Party” a good candidate for Oingo Boingo’s true breakthrough album.
The B-side of the single, “Stay”, is another track from the parent album, “Dead Man’s Party”, and is driven by a catchy guitar riff, punctuated as always by the horn section, and with somewhat more melodic percussion than on the other tracks. The lyrical content enhances the song: “This is not the first time–You had to get away/This is not a party–Where people know your name/This is not a classroom–With teacher at the board/This is not a cat show–With prizes at the door”. The protagonist may not be able to spell out what his relationship with his significant other is, but at least he knows what it isn’t. “Stay” is a worthwhile track and further evidence of the evolution of the band’s sound. The song was also used as the theme music for the Brazilian soap opera “Top Model”.
The single (catalog #: MCA-23638) was released on MCA Records with a picture sleeve. There was also a 12-inch version of the single with extended mixes of both songs. The band released “Boi-ngo” (1987), which was not a major hit, and subsequently replaced Bacich with new keyboardist Carl Graves. They released “Boingo Alive” (1988), a two disc set containing versions of their older songs re-created on a soundstage without a live audience and several previously unreleased tracks. They next released their sixth studio album, “Dark at the End of the Tunnel” (1990). The band was then dropped by MCA and signed with Giant Records. Graves was dropped from the lineup, and the band added Warren Fitzgerald (guitar), Marc Mann (keyboards) and Doug Lacy (accordian). This lineup recorded “Boingo” (1994), an album which contains some of the longest songs in the Oingo Boingo catalog. The band broke up in 1995 following a final Halloween concert at the Universal Amphitheatre.