This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #196: Dead Man’s Party by Oingo Boingo.
As I wrote these words, it was almost Halloween. So, the time seemed right to include a Halloween-inspired song. In previous posts, we have already profiled “Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, as well as, “Thriller” by Michael Jackson. So, that leaves us with today’s song, “Dead Man’s Party” by Oingo Boingo. If you have never heard this song before then, you are in for a treat. Oingo Boingo were, at the time this song was released, a full eight-piece band that included a full horn section. It is that horn section that helps elevate “Dead Man’s Party” and helps to give it a sense of fun and makes it a favourite with the party crowd. This is an awesome sounding song and, if I was still teaching, I would not hesitate to play it in my classroom on a day when my students don costumes and we bond in celebration of the dead.
First of all, let’s talk about who, exactly, Oingo Boingo are. They were an American band from Los Angeles. They were formed as a musical theatre group that called themselves, “The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo”. This name was based on the old “Amos n’ Andy” show in which they formed a group called “The Mystic Knights of the Sea”. The group was founded by a man named Richard Elfman but, it was under the direction of his brother, Danny Elfman, that Oingo Boingo had their biggest success. While the line up has changed greatly over the course of their career, there have been two men who have stayed with the group the whole way and are the main creative force behind the band. Those two men are lead singer and lyricist, Danny Elfman and his musical collaborator, guitarist and musical scorer, Steve Bartek. Oingo Boingo have had upwards of fifteen band members at one time but, for “Dead Man’s Party”, they had eight. Those eight included three horn players who really give this song its pop. Oingo Boingo were based on Ska bands such as “Madness”, “The Specials”, “XTC” and New Wave innovators, “Devo”. “Dead Man’s Party” is their most well-known song but, they also recorded the title track for the teen movie, “Weird Science” and had a minor hit with that, as well.
But, the story of this song and this band fail to tell the whole tale. Danny Elfman and Steve Bartek both began to suffer hearing loss after years of playing live; especially, with the horn section blaring each night in their ears. So, they retired from live performing. That would have been the end of most musical careers but, not for Elfman and Bartek. They have actually gained most of their fame in the second half of their musical career by working in the film industry. The duo have gone on to become one of Hollywood’s most in-demand film-scorers. The two have been nominated for four Academy Awards for their work providing musical scores to famous movies such as all of the Tim Burton movies, as well as, “PeeWee’s Big Adventure”, “Edward Scissorhands”, “Good Will Hunting”, “Men in Black”, the first “Spiderman” movie, the first “Batman” movie and many TV shows, too, including “The Simpsons” and even, “Desperate Housewives”. It just goes to prove that there are all sorts of avenues for a musician to express themselves. Sometimes we limit our thinking by assuming that singers/songwriters have to perform their craft on a stage, under the lights, in front of an audience but that, in fact, is just one aspect of the music industry. As Elfman and Bartek have proven, there is gold in them there Hollywood Hills, too.
So, wherever you are as Halloween approaches, please take a moment to enjoy the festive song stylings of Danny Elfman, Steve Bartek and friends, in the guise of Oingo Boingo, as they play one of the most fun and entertaining Halloween-esque songs of all-time, “Dead Man’s Party”. Enjoy. Happy Halloween to you, all.
The link to the video for the song, “Dead Man’s Party” by Oingo Boingo, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Oingo Boingo can be found here.