For a band without so much as a Top 40 hit, how's it possible that Oingo Boingo will have two "greatest hits" packages coming out this fall?
The perennial local faves will be heard on MCA Records' "Boingo Alive" and A&M Records' "Skeletons in the Closet."
Here's where it gets complicated.
Originally signed to A&M (through I.R.S. Records), Oingo Boingo left for MCA in 1984. But until this year, A&M controlled the rights to the group's older material. Last month, after the band became free to re-record its old hits, it ducked into a local sound stage and spent nine marathon nights cutting 30 songs, mostly new versions of old Boingo favorites.
The band will release most of the tunes on "Boingo Alive," a specially priced two-record set due from MCA at the end of September. The following week, A&M will release its Boingo entry, which contains early band hits from its days at that label.
The key question for longtime fans: which is bona-fide Boingo?
" 'Boingo Alive' is something we've wanted to do for years," said Boingo leader Danny Elfman, who's in the midst of writing the score to the upcoming Bill Murray film, "Scrooge." "We really, really don't like our early recordings. In fact, it's always been a source of aggravation to us--and to many of our fans--that our early material just didn't sound like us.
"We've always been unhappy with the early records. I still remember driving around, hearing the songs on KROQ, being so angry that my face would get all red, 'cause I'd think, 'Where did all our energy go?' "
Elfman has turned some of that anger toward A&M, which he accuses of deliberately scheduling its release of "Skeletons" to coincide with the band's new collection. "They're really pulling some sleazy, corporate bull," he said. "No one will ever convince me it's a coincidence that they're putting out their album at exactly the same time as ours. It's the same old bogus jive--they're looking for a way to scrape up a few bucks on a dead account."
A&M denied Elfman's charges. "The timing of our release has nothing to do with their album--initially we had no idea they were even in the studio," said A&M exec Tom Corson, who's exec producer of the "Skeletons" compilation. "We feel we met the group halfway. We took several tracks off the record at their behest and we even asked Danny to write the liner notes, which he refused.
"Frankly, this isn't so much an artistic problem as a commercial one--the band feels our release may harm sales of their album. We don't see it that way at all. In fact, we're fans of the group--and we have no intention of trying to harm their career."
It's rare for a band with its original line-up intact to re-record its own material, but Elfman said he preferred the live-studio approach to a concert album. "I hate the poor fidelity and the crowd noise from live albums. It made more sense this way. It's just us playing in a big room with a mobile truck outside--minus the 10,000 screaming teen-agers.
"But it'll be raw. We knew we'd go crazy trying to listen for all the little notes that go awry, so the clunkers are staying on the record. You can't catch all the clams!"
In addition to new versions of old favorites, "Boingo Live" will include two new tunes ("Cinderella Under Cover" and "Winning Side"), an instrumental version of "Dead Man's Party," an unreleased song called "Mama" and a pair of tunes from Elfman's solo record. The double-album and cassette version will have 21 songs; the double-CD will have 30 tracks.
"I hope our fans will realize which record is the real thing," Elfman concluded. "This is our 10th anniversary as a band and we wanted to present our songs in a way that our fans have grown accustomed to (when) seeing us."