Home » Uncategorized » Danny Elfman and “What’s This?” from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas

Danny Elfman and “What’s This?” from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas


Daniel Robert “Danny” Elfman (born May 29, 1953) is an American composer, singer, songwriter, and record producer, who is best known for his work scoring films and television shows, in particular his frequent collaborations with director Tim Burton, and for being the lead singer and songwriter for the band Oingo Boingo from 1974 to 1995.  Elfman was born on May 29, 1953, in Los Angeles, California to a Jewish family, the son of Milton Elfman, a teacher who was in the Air Force, and Blossom Elfman (née Bernstein), a writer and teacher.  He was raised in a racially mixed affluent community in Baldwin Hills, California and spent much of his time in the neighborhood’s local movie theatre, adoring the music of such film composers as Bernard Herrmann and Franz Waxman. Stating that he hung out with the “band geeks” in high school, he started a ska band. After dropping out of high school, he followed his brother Richard to France, where he performed with Le Grand Magic Circus, an avant-garde musical theater group.

Though Elfman was never officially a student at the CalArts, nonetheless, the instructor there encouraged him to continue learning. At this time, in 1972, his brother Richard was forming a new musical theater group, the American new wave band/performance art group, originally called The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. In 1976 Danny entered the film industry as an actor with the group. They played several shows throughout the 1970s until Richard left to become a filmmaker. As a send-off to the group’s original concept, Richard created the film Forbidden Zone in 1982 based on their stage performances. Danny composed his first score for the film and played a starring role.  By the time the movie was completed, they had taken the name Oingo Boingo and begun recording and touring as a rock group. From 1976 and on, it was led by Danny, transformed into a ska-influenced new wave band in 1979, and then changed again towards a more guitar-oriented rock sound, in the late 1980s, until 1995 when they suddenly retired.

In 1985, Tim Burton and Paul Reubens invited Elfman to write the score for their first feature film, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. Elfman was apprehensive at first, because of his lack of formal training, but with orchestration assistance from Oingo Boingo guitarist and arranger Steve Bartek, he achieved his goal of emulating the mood of such composers as Nino Rota and Bernard Herrmann. Oingo Boingo, still led by Danny, performed as themselves in the 1986 movie Back to School.  Elfman immediately developed a rapport with Burton and has gone on to score all but three of Burton’s major studio releases.  Elfman also provided the singing voice for Jack Skellington in Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and the voices of both Barrel and the “Clown with the Tear-Away Face”. Years later he provided the voice for Bonejangles the skeleton in Corpse Bride and the voices of the Oompa-Loompas in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

One of Elfman’s notable compositions is The Simpsons Theme. He composed the theme in 1989, and it has been in use ever since.  In 2002 Elfman composed the opening theme for the Sam Raimi Spider-Man series. This as well as altered versions made its way to all 3 Spider-Man movies. On November 29, 2003, Elfman married actress Bridget Fonda. They have a son, Oliver.  In 1998, Elfman had scored A Simple Plan, starring Fonda.   In 2004 Elfman composed Serenada Schizophrana for the American Composers Orchestra. It was conducted by John Mauceri on its recording and by Steven Sloane at its premiere at Carnegie Hall in New York City on February 23, 2005. After its premiere, it was recorded in studio and released onto SACD on October 3, 2006. The meeting with Mauceri proved fruitful as the composer was encouraged then to write a new concert piece for Mauceri and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Elfman composed an “overture to a non-existent musical” and called the piece “The Overeager Overture.” He also continues to compose his film scores in addition to these other projects.

In November 2010, it was reported that Elfman was writing the music for a planned musical based on the life of Harry Houdini.  But, as of January 2012, he was no longer attached to the project.  In 2011 Elfman composed the music for the Cirque du Soleil show Iris, which was performed at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood from July 21, 2011, to January 19, 2013.   In October 2013, Elfman returned to the stage to sing his vocal parts to a handful of Nightmare Before Christmas songs as part of a concert titled Danny Elfman’s Music from the Films of Tim Burton. He composed the film score for Oz the Great and Powerful (2013), and composed additional music for Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) together with Brian Tyler.  Elfman and Oingo Boingo guitarist Steve Bartek reunited on October 31, 2015, to perform the song “Dead Man’s Party” during an encore at a Halloween celebration at the Hollywood Bowl “for the first time in 20 years to the day.”   In October 2016, Elfman composed a horror score for when Donald Trump “loom[ed]” behind Hillary Clinton at the second United States presidential election debates, 2016. Elfman composed the score for the 2017 film Fifty Shades Darker.  Elfman’s film scores were featured in the 2017 production SCORE: A Film Music Documentary.

Modern classicist composers, including Béla Bartók, Philip Glass, Lou Harrison, Carl Orff, Harry Partch, Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie, Igor Stravinsky, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky have influenced the style of Elfman’s music.   Elfman cited his first time noticing film music being when he heard Bernard Herrmann’s score to The Day the Earth Stood Still as an eleven-year-old and being a fan of film music since then. Other influences based in film music include Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Max Steiner, David Tamkin, and Franz Waxman.   Also, Nino Rota served as a significant influence and was the main inspiration for Elfman’s score to Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.  Elfman’s work in pop music was influenced by The Specials, Madness, the Selecter, and XTC. Among his honors are four Academy Award nominations, a Grammy for Batman, an Emmy for Desperate Housewives, the 2002 Richard Kirk Award, and the Disney Legend Award.

The following works by Danny Elfman are contained in my collection:

Batman (1989): The Batman Theme.

Edward Scissorhands (1990): Main Title.

Spiderman (2002): Main Theme.

Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993): What’s This?.


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