The Best Danny Elfman Songs, from ‘Jack’s Lament’ to ‘The Simpsons’ Theme

Where were you when the best Coachella set since Beyoncé happened? When Danny Elfman took the stage of Coachella shirtless on April 2022 to perform music from his band Oingo Boingo as well as the scores of “A Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Edward Scissorhands,” and — of course — “The Simpsons,” it set Twitter afire. The sometimes goofy, undeniably epic performance was a delight that reminded people of a universal fact: Danny Elfman rocks.

Elfman made his film composing debut in 1980 with “Forbidden Zone,” which was directed by his brother Richard Elfman and was based on the work of Danny’s experimental musical theater group “The Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo.” The Mystic Knights were soon reformed into the (somewhat) more conventional new wave band Oingo Boingo, and their music found a fan in director Tim Burton, who recruited Elfman to score his feature debut “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.” From there, a partnership was formed, and Elfman’s scored most of Burton’s works since, including iconic themes for films like “Scissorhands,” “Batman,” and “Beetlejuice.”

Composing quickly became Elfman’s main gig, and he would retire Oingo Boingo in 1995. His non-Burton works include the scores for the first two “Spider-Man” films, “Dick Tracy,” the first “Mission: Impossible,” all of the “Men in Black” films, and Henry Selick’s “Nightmare Before Christmas,” which also featured him as the singing voice for Jack Skellington. Elfman has bafflingly never won an Oscar, but he does have two Emmys for his work on the “Desperate Housewives” theme.

One of Elfman’s most recent projects saw him reunite with Burton for “Wednesday,” an “Addams Family” spinoff that sees Jenna Ortega play the famously emotionless teenager as she develops psychic powers and heads to boarding school. Elfman composed the score for the outrageously popular Netflix series, and he’s one of the creative team members set for IndieWire’s annual Consider This Event ahead of this year’s Emmys. Joining him on a panel of Netflix crafts professionals is his “Wednesday” co-composer Chris Bacon and music supervisor Jen Malone, as well as members of the “Beef” and “Stranger Things” teams.

Here’s a look at the 13 best songs Elfman has written for screens big and small, ranging from musical numbers in “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Corpse Bride” to the main theme of “The Simpsons.” Entries are listed chronologically, and selections have been limited to one track per title.

With editorial contributions by Christian Blauvelt and Christian Zilko.

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