Episode 224: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Danny Elfman – “What’s This?”

Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas came out in 1993. It’s a stop-motion animated musical, with music by legendary composer Danny Elfman. He’s won Emmys, a Grammy, and been nominated for four Oscars. His work includes the music for Tim Burton’s Batman films, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, Good Will Hunting, and the theme to The Simpsons. From 1979 to 1995, he was the singer and songwriter in the band Oingo Boingo. This year, he released Big Mess, his first solo album in 37 years.

The Nightmare Before Christmas takes place in a world where different holidays all have their own realm. And the story is about Jack Skellington, the leader of Halloweentown, a place where it’s always Halloween, and Halloween is all they know, and Jack has grown a little tired of it. But then, Jack discovers a portal to Christmastown, with snow and Santa and all things Christmas inhabiting it. The song “What’s This?” takes place in that moment of discovery. In this episode, Danny Elfman tells the story of how it all came together, and how writing and singing this song for Jack Skellington ended up profoundly connecting to his own life.

You can buy or stream “What’s This?” here.

Illustration by Carlos Lerma.

footnotes
Steve Bartek, orchestrator
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure
Beetlejuice
Edward Sciccorhands
Celesta, instrument
Tchaikovsky“The Nutcracker,” ballet
Gilbert and Sullivan“I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General”