In 1978 the influential Yellow Magic Orchestra make their debut

Yellow Magic Orchestra - Live 1980 (pinterest.com)

Yellow Magic Orchestra – Live 1980

Introduction

On November 25, 1978, the Japanese Yellow Magic Orchestra released their debut album. It would be the start of an extremely innovative and influential career, which primarily took place at the end of the 1970s, early 1980s.

Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO)

Before the foundation of the band Yellow Magic Orchestra (also going by the abbreviation YMO) its members had already paid their dues in the Japanese music scene and experimented with synthesizers, rhythm machines, electronic drums and sequencers. Artists like Kraftwerk, Isao Tomita and Giorgio Moroder were role models, as much as traditional Japanese, Indian and Chinese music, as well as music used in new media like (video) games.

In 1977 Haruomi Hosono (bass, synthesizer), Ryuichi Sakamoto (synthesizer, piano) and Yukihiro Takahashi (drums, vocals) worked together for the first time on Hosono’s album Paraiso, which he released in early 1978 under the moniker Harry Hosono And The Yellow Magic Band. Late 1977/early 1978 Hosono pondered the idea to start a band that could be successful outside of Japan as well playing instrumental disco. In July 1978 the band Yellow Magic Orchestra booked their first studio time for their debut album.

N.B.:
The story of YMO isn’t complete without mentioning the unofficial fourth band member: Hideki Matsutake.

Yellow Magic Orchestra - Yellow Magic Orchestra (spotify.com)

Yellow Magic Orchestra – Yellow Magic Orchestra

Yellow Magic Orchestra

On November 25, 1978, Yellow Magic Orchestra released their first album, simply titled Yellow Magic Orchestra. It was one of the first examples of synth-pop, a genre that would rule the early 1980s. The album would have far-reaching consequences on the development of electro, hip-hop, techno, the use of electronics in music, particularly sequencers and samplers. By using the Roland MC-8 microprocessor sounds and tones could be manufactured that seemed impossible before.

Songs

Music written by Yellow Magic Orchestra, unless stated otherwise.

  • Computer Game ‘Theme From The Circus’
  • Firecracker (Yellow Magic Orchestra, Martin Denny)
  • Simoon (Haruomi Hosono)
  • Cosmic Surfin’ (Haruomi Hosono)
  • Computer Game ‘Theme From The Invader’
  • Tong Poo (Ryuichi Sakamoto)
  • La Femme Chinoise (Yukihiro Takahashi)
  • Bridge Over Troubled Music
  • Mad Pierrot (Haruomi Hosono)
  • Acrobat (Haruomi Hosono)

Lyrics to Simoon and La Femme Chinoise written by Chris Mosdell.

Continuation

Yellow Magic Orchestra sold 250,000 copies and it entered the US Billboard charts. The single Computer Game sold a staggering 400,000 copies in the US. Because of their success in the US, A&M signed the band and released the American version of the debut album on May 30, 1979.

Initially, Yellow Magic Orchestra was designed to be a one-time only collaboration, but due to the band’s success all solo outings were put on hold and all focus was put on the band.

Yellow Magic Orchestra - Solid State Survivor (spotify.com)

Yellow Magic Orchestra – Solid State Survivor

Solid State Survivor

On September 25, 1979, the second studio album, Solid State Survivor was released, my first Yellow Magic Orchestra album. Next to the innovative sound, the alienating music and at times kitschy songs, the album also possessed obvious new-wave influences, probably the reason this was my first album by the band.

Songs

Music written by Ryuichi Sakamoto, unless stated otherwise.

  • Technopolis
  • Absolute Ego Dance (Haruomi Hosono)
  • Rydeen (Yukihiro Takahashi)
  • Castalia
  • Behind The Mask
  • Day Tripper (John Lennon & Paul McCartney)
  • Insomnia (Haruomi Hosono)
  • Solid State Survivor (Yukihiro Takahashi)

Lyrics to Behind The Mask, Insomnia and Solid State Survivor written by Chris Mosdell, Day Tripper by John Lennon & Paul McCartney.

Continuation

The Solid State Survivor album was extremely successful, ultimately selling over 12 million copies worldwide. The album gained its popularity in part due to the song Behind The Mask, consisting of music the band had used before for a Japanese Seiko commercial. The song has been covered frequently, by artists like Greg Phillinganes, Eric Clapton, Orbital and The Human League. The biggest artist was Michael Jackson, who recorded it for his Thriller album. Because of legal issues the song was finally released on the posthumously released Michael album in 2010.

The adaptation of the Beatles song Day Tripper was humorous and its interpretation reminds of the Satisfaction cover by Devo.

Yellow Magic Orchestra - X∞Multiplies (inneroceanrecords.com)

Yellow Magic Orchestra – X∞Multiplies

X∞Multiplies

On June 5, 1980, the third studio album (actually a 10″) X∞Multiplies was released, also known as Zoshoku. The album was a bit of a let-down in comparison with its two successors, in part due to the skits (named Snakeman Show). The original Japanese release differs from the American and European releases, which essentially were a summation of everything that had been released thus far.

Songs

Music written by Yellow Magic Orchestra, unless stated otherwise.

  • Jingle “Y.M.O.”
  • Nice Age (Yukihiro Takahashi, Ryuichi Sakamoto)
  • Snakeman Show: KDD
  • Tighten Up (Japanese Gentlemen Stand Up Please!) (Archie Bell)
  • Snakeman Show: Mister Ōhira
  • Here We Go Again ~ Tighten Up (Archie Bell)
  • Snakeman Show: Koko Wa Keisatsu Janai Yo
  • Citizens Of Science (Ryuichi Sakamoto)
  • Snakeman Show: Manpei Hayashiya
  • Multiplies (Elmer Bernstein, Yellow Magic Orchestra)
  • Snakeman Show: Wakai Yamabiko
  • The End Of Asia (Ryuichi Sakamoto)

Lyrics to Nice Age and Citizens Of Science written by Chris Mosdell, Tighten Up by Billy Butler.

Continuation

The biggest hit was Tighten Up, originally released by Archie Bell & the Drells, most likely better known in the funky performance by James Brown.

Op November 2, 1980, Yellow Magic Orchestra performed at the American music show Soul Train. They ‘played’ two songs: Firecracker and Tighten Up. Haruomi Hosono: “It was the turn of the crazy Japanese guys”. Yukihiro Takahashi: “They were breakdancing and bodypopping, we’d never seen anything like it”. Around that time it was legally required to remain seated during shows. A manager of the Japanese label Yellow Magic Orchestra were signed to, said in Rolling Stone in 1980: “There are laws requiring that everybody stay seated during concerts; they have been in effect since a girl was trampled to death at a show by Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow”.

Yellow Magic Orchestra - BGM (spotify.com)

Yellow Magic Orchestra – BGM

BGM

On March 21, 1981, the fourth studio album, BGM, an abbreviation of “Beautiful Grotesque Music”, was released. The band had debuted the brand new Roland TR-808 drum computer on their 1980 tour, but this was its debut on an album. Even more, it marked the worldwide debut of what was to become one of the most used drum computers of all time.

Songs

Music written by Ryuichi Sakamoto, unless stated otherwise.

  • Ballet (Yukihiro Takahashi)
  • Music Plans
  • Rap Phenomena (Haruomi Hosono)
  • Happy End
  • 1000 Knives
  • Cue (Yukihiro Takahashi, Haruomi Hosono)
  • U•T (Yellow Magic Orchestra)
  • Camouflage (Yukihiro Takahashi)
  • Mass (Haruomi Hosono)
  • Loom (Yellow Magic Orchestra, Hideki Matsutake)

Lyrics to Ballet and Camouflage written by Yukihiro Takahashi & Peter Barakan, Music Plans by Ryuichi Sakamoto & Peter Barakan, Rap Phenomena and Mass by Haruomi Hosono & Peter Barakan, Cue by Yukihiro Takahashi & Haruomi Hosono & Peter Barakan.

Yellow Magic Orchestra - Technodelic (fontsinuse.com)

Yellow Magic Orchestra – Technodelic

Technodelic

On November 21, 1981, the band releasedTechnodelic, their most avant-garde and experimental album, which would have an enormous impact on the music of the future. The album is filled with samples and loops, which were made into songs using computer technology.

The samples were made using a LMD-649, developed by Toshiba. At the time, sampling was a new phenomenon. In England Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush experimented with the Fairlight CMI, with equally impressive results.

Not only the use of the sampler was influential, the use of Prophet-5 synthesizers turned out to be equally progressive.

Songs

Music written by Yellow Magic Orchestra, unless stated otherwise.

  • Pure Jam (Yukihiro Takahashi)
  • Neue Tanz
  • Stairs (Yukihiro Takahashi)
  • Seoul Music (Ryuichi Sakamoto, Yukihiro Takahashi)
  • Light In Darkness (Yukihiro Takahashi, Ryuichi Sakamoto)
  • Taiso
  • Gradated Grey (Haruomi Hosono)
  • Key (Haruomi Hosono, Yukihiro Takahashi)
  • Prologue (Ryuichi Sakamoto)
  • Epilogue (Ryuichi Sakamoto)

Lyrics to Pure Jam and Stairs written by Yukihiro Takahashi & Peter Barakan, Neue Tanz and Taiso by Yellow Magic Orchestra, Seoul Music by Ryuichi Sakamoto & Yukihiro Takahashi & Peter Barakan, Gradated Grey by Haruomi Hosono, Key by Haruomi Hosono & Yukihiro Takahashi & Peter Barakan.

Yellow Magic Orchestra - Naughty Boys (spotify.com)

Yellow Magic Orchestra – Naughty Boys

Naughty Boys

On May 24, 1983, Naughty Boys was released, their most commercial album to date. It consists of very accessible synth-pop.

Songs

Music written by Yellow Magic Orchestra, unless stated otherwise.

  • Kimi Ni, Mune Kyun. (A Holiday Affair)
  • Expected Way (Yukihiro Takahashi)
  • Focus (Yukihiro Takahashi, Haruomi Hosono)
  • Ongaku (Ryuichi Sakamoto)
  • Opened My Eyes (Yukihiro Takahashi)
  • You’ve Got To Help Yourself (Preview) (Yukihiro Takahashi, Ryuichi Sakamoto)
  • Lotus Love (Haruomi Hosono)
  • Kai-Koh (Ryuichi Sakamoto)
  • Expecting Rivers (Yukihiro Takahashi, Ryuichi Sakamoto)
  • Wild Ambitions (Haruomi Hosono, Ryuichi Sakamoto)

Lyrics to Kimi Ni, Mune Kyun written by Takashi Matsumoto, Expected Way and Expecting Rivers by Yukihiro Takahashi, Focus by Haruomi Hosono & Peter Barakan, Ongaku and Kai-Koh by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Opened My Eyes by Yukihiro Takahashi & Peter Barakan, Lotus Love and Wild Ambitions by Haruomi Hosono.

Continuation

In July 1983 the remix album Naughty Boys Instrumental was released, filled with almost the entire Naughty Boys album as instrumentals, complemented with Chaos Picnic (B-side of the Kimi Ni, Mune Kyun single) and the full version of You’ve Got To Help Yourself. That version including the vocals would be released on the next album Service.

Yellow Magic Orchestra - Service (spotify.com)

Yellow Magic Orchestra – Service

Service

That same year (December 24, 1983) Service was released. It would turn out to be the band’s last studio feat for quite some time. After one more tour, Yellow Magic Orchestra was over.

Songs

Music written by Yellow Magic Orchestra, unless stated otherwise.

  • Limbo (Yukihiro Takahashi, Haruomi Hosono)
  • S.E.T.
  • The Madmen (Haruomi Hosono)
  • S.E.T.
  • Chinese Whispers (Yukihiro Takahashi)
  • S.E.T.
  • You’ve Got To Help Yourself (Ryuichi Sakamoto, Yukihiro Takahashi)
  • S.E.T.+YMO
  • Shadows On The Ground (Ryuichi Sakamoto, Yukihiro Takahashi)
  • S.E.T.
  • See-Through
  • S.E.T.
  • Perspective (Ryuichi Sakamoto)
  • S.E.T.

Lyrics to Limbo written by Yukihiro Takahashi & Haruomi Hosono & Peter Barakan, The Madmen and You’ve Got To Help Yourself by Haruomi Hosono & Peter Barakan, Chinese Whispers by Yukihiro Takahashi & Peter Barakan, Shadows On The Ground by Ryuichi Sakamoto & Yukihiro Takahashi & Peter Barakan, See-Through by Peter Barakan, Perspective by Ryuichi Sakamoto & Peter Barakan. The multiple S.E.T. ‘songs’ are actually segues between the songs.

Continuation

Following the release of Yellow Magic Orchestra Propaganda in 1984, a movie also containing live footage of the band, the members all went their separate ways. According to Takahashi it was over because the members had developed a true hate for each other. But, in reality the band didn’t split, they went on Sankai, which means something like spreading your wings. The (former) band members would regularly play along on each other’s solo outings. Ryuichi Sakamoto in particular had a fruitful, international, and very successful career. His collaborations with Japan and David Sylvian expanded his fanbase even more.

In 1993 the band reunited with the release of a new album, Technodon. The album was released by YMO, also known as NOT YMO. As it turned out, the name Yellow Magic Orchestra was the property of their former (Japanese) record company and it wasn’t willing to release the name.

Yellow Magic Orchestra - Technodon (spotify.com)

Yellow Magic Orchestra – Technodon

Technodon

On May 26, 1993, the eighth, and final, Yellow Magic Orchestra (or YMO) studio album was released. It was a somewhat more traditional album consisting of simpler songs all utilizing a drum computer, instead of a drum kit, for the very first time.

Songs

Music written by YMO, unless stated otherwise.

  • Be A Superman (Ryuichi Sakamoto, Yukihiro Takahashi)
  • Nanga Def?
  • Floating Away (Yukihiro Takahashi, Haruomi Hosono)
  • Dolphinicity (Haruomi Hosono)
  • Hi-Tech Hippies
  • I Tre Merli
  • Nostalgia (Ryuichi Sakamoto)
  • Silence Of Time (Ryuichi Sakamoto, Yukihiro Takahashi)
  • Waterford (Ryuichi Sakamoto, Yukihiro Takahashi)
  • O.K. (Haruomi Hosono, Yukihiro Takahashi)
  • Chance (Ryuichi Sakamoto)
  • Pocketful Of Rainbows (Fred Wise, Ben Weisman)

Lyrics to Be A Superman written by Ryuichi Sakamoto & Yukihiro Takahashi, Nanga Def? and Silence Of Time by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Floating Away by William Gibson, O.K. by Haruomi Hosono, Pocketful Of Rainbows by Fred Wise, Ben Weisman, translated by Reiko Yukawa.

Continuation

After a 1993 tour the band disbanded again. In 2007 they reconvened and released the song Rydeen 79/07, which entered the Japanese digital charts at number 1. On July 7, 2007, Yellow Magic Orchestra performed live as part of the global Live Earth event.

In August 2007 the band released the single Rescue under the moniker HASYMO (HAS/YMO), one year later followed by the single The City of Light / Tokyo Town Pages. That same year HASYMO played two shows in Europe.

In 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 the band played at the World Happiness festival in Japan. In 2011 and 2012 the band played a number of shows outside of Japan, followed by another period of silence surrounding Yellow Magic Orchestra.

On January 11, 2023, Yukihiro Takahashi passed away, on March 28, 2023, followed by the passing of Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Yellow Magic Orchestra - Live albums (spotify.com/wikipedia.org)

Yellow Magic Orchestra – Live albums

Live albums

During their existence from 1978 to 1984 and in 1993 the band has officially released 3 live albums:

  • Public Pressure (1980)
  • After Service (1984)
  • Technodon Live (1993)

Furthermore, several other live albums were released, oftentimes only in Japan, like Faker Holic (Transatlantic Tour 1979) (1991), Complete Service (1992), Live At The Budokan 1980 (1993), Live At Kinokuni-Ya Hall 1978 (1993), Winter Live 1981 (1995), World Tour 1980 (1996), Live At The Greek Theatre 1979 (1997), One More YMO (2000), LONDONYMO – Yellow Magic Orchestra Live in London 15/6 08 (2008), Gijonymo – Yellow Magic Orchestra Live in Gijon 19/6 08 (2008) and No Nukes 2012 (2015).

Yellow Magic Orchestra - 1981 (redbubble.com)

Haruomi Hosono, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Yukihiro Takahashi (1981)

Influence

Yellow Magic Orchestra’s influence on the development of (pop) music can not be overstated. Together with Kraftwerk they are responsible for the development of electronic music in general and particularly for their creativity in using the technological possibilities of the era. Because of the international character of their music, their influence could be felt worldwide.

But the influence goes deeper. It can clearly be found in the synth-pop of the early 1980s. The Yellow Magic Orchestra sound can be traced back to bands like Ultravox, Gary Numan, Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Orchestral Manouvres In The Dark, The Human League, Visage and Art of Noise.

But the band also experimented with electronic ska (!) and electronic rap. The influence on hip-hop was huge as well. The band’s music was regularly sampled, most notably by the influential hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa.

Where Kraftwerk had a more serious and robotic approach to electronic music, Yellow Magic Orchestra added hooks, lightness, kitsch and “fun” to the mix. An important component for the later electro and house music. The influence on the Chicago house was immense.

The preference for computer game music was noticed by its composers as well. Both were influenced and admired by the each other.

In closing

What’s your take on Yellow Magic Orchestra? Let me know!

Video/Spotify
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: In 1978 the influential Yellow Magic Orchestra make their debut. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

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