Thursday, August 1, 2013

Yellow Magic Orchestra

Next time I'll do a post on something American.  Guaranteed.
Until then, let's return to one of my favorite places fro fun music: Japan!

Ah, the 80's.  The 80's and late 70's were a very interesting part in musical history, as synths and pop music began exploding and people began to like music that was heavily inorganic.  Of course, there was Moog's and synthesizers before then (but not long before...) but this was when they really hit the mainstream.
There was also a bit of the remnants of disco left which gave some early 80's pop a very dancy, almost techno-ish vibe to it.

From Germany, the band Kraftwerk made it doing simplistic repetitive technology-related tracks.  What I'd describe as the Japanese equivalent to Kraftwerk was Yellow Magic Orchestra.  Musical magnate Haruomi Hosono had been well known in Japan since the early 70's for his funky, jazz influenced releases - and he teamed up with two mostly-unknowns, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Yukihiro Takahashi.  Their first release, 1978's self titled release, exploded.

This was an odd blend of actual video game soundtracks and Japanese synth pop, which at first was overall similar to Kraftwerk in the minimal, computer and synthesizer sounds.  Only 2 of the 10 songs had lyrics, then being slowly drawled and more of a second thought behind the obvious focus:  computer sounds.  It was all together a faster paced type of electronic dance music, being much more pop-oriented, which is why I believe it was in the end a more successful venture.

The hit single "Tong Poo" brought the release to many other ears and to many other countries, and soon enough their second single was being released.  The wonderful thing about YMO was that as they grew in popularity, their releases kept coming both as a band and as individuals.  Sakamoto, Hosono and Takahashi would  continue to work on their own solo work as well as being in the band, never de-prioritizing either.

2 big releases in 1980 and 2 more in 1981 proved that they were a very prolific band, in addition to those Takahashi and Sakamoto both had big solo releases during those years.  They were a force to be reckoned with.  They dominated the early 80's in Japan.  Their venture proved not to be too long lived, however.  Come 1984 they released only one, remix CD.  That would prove to be their last release for almost 10 years, only returning in 1993 and 10 years later in 2003.

They went their separate ways, Sakamoto becoming the breakout artist when he went on to win an Oscar for his soundtrack to The Last Emperor.

They were truly a fun, unique band.  My favorite of their releases, BGM, is truly a classic of 80's pop. As they forayed more into pop, they began to sing more, and worked with Japan-based British singer/songwriter Chris Mosdell to write English songs, and these to me and just priceless. I don't know the process of how these songs got written, who truly deserves credit for the lyrics, but they're just all in all great songs.

The best thing about 80's music was that it didn't have to make sense, be ABOUT anything.  It was fine to sing a wreckless jargon and base it to bizarre zany rhythms and that was fine, people ate it up.  With thought, I present YMO's Cue:

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