Yellow Magic Orchestra (album)

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Yellow Magic Orchestra
Studio album by Yellow Magic Orchestra
Released November 25, 1978 (1978-11-25)
Recorded July 10 – September 5, 1978
Alfa Studio “A”, Shibaura, Minato, Tokyo
Genre Electronic, synthpop
Length 37:35
36:04 (US mix)
Label Alfa Records
Producer Harry Hosono
Yellow Magic Orchestra chronology
Paraiso
(1978)
Yellow Magic Orchestra
(1978)
Solid State Survivor
(1979)
Singles from Yellow Magic Orchestra
  1. ""Tong Poo" / "Fire Cracker" (Special DJ Copy)"
    Released: 1978 (promo only)
  2. ""Computer Game" / "Firecracker""
    Released: 1978, 1979
  3. ""Cosmic Surfin'""
    Released: 1979
  4. ""La femme chinoise""
    Released: 1979
  5. "Tong Poo"
    Released: 1979
Alternative covers
US cover
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[1]
Smash Hits 3/10[2]
The Village Voice C+[3]

Yellow Magic Orchestra is the first official studio album by Japanese electronic music band Yellow Magic Orchestra, who were previously known as the Yellow Magic Band. Originally released by Alfa Records in Japan in 1978, the album was released by A&M Records in Europe and North America in early 1979, with the United States version featuring new cover art but without the closing track of "Acrobat". Both versions would later be re-issued in 2003 as a double-disc format, with the American version as the first disc.

The album was an early example of synthpop,[4][5] a genre that the band helped pioneer. It was also as an early example of a computer-themed album,[6] and contributed to the development of electro, hip hop,[7] techno,[8] bleep techno,[9] and chiptune.[6] The album's innovations in electronic music included its use of the microprocessor-based Roland MC-8 Microcomposer music sequencer[10] which allowed the creation of new electronic sounds,[11] and its sampling of video game sounds.[4][6]

The album sold 250,000 copies in Japan[12] and entered the Billboard 200 and R&B Albums charts in the United States.[13] Its most successful single was "Computer Game / Firecracker", which sold over 400,000 records in the United States[14] and was a top 20 hit in the United Kingdom.[15]

Production[edit]

A sample of "Computer Game", which was combined with "Firecracker" into a hit single called "Computer Game". It samples arcade game sounds from Space Invaders, Circus, and Gun Fight.

A sample of "Firecracker", which was combined with the "Computer Game" track into a hit single called "Computer Game". It was later sampled by artists such as Afrika Bambaata and Jennifer Lopez.

Problems playing these files? See media help.

The album was intended to be a one-off project for producer and bass player Haruomi Hosono and the two session musicians he had hired: drummer Yukihiro Takahashi and keyboard player Ryuichi Sakamoto. The trio were to create their own cover version of Martin Denny's 1959 exotica melody "Firecracker" with modern electronics, as a subversion of the exoticisation and Orientalism of the original tune, along with various original compositions also exploring themes of Asianness, exoticisation and Orientalism from a Japanese perspective.[16] The album would eventually be called Yellow Magic Orchestra, as a satire of Japan's obsession with black magic at the time.[16] The project proved highly popular, culminating in a career for the three musicians; one that would last until 1983, before successful solo careers and reunions over the decades to come.

They began recording the album in July 1978 at a Shibaura studio in Tokyo. It utilized a wide variety of electronic music equipment (as well as electric), including the Korg PS-3100 polyphonic synthesizer, the Moog III-C and Minimoog monosynths, the Polymoog and ARP Odyssey analog synthesizers, the Oberheim Eight-Voice synthesizer, the Fender Rhodes electric piano, the Korg VC-10 vocoder, a Yamaha acoustic drumkit combined with the Syn-Drums electronic drum kits, and the Fender Jazz Bass. It was also the earliest known popular music album to use the Roland MC-8 Microcomposer, which was programmed by Hideki Matsutake during recording sessions.[10] Roland called the MC-8 a "computer music composer" and it was the first stand-alone microprocessor-based music sequencer.[17][18][19] It also introduced features such as a keypad to enter note information and 16 kilobytes of random access memory which allowed a maximum sequence length of 5200 notes, a huge step forward from the 8-16 step sequencers of the era.[18] At the time, Billboard noted that the use of such computer-based technology in conjunction with synthesizers allowed Yellow Magic Orchestra to create new sounds that were not possible until then.[11] The band later described both the MC-8 and its programmer Hideki Matsutake as an "inevitable factor" in both their music production and live performances.[20] Besides the electronic equipment, the only acoustic instruments used in the album were a Steinway piano and marimba percussion instrument.[10]

The album was an early example of synthpop,[4][5] a genre that Yellow Magic Orchestra helped pioneer. It was also an early example of a computer-themed album, predating Kraftwerk's Computer World (1981) by three years.[6] Yellow Magic Orchestra experiments with different styles of electronic music, such as Asian melodies played over synthpop backings in "Firecracker" and "Cosmic Surfin", the extensive use of video game sounds in "Computer Game", and the electronic disco bass in "Tong Poo",[5] a song that was inspired by Chinese music produced during the China's Cultural Revolution,[4] and in turn influenced video game music such as Tetris.[6] Both "Computer Game" tracks proper contain the same audio and were made to sound as if both games were being played in the same room; each track being from the perspective of its titular arcade game unit: Circus and Space Invaders. The song also samples the opening chiptune used in the arcade game Gun Fight (1975).[21] Both Circus and Space Invaders, along with several other popular arcade video games, were also featured in the promotional film for "Tong Poo".

The titles for several songs on the B-side are based on Jean-Luc Godard film names. “Tong Poo” is the Cantonese title for Le Vent d'est. “La Femme Chinoise” is La Chinoise with “femme” (the French word for “woman”) added after the feminine definite article “la.” Finally, “Mad Pierrot” is an English translation of 気狂いピエロ (Kichigai Piero?), the title under which Pierrot le fou was released in Japan.

Release history[edit]

The album was first released in Japan in 1978. It was released in the US on 30 May 1979 by A&M Records on the Horizon label with a new mix by Al Schmitt, new cover art and a slightly different track listing. This "US version" was subsequently released in Japan on 25 July 1979 by Alfa. Promotional A&M copies were pressed on yellow vinyl. A&M Records also released the album across Europe and Canada that same year.[22] In 2004, both versions were re-issued together on a 2-CD set in the United Kingdom by Epic Records.

"Firecracker" was released as a single under the name "Computer Game". As such, on early US pressings of the album, "Computer Game 'Theme from The Circus'" and "Firecracker" were combined as one track, while the firecracker sound effect at the end of the track was indexed by itself as "Firecracker". This was corrected on later pressings. US pressings also featured a more American-friendly mixing (highlighting a punchier equalization and heavy use of reverb). Several of the segues on the second side of the album were edited differently, while "Bridge over Troubled Music" was given an additional electric piano solo over top of the introductory percussion.

Region Date Label Format Catalog
Japan 25 November 1978 Alfa Records 12" LP; cassette LP: ALR-6012; cassette: ALC-1511
Europe 1979 A&M Records LP AMLH 68506, PSP 736
North America 30 May 1979 A&M Records, Horizon Records & Tapes 12" LP SP-736, AMLH 68506
Japan 25 July 1979 Alfa Records 12" LP; cassette (US version) LP: ALR-6020; cassette: ALC-1533
England 2004 Epic Records CD 513445 2

Track listing[edit]

Original pressing[edit]

Side one
No. Title Lyrics Music Length
1. "Computer Game 'Theme from The Circus' (コンピューター・ゲーム —サーカスのテーマ—?)"     Yellow Magic Orchestra 1:48
2. "Firecracker (ファイアークラッカー?)"     Yellow Magic Orchestra, Martin Denny 4:50
3. "Simoon (シムーン?)"   Chris Mosdell Haruomi Hosono 6:27
4. "Cosmic Surfin' (コズミック・サーフィン?)"     Haruomi Hosono 4:51
5. "Computer Game 'Theme from The Invader' (コンピューター・ゲーム —インベーダーのテーマ—?)"     Yellow Magic Orchestra 0:43
Side two
No. Title Lyrics Music Length
1. "Tong Poo (東風 tonpū?, "east wind")"     Ryuichi Sakamoto 6:15
2. "La femme chinoise (中国女 Chūgoku-onna?)"   Chris Mosdell Yukihiro Takahashi 5:52
3. "Bridge over Troubled Music (ブリッジ・オーバー・トラブルド・ミュージック?)"     Yellow Magic Orchestra 1:17
4. "Mad Pierrot (マッド・ピエロ?)"     Haruomi Hosono 4:20
5. "Acrobat (アクロバット?)"     Haruomi Hosono 1:12

US pressing[edit]

Side one
No. Title Lyrics Music Length
1. "Computer Game 'Theme from The Circus'"     Yellow Magic Orchestra 1:48
2. "Firecracker"     Yellow Magic Orchestra, Martin Denny 4:50
3. "Simoon"   Chris Mosdell Haruomi Hosono 6:27
4. "Cosmic Surfin"     Haruomi Hosono 4:28
5. "Computer Game 'Theme from The Invader'"     Yellow Magic Orchestra 1:01
Side two
No. Title Lyrics Music Length
1. "Yellow Magic (Tong Poo)"     Ryuichi Sakamoto 6:17
2. "La femme chinoise"   Chris Mosdell Yukihiro Takahashi 5:55
3. "Bridge over Troubled Music"     Yellow Magic Orchestra 1:18
4. "Mad Pierrot"     Haruomi Hosono 4:05

Personnel[edit]

Chart positions[edit]

Year Release Chart Peak
Position
Weeks Total
Sales
1978 LP Japan Oricon LP Chart[12] 20 73 187,000
1978 Cassette Japan Oricon CT Chart[12] 17 35 63,000
1980 LP U.S. Billboard 200[13] 81
1980 LP U.S. R&B Albums[13] 37

Computer Game / Firecracker[edit]

The song "Firecracker" was released as a single in Japan in 1978[23] and in the United States and United Kingdom in 1979,[24] becoming a major R&B hit in the United States.[16] The same year, the song was released as the "Computer Game" single, which combined the "Computer Game" and "Firecracker" tracks together. The "Computer Game" single was an even greater international success, selling over 400,000 copies in the United States[14] and entering the top 20 of the UK Single Charts.[15] The single was also released across Europe that same year.[25]

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (1980) Peak position[26]
UK Singles Chart[15] 17
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 60
U.S. Dance Club Singles 42
U.S. R&B Singles 18

Popular culture[edit]

The song was popular with the emerging hip hop community, which appreciated the new electronic sounds, and in the Bronx, where it was later sampled by pioneering hip hop artist Afrika Bambaataa in his famous 1983 debut album Death Mix (1983).[27] The "terse videogame-funk" sounds of "Computer Game" would have a strong influence on the emerging electro and hip hop music genres;[7] the song's use of video game sounds and bleeps has been described as "ahead of their time"[28] and as having a strong influence on 1980s hip hop[29] and pop music.[4] It was later included in electro hip hop artist Mantronix's compilation album That's My Beat (2002), which consists of electro music that influenced his early career.[30]

The song was also an influence on early techno, specifically Detroit techno, for which it was included in Carl Craig's compilation album Kings of Techno (2006).[8] The song also influenced Sheffield's bleep techno music; Warp's third record, "Testone" (1990) by Sweet Exorcist, defined Sheffield's techno sound, by making playful use of sampled sounds from "Computer Game" along with dialogues from the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).[9] "Testone" was in turn sampled in the UK hit "Tunes Splits The Atom" (1990) by 808 State and MC Tunes, as well as in "Naughty Naughty" (1994) by Jus a Test.[31]

"Computer Game / Firecracker" was also sampled in a number of other songs,[32] including Teddy Riley's hip hop single[33] "Wong" (1986) by Al B. & Just Two MC's,[34] 2 Live Crew's "Mega-Mixx II" (1987),[32] De La Soul's "Funky Towel" (for the 1996 film Joe's Apartment),[35] Jennifer Lopez's worldwide hit "I'm Real" (2001), and the original unreleased version of Mariah Carey's "Loverboy" (for the 2001 film soundtrack Glitter).[36]

The anime series Cowboy Bebop has a character named Mad Pierrot, and Mad Pierrot's other alias is "Tongpu."

References[edit]

  1. ^ Allmusic review
  2. ^ Starr, Red. "Albums". Smash Hits (Sept 6–19 1979): 25. 
  3. ^ Christgau, Robert (3 December 1979). "Christgau's Consumer Guide". The Village Voice (New York). Retrieved 2014-01-11. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Stout, Andrew (June 24, 2011). "Yellow Magic Orchestra on Kraftwerk and How to Write a Melody During a Cultural Revolution". SF Weekly. Retrieved 2011-06-30. 
  5. ^ a b c Yellow Magic Orchestra (album) at AllMusic
  6. ^ a b c d e Daniel Robson (February 29, 2008). "YMCK takes 'chiptune' revolution major". The Japan Times. Retrieved 2011-06-11. 
  7. ^ a b Dayal, Gheeta (2006-07-07). "Yellow Magic Orchestra". Groove. The Original Soundtrack. Retrieved 2011-06-17. 
  8. ^ a b The Kings of Techno: Carl Craig at AllMusic
  9. ^ a b Dan Sicko & Bill Brewster (2010), Techno Rebels (2nd ed.), Wayne State University Press, p. 76, ISBN 0-8143-3438-5, retrieved 2011-05-28 
  10. ^ a b c Yellow Magic Orchestra – Yellow Magic Orchestra at Discogs
  11. ^ a b "Artists and producers strive for inroads overseas", Billboard 91 (20), 26 May 1979: 61, ISSN 0006-2510, retrieved 2011-05-29 
  12. ^ a b c "Yellow Magic Orchestra" (in Japanese). Yamachan Land (Oricon archives). Retrieved 2011-06-01.  (Translation)
  13. ^ a b c "Yellow Magic Orchestra: Billboard Albums". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-05-25. 
  14. ^ a b "Computer rock music gaining fans". Sarasota Journal: 8. August 18, 1980. Retrieved 2011-05-25. 
  15. ^ a b c "Computer Game (Theme From 'the Invaders')". chartstats.com. Retrieved 2011-05-28. 
  16. ^ a b c Lewis, John (4 July 2008). "Back to the future: Yellow Magic Orchestra helped usher in electronica - and they may just have invented hip-hop, too". The Guardian. Retrieved 2011-05-25. 
  17. ^ Russ, Martin (2008). Sound Synthesis and Sampling. Focal Press. p. 346. ISBN 0-240-52105-6. Retrieved 2011-06-21. 
  18. ^ a b Gordon Reid (Nov 2004). "The History Of Roland Part 1: 1930-1978". Sound On Sound. Retrieved 2011-06-19. 
  19. ^ Chadabe, Joel. 1997. Electric Sound: The Past and Promise of Electronic Music. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, (p. 194). ISBN 978-0-13-303231-4.
  20. ^ Sound International, Issues 33-40. Sound International. 1981. p. 147. Retrieved 2011-06-21. 
  21. ^ Gun Fight on YouTube
  22. ^ Yellow Magic Orchestra – Yellow Magic Orchestra at Discogs (list of releases)
  23. ^ Harry Hosono & Yellow Magic Orchestra – Special DJ Copy at Discogs
  24. ^ "Yellow Magic Orchestra – Firecracker" at Discogs (list of releases)
  25. ^ "Yellow Magic Orchestra – Computer Game / La Femme Chinoise" at Discogs (list of releases)
  26. ^ "Yellow Magic Orchestra: Billboard Singles". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-05-25. 
  27. ^ Buckley, Peter (2003). The rough guide to rock. Rough Guides. p. 901. ISBN 1-84353-105-4. Retrieved 2011-05-25. 
  28. ^ V. Vale & Andrea Juno (1994). Incredibly Strange Music, Volume 15. RE/Search Publications. p. 89. ISBN 0-940642-21-2. Retrieved 2011-06-06. 
  29. ^ David Toop (2000). Rap attack 3: African rap to global hip hop, Issue 3 (3rd ed.). Serpent's Tail. p. 129. ISBN 1-85242-627-6. Retrieved 2011-06-06. 
  30. ^ That's My Beat: Mantronix at AllMusic
  31. ^ "Sweet Exorcist". WhoSampled. Retrieved 2011-07-17. 
  32. ^ a b "Yellow Magic Orchestra". WhoSampled. Retrieved 2011-05-28. 
  33. ^ Al B. Just Two Mc's – Wong at Discogs
  34. ^ Chin, Brian (1 November 1986), "Dance Trax", Billboard 98 (44): 31, ISSN 0006-2510, retrieved 2011-07-07 
  35. ^ David Sprague (29 June 1996), "Nothin' Like the Reel Thing: Soundtrack & Film Score News", Billboard 108 (26): 68, ISSN 0006-2510, retrieved 2011-06-13 
  36. ^ "Mariah 'Ripped Off' Twice on Same Record". Fox News. April 4, 2002. Retrieved 2011-05-28.