Behind the Mask (Yellow Magic Orchestra song)

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"Behind the Mask"
1980 single UK cover
Song by Yellow Magic Orchestra
from the album Solid State Survivor
ReleasedSeptember 25, 1979
Composer(s)Ryuichi Sakamoto
Lyricist(s)Chris Mosdell
Producer(s)Haruomi Hosono
Audio sample

"Behind the Mask" is an instrumental composed by Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto for a 1978 Seiko commercial. One year later, a rerecorded version by his band Yellow Magic Orchestra was released in 1979 as part of their album Solid State Survivor, with English lyrics added by Chris Mosdell.

The song has been performed by several artists since its original release. In the early 1980s, Michael Jackson wrote additional lyrics for the song with an accompanying melody; this version has been recorded by himself, Greg Phillinganes, Eric Clapton, and Ryuichi Sakamoto (as a solo artist), among others.

Yellow Magic Orchestra version[edit]

"Behind the Mask" appeared on Yellow Magic Orchestra's 1979 album Solid State Survivor, composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto, with English lyrics by Chris Mosdell sung by Sakamoto using a vocoder. Sakamoto already had the melody line when he asked poet and lyricist Mosdell to write lyrics, which he based on the imagery of a Japanese traditional Noh mask, combined with a poem by Irish poet W.B. Yeats called, "The Mask."

Mosdell has said of the lyrics that "I was talking about a very impersonal, socially controlled society, a future technological era, and the mask represented that immobile, unemotional state."[1] Yellow Magic Orchestra made use of synthesizers for the melodies and digital gated reverb for the snare drums.[2]

It was the first studio recording of this song. In 1980, the song was released as a single in the UK with the B-side as "Yellow Magic (Tong Poo)", and it was included in the US and European versions of the band's next studio album x∞Multiplies that same year.[3]

Following the break-up of Yellow Magic Orchestra in 1983, the band's former keyboardist and the writer of the song, Ryuichi Sakamoto, re-recorded it in 1987 with Michael Jackson's additional lyrics and lead vocals by Bernard Fowler. A similar arrangement was performed (with Fowler) in Sakamoto's "Media Bahn Live" tour the previous year. A CD single with 3 tracks and a CD maxi with 6 tracks entitled "Behind the Mask +3" were released.

Track listing[edit]

Vinyl single by Yellow Magic Orchestra (1979)
  1. Behind the Mask (mono) 3:35
  2. Behind the Mask (stereo) 3:35
Japan single by Ryuichi Sakamoto (1987)
  1. Behind the Mask - 5:29
  2. Risky - 6:22
  3. Field Work - 5:07
Japan CD maxi single by Ryuichi Sakamoto ("Behind the Mask +3") (1987)
  1. Behind the Mask - 5:29
  2. Risky - 6:22
  3. Field Work - 5:07
  4. Steppin' Into Asia (TV track) - 3:39
  5. Field Work (Edit) - 2:34
  6. 両眼微笑 (Instrumental) - 3:57

Greg Phillinganes version[edit]

"Behind the Mask"
Single by Greg Phillinganes
from the album Pulse
A-side"Behind the Mask"
B-side"Only You"
FormatCD, vinyl, 12"
GenreFunk, soul, synthpop
Songwriter(s)Chris Mosdell (lyrics)
Ryuichi Sakamoto (music)
Michael Jackson (additional lyrics)
Producer(s)Richard Perry

"Behind the Mask" was a single from Michael Jackson's keyboardist Greg Phillinganes's 1985 album Pulse. Phillinganes first met Michael and his brothers during the sessions for The Jacksons' Destiny album in 1978, and went on to serve as musical director for Michael's Bad World Tour.[4]

Greg had released the song as a single in 1985, which reached No.4 on the Billboard Dance/Club Play Songs, No.77 on the Billboard R&B singles chart in the United States,[5] but failed to make the Hot 100 and UK charts.

Track listing[edit]

UK single
  1. Behind the Mask - 4:07
  2. Only You - 6:16
German single
  1. Behind the Mask - 6:27
  2. Behind the Mask (instrumental) - 5:13
  3. Only You - 6:16


Chart (1985) Peak
U.S. R&B/Hip-Hop Songs 77[5]
U.S. Dance/Club Play Songs 4


  • Greg Phillinganes - lead vocals, keyboards
  • David Williams - guitars
  • Brian Banks and Anthony Marinelli - synthesizer programming
  • Michael Boddicker - vocoder
  • Howie Rice - clap effects
  • Richard Page - additional backing vocals
  • Arranger: Michael Jackson
  • Additional Engineering: John Arrias and John Vigran

Eric Clapton version[edit]

"Behind the Mask"
Eric behind the mask.jpg
Single by Eric Clapton
from the album August
B-side"Grand Illusion"
Format12", 45 RPM
GenreRock, Pop Rock, synthpop
LabelWarner Bros.
Songwriter(s)Ryuichi Sakamoto
Chris Mosdell (original lyrics)
Michael Jackson (additional lyrics, uncredited)
Producer(s)Phil Collins
Tom Dowd

"Behind the Mask" is an album track from Eric Clapton's studio album August in 1986, and was released as a single in 1987.

Background and release[edit]

Greg Phillinganes, who had previously covered the song himself, brought the composition to Clapton. Phillinganes played keyboards on this track, as well as singing background vocals. This version failed to credit Michael Jackson as one of the song's co-writers, but Chris Mosdell has confirmed that Jackson's estate does in fact take 50% of the song-writing royalties.[4]

The song was released as a single, and peaked at No. 15 in the UK on January 17, 1987.[6]

Track listing[edit]

UK 45 RPM (928461-7, W8461)
  1. Behind The Mask (Edit)
  2. Grand Illusion
UK 12" Single (W8461)
  1. Behind The Mask (LP Version)
  2. Grand Illusion
  3. Wanna Make Love To You
UK 2 x 7" Vinyl (928461-7, W8461F)
  1. Behind The Mask (Edit)
  2. Grand Illusion
  3. Crossroads (Live)
  4. White Room (Live)

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1987) Peak
Luxembourg Radio Singles (Billboard)[7] 12
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[8] 15


Michael Jackson version[edit]

"Behind the Mask"
Single by Michael Jackson
from the album Michael
B-side"Hollywood Tonight" (Vinyl)
ReleasedFebruary 21, 2011
FormatCD, digital download, Vinyl
Recorded1982 (original)
2010 (rework)
Length5:02 (album version)
3:39 (edit)
Songwriter(s)Michael Jackson, Chris Mosdell, Ryuichi Sakamoto[9]
Producer(s)Michael Jackson, John McClain[10]
Michael Jackson singles chronology
"Hollywood Tonight"
"Behind the Mask"
"All in Your Name"
Audio sample
Music video
"Behind the Mask" on YouTube

Michael Jackson recorded a version of "Behind the Mask", with extra lyrics and an extra melody line, during the Thriller sessions after it was brought to his attention by producer Quincy Jones, but the track didn't make the album due to a royalties dispute with Yellow Magic Orchestra's management. A remixed version with overdubbed extra production by John McClain was eventually released on Jackson's 2010 posthumous album Michael. This version was also released as a single to radio and as a limited 7" for Record Store Day, plus a music video edited together from fan contributions was released under the title "The Behind the Mask Project". McClain's overdubs over the original 1983 tape include a newly recorded saxophone solo and crowd noise from the 1992 Live in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour TV special.

On February 21, 2011, the song was released by Epic Records as the third single from the posthumous album Michael. The singer Shanice provides background vocals on the song.[11]

Background and release[edit]

Quincy Jones heard Yellow Magic Orchestra's version during the Thriller sessions, and brought it to Michael Jackson, who had recorded the song, added an extra melody line and a few extra lyrics to Chris Mosdell's original. Mosdell has said of the collaboration, "when Michael Jackson took it, he made it into a love song about a woman. It was a completely different premise to me, I was talking about a very impersonal, socially controlled society, a future technological era, and the mask represented that immobile, unemotional state. But hey, I let him have that one.[1]" An agreement to share the royalties equally between Sakamoto, Mosdell and Jackson broke down when the management of Yellow Magic Orchestra disagreed[1] and it prevented the song from being released on Jackson's sixth studio album, Thriller. It remained unreleased for 28 years.[4]

However, as a part of Sony Music's 10 album recording deal with the Estate of Michael Jackson, the song was announced to be released on the posthumous album of Jackson's, titled Michael. It was also as a radio single not only in France, but also the United States, Canada, and Japan.[12]

Critical reception[edit]

The song received mainly positive reviews from music critics. Jody Rosen from Rolling Stone called the song "a fiercely funky cousin to "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' ."[13] Dan Martin from NME thought the song was "an absolute revelation, a swirl of psychedelic, orchestra-twinged R&B", and said "Jackson howls a solid-gold melody at his fearsome best, and blippy production and robotic backing vocals dancing behind it." [14] Jason Lipshutz with Gail Mitchell and Gary Graff from Billboard thought the song was "a must-listen songs on Michael", and it "holds the highest number of Jackson's signature 'hee-hee!' exclaims".[15] Joe Pareles from New York Times said, the song was originally a 1979 hit by Ryuichi Sakamoto’s group Yellow Magic Orchestra with Jackson's lyrics about a coldhearted woman, but the final version which was completed by Mr. McClain was mixed with applause and squeals from concert crowds from Live in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour DVD.[10] Leah Greenblatt from Entertainment Weekly thought the song seemed "oddly dated by sax flourishes — though perhaps that makes it a good companion to the lilting closer Much Too Soon, an actual relic of the early ’80s".[16] The author of the forthcoming book, Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson, Joe Vogel thought John McClain's update to the song was skillful, making it sound brand new and retro at the same time. And he thought the song is "definitely one of the highlights of the album".[17]

Music video[edit]

As the single release officially announced, a music video for this song was also announced to be released worldwide.[12] On February 28, 2011, a project for this song's music video titled "Behind the Mask Project" was announced: "the Estate of Michael Jackson and Sony Music will provide everyone who likes music an opportunity to help create online a unique groundbreaking music video for the single 'Behind the Mask'." All the world can use a simple online tool to take part in making the music video since March 7, 2011.[18] On March 30, 2011, a 17-second video of what Sony Music had been doing with some of the thousands of submissions for the "Behind the Mask Project" was released.[19] On April 29, 2011, another video teaser for the project was released on, and it is announced that the final day to submit for the Behind the Mask Project is Tuesday May 3, 2011.[20] On June 6, 2011 was published the official trailer announcing when the final video would be published. On June 14, 2011 the official and final video was posted on the official Michael Jackson's channel on YouTube, but only accessible on the King of Pop's page on social networking site Facebook.[21] A day after, the video was classified and is now more widely available. This video has become in the most international, multi-collaborative of all times.[citation needed] In the 1600 clips that compose it can be seen people from the Sahara to the main cities of the world, through the Taj Mahal and the Arctic Circle.[citation needed] The clip is currently[when?] under evaluation for inclusion in the Guinness Book of World Records as the music video with the largest audience of participants.[citation needed] The oldest screen of this music video was recorded in 1996 by a Turkish boy Turgay Suat Tarcan.

An alternate video was originally shot and completed, featuring masked dancers in a nightclub, but the "Behind the Mask Project" was released instead of this video. This alternate video directed by the Grammy-winning directing duo Aggressive leaked on July 31, 2013. [22] [23] The video was eventually uploaded to Jackson's YouTube channel on August 3, 2018. [24]

Track listing[edit]

Digital Download[25]
1."Behind the Mask" (Album Version)5:01
Total length:5:01
Behind the Mask/Hollywood Tonight 7" Vinyl Single[26]
1."Behind the Mask" (Radio Edit)3:39
2."Hollywood Tonight" (Throwback Mix)3:46
Total length:07:00
Poland Promotional CD Single[27]
1."Behind the Mask" (Radio Edit)3:39
Total length:3:39

Official versions[edit]

  • Album Version 5:02
  • Edit / Radio Edit 3:39
  • Instrumental 5:02
  • Edited Instrumental 3:39


Chart (2010–2011) Peak
Belgium (Ultratip 50 Wallonia)[28] 24
Japan Hot 100[29] 71

Release history[edit]

Country Date Format
France February 21, 2011[30] CD single (promo), Radio airplay
April 11, 2011[31] Vinyl single
Italy[32] April 12, 2011
Poland[27] July 4, 2011 Radio airplay


  • Written by Michael Jackson, Chris Mosdell and Ryuichi Sakamoto
  • Produced by Michael Jackson and John McClain
  • Mixed by Jon Nettlesbey and Khaliq Glover
  • Solo vocal and beat box by Michael Jackson
  • Background vocals by Michael Jackson, Shanice and Alfonzo Jones
  • Additional Background Vocals Arranged by Leon F. Sylvers III
  • Engineered by Leon F. Sylvers III, Jon Nettlesbey, Allen Sides and Khaliq Glover
  • Saxophone and Saxophonic Percussion: Mike Phillips courtesy of Hidden Beach Recordings
  • Drums by Big Jim Wright and Greg Phillinganes
  • Keyboards & Drum Programming: Big Jim Wright
  • Bass by Alex Al
  • Digital Editing by Jon Nettlesbey
  • Additional Keyboards: Greg Phillinganes
  • Percussion: Paulino Da Costa
  • Guitar: David Williams
  • Additional Keyboards, Drum Programming, Sequencing & Digital Editing: Jon Nettlesbey

Other versions[edit]

It was covered by The Human League in 1993 with Yellow Magic Orchestra.

A sample of the Greg Phillinganes version formed the basis for Goldie Lookin Chain's 2004 single "Your Mother's Got a Penis".

Señor Coconut had a cover version released in 2006.


  1. ^ a b c Aimee Heckel (2011-01-15). "Chris Mosdell, quirky Boulder lyricist, wrote lyrics for newly released Michael Jackson song". Daily Camera. Retrieved 2011-10-18.
  2. ^ Tanaka, Yuji (November 11, 2014). "Yellow Magic Orchestra: The Pre-MIDI Technology Behind Their Anthems". Red Bull Music Academy.
  3. ^ Xoo Multiplies at AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-05-29.
  4. ^ a b c Halstead, Craig; Cadman, Chris (2007). Michael Jackson: For The Record. Bedfordshire: Authors OnLine Ltd. pp. 31–32. ISBN 0-7552-0267-8.
  5. ^ a b "Behind the Mask - Greg Phillinganes". Billboard.
  6. ^ "Eric Clapton: UK Official Single Chart History". Retrieved 2010-12-05.
  7. ^ "Ultimate Music Database". UMD Music. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  8. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.
  9. ^ "Behind the Mask". Retrieved 2010-12-10.
  10. ^ a b Joe Pareles (December 9, 2010). "After Death, the Remix". Retrieved December 9, 2010.
  11. ^ Brenda Jeanne Wyche (2010-12-04). "Shanice "Behind the Mask" With Michael Jackson". Black Star News. Retrieved 2010-12-05.
  12. ^ a b "New Michael Jackson Singles Coming From The Global #1 Album "Michael"". 2011-02-27. Archived from the original on 2011-03-03. Retrieved 2011-02-28.
  13. ^ Rosen, Jody. "Michael by Michael Jackson - Rolling Stone Music - Music Review". Rolling Stone. Retrieved December 6, 2010.
  14. ^ Martin, Dan (December 4, 2010). "Album review: Michael Jackson - 'Michael' (Epic)". NME. Retrieved December 5, 2010.
  15. ^ Lipshutz, Jason; Mitchell, Gail; Graff, Gary (December 8, 2010). "Michael Jackson's 'Michael' Track-By-Track". Billboard. Retrieved December 8, 2010.
  16. ^ Leah Greenblatt (December 8, 2010). "Music Review: Michael". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 9, 2010.
  17. ^ Vogel, Joe (2010-12-06). "Is Michael Really Michael? A Review of the King of Pop's New Album". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2010-12-10.
  18. ^ "Michael Jackson's Ultimate Music Fan Global Mash-up To Launch Online March 7 - The Official Michael Jackson Site". 2011-02-28. Archived from the original on 2011-03-04. Retrieved 2011-03-30.
  19. ^ "Exclusive First Look At The Behind The Mask Project - The Official Michael Jackson Site". Sony Music. 2011-03-30. Archived from the original on 2011-04-05. Retrieved 2011-03-30.
  20. ^ "New Behind the Mask Project Teaser! Submissions End May 3rd - The Official Michael Jackson Site". Sony Music. 2011-04-29. Archived from the original on 2012-03-23. Retrieved 2011-05-03.
  21. ^ "THE WORLD UNITES ON NEW MICHAEL JACKSON VIDEO "BEHIND THE MASK"". Sony Music. The Official Michael Jackson Site. 2011-06-08. Archived from the original on 2011-06-11. Retrieved 2011-06-11.
  22. ^ Shumka, Dave. "Watch this unreleased Michael Jackson video before it gets taken down". CBC Music. Retrieved 4 August 2013.
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ " Behind The Mask: Michael Jackson: MP3 Downloads". 2010-12-14. Retrieved 2011-03-08.
  26. ^ "Michael Jackson - Hollywood Tonight / Behind The Mask (Vinyl) at Discogs". Retrieved 2011-04-16.
  27. ^ a b "'Behind The Mask' w polskim radiu". The Official Michael Jackson Site. 2011-07-04. Archived from the original on 2013-01-03. Retrieved 2011-07-10.
  28. ^ " - Michael Jackson - Behind The Mask". Archived from the original on 2012-10-26. Retrieved 2011-02-22.
  29. ^ "Japan Hot 100 Achievement 2010/12/27". Billboard Japan. via WebCite. 2010-12-27. Archived from the original on 2011-11-27. Retrieved 2011-11-28.
  30. ^ "Nouveau single "Behind The Mask"". 2011-02-23. Archived from the original on 2011-07-14. Retrieved 2011-02-24.
  31. ^ "Hollywood Tonight / Behind The Mask: Michael Jackson: Musique". Retrieved 2011-03-31.
  32. ^ "Hollywood Tonight / Behind The Mask: Michael Jackson: Musica". Retrieved 2011-03-31.

External links[edit]