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 Ochestra 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]

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.

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. ^ 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 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.