Yellow Magic Orchestra (album)

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Yellow Magic Orchestra
Studio album by
ReleasedNovember 25, 1978 (1978-11-25)
RecordedJuly 10 – September 5, 1978
StudioAlfa Studio A, Shibaura, Minato, Tokyo
ProducerHarry Hosono
Yellow Magic Orchestra chronology
Yellow Magic Orchestra
Solid State Survivor
Singles from Yellow Magic Orchestra
  1. "Tong Poo" / "Firecracker"
    Released: 1978 (promo only)
  2. "Computer Game" / "Fire Cracker"
    Released: 1978, 1979
  3. "Cosmic Surfin'"
    Released: 1979
  4. "La femme chinoise"
    Released: 1979
  5. "Tong Poo"
    Released: 1979
Alternative covers
US cover

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 the United States and Canada in early 1979, with the US 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 synth-pop,[1][2] a genre that the band helped pioneer. It contributed to the development of electro, hip hop,[3] techno,[4] and bleep techno.[5] The album's innovations in electronic music included its use of the microprocessor-based Roland MC-8 Microcomposer music sequencer which allowed the creation of new electronic sounds,[6] and its sampling of video game sounds.[2][7]

The album sold 250,000 copies in Japan and entered the Billboard 200 and R&B Albums charts in the United States.[8] Its most successful single was "Computer Game / Firecracker", which sold over 400,000 records in the United States[9] and was a top 20 hit in the United Kingdom.[10]


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.[11] The album would eventually be called Yellow Magic Orchestra, as a satire of Japan's obsession with black magic at the time.[11] The project proved highly popular, culminating in a career for the three musicians; one that would last until 1983, followed by 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 Roland MC-8 Microcomposer, the Korg PS-3100 polyphonic synthesizer, the Korg VC-10 vocoder, the Yamaha Drums and Syn-Drums electronic drum kits, the Moog III-C and Minimoog monosynths, the Polymoog and ARP Odyssey analog synthesizers, the Oberheim Eight-Voice synthesizer, the Fender Rhodes electric piano, and the Fender Jazz Bass. Besides the electronic equipment, the only acoustic instruments used in the album were a Steinway piano, drum set, and a marimba.

It was the earliest known popular music album to use the Roland MC-8 Microcomposer, which was programmed by Hideki Matsutake during recording sessions. The swingy funk element present throughout the album was expressed by Matsutake programming through subtle variations of the MC-8's input.[12] 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.[6] The band later described both the MC-8 and Matsutake as an "inevitable factor" in both their music production and live performances.[13]

The album was an early example of synth-pop,[1][2] a genre that Yellow Magic Orchestra helped pioneer. 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",[1] a song that was inspired by Chinese music produced during the China's Cultural Revolution,[2] and in turn influenced video game music such as Tetris.[7] 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). Both Circus and Space Invaders, along with several other popular arcade video games, were also featured in the promotional film for "Tong Poo".[7]

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.

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


Professional ratings
Review scores
The Guardian[14]
Smash Hits3/10[16]

From contemporary reviews, Rosalind Russell of Record Mirror compared the group to Giorgio Moroder and Kraftwerk stating that the group "might resign themselves to coming a poor second", finding that the group's ethnicity and accents "may put off this nation's xenophobes. But who needs the UK? In the disco world we're small stakes anyway: the sons of Nihon are probably casting their eyes to the States and Germany."[18]

Track listing[edit]

Original pressing[edit]

Side one
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 Orchestra1:48
2."Firecracker (ファイアークラッカー)" Yellow Magic Orchestra, Martin Denny4:50
3."Simoon (シムーン)"Chris MosdellHaruomi Hosono6:27
4."Cosmic Surfin' (コズミック・サーフィン)" Hosono4:51
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—)" YMO0:43
Side two
1."Tong Poo (東風, tonpū, "east wind")" Ryuichi Sakamoto6:15
2."La femme chinoise (中国女, Chūgoku-onna)"MosdellYukihiro Takahashi5:52
3."Bridge over Troubled Music (ブリッジ・オーバー・トラブルド・ミュージック)" YMO1:17
4."Mad Pierrot (マッド・ピエロ)"uncreditedHosono4:20
5."Acrobat (アクロバット)" Hosono1:12

US pressing[edit]

Side one
1."Computer Game 'Theme from The Circus'" Yellow Magic Orchestra1:48
2."Firecracker" Martin Denny4:50
3."Simoon"Chris MosdellHaruomi Hosono6:27
4."Cosmic Surfin'" Hosono4:28
5."Computer Game 'Theme from The Invader'" YMO1:01
Side two
1."Yellow Magic (Tong Poo)" Ryuichi Sakamoto6:17
2."La femme chinoise"MosdellYukihiro Takahashi5:55
3."Bridge over Troubled Music" YMO1:18
4."Mad Pierrot"uncreditedHosono4:05


Yellow Magic Orchestra – arrangements, electronics

Guest musicians


US version alternative staff

  • Minako Yoshida – vocals on "Yellow Magic (Tong Poo)"
  • Tommy LiPuma – supervisor
  • Al Schmitt – mixing engineer
  • Mike Reese – mastering engineer
  • Roland Young – art director
  • Amy Nagasawa & Chuck Beeson – design
  • Lou Beach – front cover art
  • Masayoshi Sukita – back cover art


Year Release Chart Peak
Weeks Total
1978 LP Japan Oricon LP Chart 20 73 187,000
1978 Cassette Japan Oricon CT Chart 17 35 63,000
1980 LP US Billboard 200[8] 81
1980 LP US R&B Albums[8] 37

"Computer Game / Firecracker"[edit]

The song "Firecracker" was released as a single in Japan in 1978 and in the United States and United Kingdom in 1979, becoming a major R&B hit in the United States.[11] 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[9] and entering the top 20 of the UK Singles Chart.[10]


Chart (1980) Peak position[19]
UK Singles Chart[10] 17
US Billboard Hot 100 60
US Dance Club Singles 42
US R&B Singles 18

In 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).[20] The "terse video-game funk" sounds of "Computer Game" would have a strong influence on the emerging electro and hip hop music genres;[3] the song's use of video game sounds and bleeps has been described as "ahead of their time"[21] and as having a strong influence on 1980s hip hop[22] and pop music.[2] It was later included in electro hip hop artist Kurtis Mantronik's compilation album That's My Beat (2002), which consists of electro music that influenced his early career.[23]

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).[4] 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).[5]

De La Soul's "Funky Towel" (for the 1996 film Joe's Apartment),[24] Jennifer Lopez's hit "I'm Real" (2001), and the original version of Mariah Carey's "Loverboy" (for the 2001 film soundtrack Glitter),[25] which was released as part of the 2020 compilation album The Rarities on October 2, 2020, also sampled the song.

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


  1. ^ a b c d Bush, John. "Yellow Magic Orchestra – Yellow Magic Orchestra". AllMusic. Retrieved January 11, 2014.
  2. ^ 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 October 27, 2020.
  3. ^ a b Dayal, Geeta (July 7, 2006). "Yellow Magic Orchestra". The Original Soundtrack. Archived from the original on November 20, 2006. Retrieved June 17, 2011.
  4. ^ a b The Kings of Techno: Carl Craig at AllMusic
  5. ^ a b Sicko, Dan (2010). Techno Rebels: The Renegades of Electronic Funk (2nd ed.). Wayne State University Press. p. 76. ISBN 978-0-8143-3438-6.
  6. ^ a b Fukatsu, Kazu (May 26, 1979). "Artists and producers strive for inroads overseas". Billboard. Vol. 91, no. 20. pp. J-14, J-31. ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved May 29, 2011.
  7. ^ a b c Robson, Daniel (February 29, 2008). "YMCK takes 'chiptune' revolution major". The Japan Times. Archived from the original on August 22, 2010. Retrieved October 27, 2020.
  8. ^ a b c "Yellow Magic Orchestra: Billboard Albums". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-05-25.
  9. ^ a b Inaba, Minoru (August 18, 1980). "Computer rock music gaining fans". Sarasota Journal. p. 11-A. Retrieved May 25, 2011.
  10. ^ a b c "Computer Game (Theme From 'the Invaders')". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 2011-05-28.
  11. ^ a b c Lewis, John (July 4, 2008). "Back to the future: Yellow Magic Orchestra helped usher in electronica – and they may just have invented hip-hop, too". The Guardian. Retrieved May 25, 2011.
  12. ^ Tanaka, Yuji (November 11, 2014). "Yellow Magic Orchestra: The Pre-MIDI Technology Behind Their Anthems". Red Bull Music Academy. Archived from the original on November 23, 2014. Retrieved October 27, 2020.
  13. ^ Sound International, Issues 33-40. 1981. p. 147. Retrieved 2011-06-21. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  14. ^ Sweeting, Adam (January 9, 2004). "Yellow Magic Orchestra, Yellow Magic Orchestra". The Guardian. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  15. ^ "Yellow Magic Orchestra: Yellow Magic Orchestra". Mojo. No. 124. March 2004. p. 115.
  16. ^ Starr, Red (September 6–19, 1979). "Albums". Smash Hits. Vol. 1, no. 20. p. 25.
  17. ^ "Yellow Magic Orchestra: Yellow Magic Orchestra". Uncut. No. 82. March 2004. p. 108.
  18. ^ Russell 1979.
  19. ^ "Yellow Magic Orchestra: Billboard Singles". Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-05-25.
  20. ^ Buckley, Peter (2003). The Rough Guide to Rock. Rough Guides. p. 901. ISBN 1-84353-105-4. Retrieved 2011-05-25.
  21. ^ V. Vale & Andrea Juno (1994). Incredibly Strange Music, Volume 15. RE/Search Publications. p. 89. ISBN 0-940642-21-2. Retrieved 2011-06-06.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ That's My Beat: Mantronix at AllMusic
  24. ^ David Sprague (29 June 1996), "Nothin' Like the Reel Thing: Soundtrack & Film Score News", Billboard, vol. 108, no. 26, p. 68, ISSN 0006-2510, retrieved 2011-06-13
  25. ^ "Mariah 'Ripped Off' Twice on Same Record". Fox News. April 4, 2002. Retrieved 2011-05-28.