I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Yellow Magic Orchestra -- Best One '82

Well, ever since that magical moment when I first witnessed the official video for Yellow Magic Orchestra's "Firecracker" on the local multicultural channel's "Japanese Panorama" programme around the late 70s/early 80s, the band has been tied into my full-scale dive into the world of Japanese pop music....and therefore, this blog. My first purchase at a record store in Japan was YMO's debut album as an audiotape in 1981, and then it would be a full year before I got another release via my younger brother's graduation trip. During that year, anything that sniffed of computer music on TV, I would automatically think "YMO". In fact, I heard one riff during a commercial on "Sounds of Japan" and swore it was from the band; actually it was the intro to Grandmaster Flash's classic "The Message". Fortunately, I didn't go into complete withdrawal and didn't wear out my first tape into ashes, since I was also discovering how much I was getting into music in general from my country, the States and the UK as well. The Human League, Gary Numan, Pat Benetar, Billy Joel, Al Jarreau, and a list of many others kept my attention fully engaged.

Still, I was ecstatic when my brother returned from Japan in August 1982 and opened up the bag of souvenirs for the family which included three 45" singles from Seiko-chan, Hiromi Iwasaki and Matchy...and the tape whose photo you see above you. My gifts even had an interesting smell of lavender infused into them for some aroma that didn't dissipate for years. Still, whenever I pass an air freshener somewhere, I instinctively think, "Rydeen" (any immediate friends of the band who are reading this...please don't tell them). In any case, here is "Best One '82".

Side A

1. Behind The Mask
2. Rydeen
3. Jiseiki - Hirake Kokoro  磁性紀~開け心
4. Nice Age
5. Solid State Survivor
6. Cosmic Surfin'
7. Absolute Ego Dance
8. Day Tripper
9. Rap Phenomena
10. Castalia
11. Cue

Side B

1. U.T.
2. Technopolis
3. Citizens of Science
4. Tong Poo
5. Mass
6. Tighten Up
7. 1000 Knives
8. La Femme Chinoise
9. Firecracker

Now, in the J-Wiki article on YMO, this tape (ALC-38001) doesn't seem to show up in the list of their BEST compilations for some reason, although Alfa Records (the band's recording studio at the time) did release "YMO -- Best Selection" in October 1982 which is not my tape.

Now, as the track list above shows, Side A launches with "Behind The Mask". Thanks to my fellow classmate who was with me on the trip to Japan, he fed my YMO habit briefly when his parents held an after-trip party a few months later at their house, and my friend played "Solid State Survivor", the band's 2nd album. Hearing "Behind The Mask" once again several months later was like manna from heaven to my ears. And what a great way to start off the BEST. Ryuichi Sakamoto(坂本龍一) composed the song while British poet and lyricist Chris Mosdell created the lyrics. Again, jari has his comprehensive take on what is probably the band's most well-known song internationally.

One of the reasons that I was so hungry for that second YMO album to come into my hands was that as much as I loved the first album, "Yellow Magic Orchestra" always struck me as a prelude to bigger and better things....kinda like how the first "X-Men" film was, compared to "X-Men United". Listening to "Solid State Survivor" at my buddy's place and...much later...discovering that YMO's 2nd album became the top-selling LP of 1980 cemented my theory. "Behind The Mask" was one of the songs responsible for my opinion. And then came "Nice Age"....which is an electro-metaphor for a fire-breathing woman making one too many visits to Shinjuku or Roppongi. The synths sound just as sultry as that doomed lady, and drummer/vocalist Yukihiro Takahashi (高橋幸宏)comes across as the hand-mincing pimp/emcee snidely describing her life. Both he and Sakamoto created the melody while Mosdell wrote the lyrics.

Mosdell had a big hand in the band's early creations, and often wrote about how civilization advanced technologically but at the cost of its soul. Sometimes when I listen to "Nice Age", I'm reminded of the robot doppelganger of Maria from the 1927 film "Metropolis" at how she was able to twist men around her metal finger.

As for the female vocal in the refrain for "Nice Age", according to the liner notes for the bigger BEST album, "YMO GO HOME", the singer was Mika Fukui of The Sadistic Mika Band.

Mosdell and Takahashi were also behind the title track from YMO's most successful album, the aforementioned "Solid State Survivor", a song that has a theremin-sounding synth which seems to represent the shiny bastion of a technopolis before Takahashi quickly patters out lyrics stating that not all is wonderful under that gleam. The barely audible phone conversation that happens throughout the song has a creepy feel, especially that laugh near the end.

While the first three songs that I've mentioned have YMO going into New Wave territory, Takahashi's cover of The Beatles' "Day Tripper" sounds like the band's application of synths into various musical genres such as Ventures-style music for "Cosmic Surfin" for their first album. Here, it's Lennon/McCartney territory with the added guitars and Takahashi kinda aiming for The Fab Four vocal style. Strangely enough, YMO's version of "Day Tripper" was the first time I had ever heard the song performed by anyone.

"Rap Phenomena" was the first of the new songs that I hadn't heard prior to getting this tape. Originally from YMO's 5th album, "BGM" (1981), it was written and composed by Haruomi Hosono(細野晴臣), and as nikala once mentioned in one of her articles, he was never all that strong a singer, and admittedly when I first heard this on the tape recorder, I kinda went "What the...?". Mind you, he was rapping here, but the lyrics about unified fields, corpuscles and a guy named Lamue always made me wonder about this weird entry. It hasn't been included in "YMO GO HOME" and I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't make it onto any other of the band's BEST compilations. Somehow I don't think Grandmaster Flash got too worried about "Rap Phenomena".

The final track on Side A, "Cue" was the 2nd completely new song that I came across, and I think it has fared better than "Rap Phenomena". It also struck me as being about as close to a mainstream New Wave-y pop song that YMO got at the time (before "Kimi ni Mune Kyun"). Hosono and Takahashi were responsible for the lyrics and melody with radio personality/music critic Peter Barakan also helping out with the words. According to the J-Wiki article for the song, it had been inspired by British band Ultravox, although I sometimes wonder how David Bowie would've done with this one.  "Cue" was also on "BGM" and even had a single release, the band's 4th in April 1981.

My last track for "Best One '82" is "Citizens of Science" which also came from "Solid State Survivor". It was another Mosdell/Takahashi collaboration with even Mosdell taking part in the vocals. Not surprisingly, the song is about the leaching of all emotion and soul from society. It was likely an indictment of Japanese society back 30 years ago, but it could even be something similar against all 1st-world societies today.

To finish off, I just had to include this feisty Miku Hatsune cover of "Nice Age".

The first album (1978)


  1. Hi! Just came across your blog here.

    I remember this cassette tape - perhaps Alfa released it because YMO weren't active as a group, therefore no new recordings in 1982.

    1. Hello, WildCreamPie and thanks for the comment. Glad to hear that there is someone else who remembers this tape. BTW, like your gardening photos on your blog.


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