"BGM" is the band's 4th album, released in March 1981. The letters stand for "Background Music", what we would associate as Muzak or elevator music in Canada and the US. Of course, the contents were anything but. The YMO boys always did like their daily dose of irony. I actually only bought the album a few short years ago, but I had first encountered some of the tracks all the way back in 1982 when they were put onto a BEST audio tape of the band which my brother had bought and brought back to me when he came back from his graduation trip to Japan that year. I'd brought back the first self-titled album, also in audio tape format, the year before, so I was rather dying to get that new album.
"Mass" (above) was one of those songs. When I first looked at the title, I wasn't quite sure if the band had named the tune after a religious event or the scientific concept. But after listening to it, it had that eerie-sounding reverence and I could distinctly picture computer-aided design churches being drawn in cyberspace. I could only imagine a YouTube video of the past week's Papal election with this song playing in the background (BGM, indeed). Written and composed by Haruomi Hosono（細野晴臣）, there was also another addition to its creation and voice in the form of Peter Barakan, who is a Tokyo DJ and television commentator still very much a presence on the small screen (plus he also helped in the lyrics). Through his English and Russian intonings, "Mass" gains further gravitas.
I actually already did an article on one of the other tracks, "U.T." some months ago, but still decided that it needed to have its place here....via a great remix version! It's minimalist but I enjoy the urgent pace, and I can finally understand what Hosono and the guys are talking about during the bridge. Hosono also pointed out in the J-Wiki article about the album that it was because of the financial success of "Solid State Survivor" that they were able to do the things they had wanted to do for "BGM".
Here is a 2011 concert performance of "1000 Knives" by YMO. The boys may be older but they are no less cooler. The version here seems to have taken on a fusion feel.
And as a comparison, here is the original "Thousand Knives" by Sakamoto in 1978 from "The Thousand Knives of Ryuichi Sakamoto". I've only listened to a portion of this video so far but the original seems to have more of that "Asian Exotica" feel and jauntiness to it.
My final video here is for "Camouflage" which I picked out because to me it symbolizes the direction that YMO was starting to head into generally: a more avant-garde and pure techno area without the pop that infused the earlier hits such as "Firecracker" and "Cosmic Surfin'". There is a cooler and more industrial feeling to this one.
"BGM" made it to No. 2 on the Oricon weeklies while it finished the year in the 28th position and sold 275,000 copies. Perhaps it didn't quite hit the heights that "Solid State Survivor" did, but it's no less significant in terms of techno or music in general.
These were the tracks:
2. Music Plans
3. Rap Phenomena
4. Happy End
5. 1000 Knives