Yellow Magic Orchestra (1978)

Illustrator: Will Hanson

In music, the 1980s are viewed as the introduction into the mainstream of digital recording, synthesizers, and electronic, non-traditional instruments. During the decade, house music from Chicago and techno music from Detroit accelerated the adoption of these technologies. The origins of the electronic genre can be traced back even further. The music group Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO) was an important early innovator that created a sound still recognizable in synth-pop.

In 1978, the three-man group of Harry Hosono, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Yukihiro Takahashi released their eponymous first official studio album. Their name combined satire of exotica music in America in the 1960s and Japan’s obsession with black magic in the late 70s. The album went on to influence a large variety of musicians, including Afrika Bambaataa, an important figure in the development of hip-hop. Few bands could boast appearances in both the cerebral venues of Europe and “Soul Train.”

The album also notably sampled chiptunes from early video games like “Circus” and “Space Invaders,” becoming formative to the video game music of the 8-bit and 16-bit generations. “Tetris,” for instance, was influenced by YMO’s song “Tong Poo.” Electronic instruments, synthesizers, and computer-based technology seamlessly merge to “create a sound that was not possible until now,” as “Billboard” raved following the album’s release. Today, the music has aged well, comparing favorably to modern electronic music. To any fan of electronic music, YMO is a must-listen band, and their first album is a great place to start.