- Computer Game [Theme From Invaders]
I was a freshman in high school when I first heard Yellow Magic Orchestra back in 1979. They had a huge hit with what was called “Computer Game” in America but there was a lot of confusion surrounding the track and its domestic marketing. While the main song on this single A-side was an electro cover of Martin Denny’s “Firecracker” by Yellow Magic Orchestra, it is preceded by a brief composition that sounds like 1st gen video game sounds as played on YMO’s synths for about a minute before the sounds segue into “Firecracker.” The intro is “Computer Game [Theme From Invaders]” but somehow that got conflated into the two segued tracks going by that name in America. I recall seeing the early 12″ single depicted here selling in the store I frequented in my primordial record store days.
What was interesting about hearing the track on the radio was that it only got airplay on WOKB-AM [“Tiger Radio”] the so-called urban station that catered to the local African American audience out of nearby hamlet Winter Garden. The sight of the US cover of the album at left was fairly common among students of color in my classes. We got to listen to the radio in art classes and on some days WOKB got the nod and I heard what was otherwise ignored on the top-40 stations unless they managed to “cross-over.”
This was absolutely my first experience to the concept of Afrofuturism [which did not exist as a word until 1993] but would not be my last as I was exposed to Funkadelic soon afterward. [Parliament I had already heard via their top 40 success with “Tear The Roof Off The Sucker” being an elementary school favorite]. The notion of African Americans also enjoying electronic synthesizer music [as much as Caucasian nerds like myself did] was fairly novel to me at the time and a cultural eye-opener. Of course by the time I was a senior, I would see this scenario play out again when Kraftwerk released their groundbreaking album [their last groundbreaking album – sigh] “Computerworld.” Electro tunes like these would be heard on early [monophonic] boom boxes of the time.
Astoundingly enough, I did not own this record until 2013, when I found the staggering yellow vinyl UK 12″ in its silk-screened PVC sleeve at a local emporium. “Firecracker” as played by YMO sticks fairly closely to the template first released in 1959 by the father of exotica, Martin Denny. Of course, that YMO would re-appropriate the oriental kitsch twenty years later was rather post-modern of them! It also put them ahead of the Lounge/Exotica revival by at least a good 22 years! I have to say that in 1979, Martin Denny was a forgotten man. After 1993, that was no longer the case, and he died a dozen years later revered as a highly creative composer who synthesized new genres that were no longer considered a late 50s joke.
YMO were certainly finding the funk in simulated ethnic music with their analog synths sounding so gloriously warm, that its difficult to realize that many derided this music as cold and unfeeling at the time. Every melody here was synthetic, save for the luxuriant piano glissandos that Ryuichi Sakamoto embellished the grooves with. Yukihiro Takahashi’s drums [and presumably xylophones] were the only other non-synthetic component.
“Technopolis” opened with a vocoded voice intoning “Tokyo” and it sounded for all the world like the same vocoder used by Kraftwerk on their “Man-Machine” album on “The Robots,” but we all know that was custom built. Still, the similarity of tone and effect was astonishing. This song featured the rhythm section being the “live” component with Haroumi Hosono’s bass being very funky indeed. This track almost had a jazzfunk feel, but for the deliberately corny sounding topline melodies that were at odds with the high gloss of the track. In any case the musicianship here was of a high caliber. YMO may have been perceived as the “Japanese Kraftwerk,” and that more than anything may be the reason why they are shamefully light in Ye Olde Record Cell, but in reality their chops wipe the floor with their Düsseldorf brethren, though we know that chops are far from everything. I will need to make it a program to buy much more YMO than the scant amount I can put my finger on currently.
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