We were blindsided by more sad news on Friday night. Yukihiro Takahashi, the drummer and vocalist of Yellow Magic Orchestra dies at the age of 70, after a two years of dealing with brain cancer. I was aghast to note that I had somehow missed the news of that when it first manifested in 2020, even as I was aware of the cancer issues that his bandmate Ryuichi Sakamoto has undergone in the last several years. Mr. Takahashi had first experienced what he thought were migraine headaches in 2020 and ultimately an MRI revealed the correct diagnosis, which saw him undergo treatment and surgery in the last two years of his life.
Mr. Takahashi had several years of Art Rock playing under his belt before ultimately forming Yellow Magic Orchestra with Haroumi Hosono and Ryuichi Sakamoto in 1978. His first claim to fame had been drumming in the Sadistic Mika Band, a rare early 70s Japanese Art Rock band who had crossed over to the UK. I first heard of them when I was reading the 1975 Roxy Music “Siren” tour book that an acquaintance had loaned me in the early 80s. Their three albums were all released on UK Harvest with the latter two being produced by Chris Thomas. The slot opening for Roxy Music then made much sense, thought I’ve still not heard The Sadistic Mika Band.
Afterward, Takahashi formed The Sadistics with three of his former bandmates exploring Jazz Fusion. Gigging steadily, Takahashi began crossing paths with Sakamoto and Hosono as he enlisted Sakamoto to produce his first solo album, “Saravah!” It was Hosono who saw the validity of a Japanese electronic band making Disco music for the world market and the three eventually formed Yellow Magic Orchestra.
By 1979, their Japanese debut album [given a new cover] was released on A+M Records in The States, and that was where I joined the story. I was hearing their single “Computer Game” played constantly on WOKB-AM radio in Orlando when I was in high school. This was the “black station” that played Soul/R+B/Funk that I would hear played in my art classes on occasion. I must have gotten my first inkling of Afrofuturism [decades before there was a word for it] between the synthesized sounds of Parliament with the great Bernie Worrell, and the tech-drenched trio of YMO who sold a lot of albums that year to mostly African American ears. YMO were undoubtedly the first Japanese band to ever be featured on Soul Train playing “Computer Game” in an event that dots the “i” and crosses the “t” on this exciting intermix of very different cultures.
YMO were always a band that I “needed to buy” but I never seemed to get around to doing so. But in 1981, the band’s Japanese label Alfa Records, made inroads to establishing a US beachhead with the label, and that year issued the third Yukihiro Takahashi album, “Neuromantic.” In 1981 and album with that title couldn’t help but attract my attention! So I bought it and discovered that Takahashi was aiming in a Roxy Music direction. Not the least by having Phil Manzanera and Andy MacKay playing on the album as well as Steve Nye engineering and mixing it! And as if that weren’t enough to garner my interest, Technopop royalty like New Musik’s Tony Mansfield was also playing on the album.
YMO were prolific in their six year window but by 1983 it was over as the band became a million selling act in their native land as well as the standard bearer of Japanese Rock/Technopop the world over. After their concentration on YMO, the members reverted to their solo careers, which had still grown concurrently with the YMO years. The following year, Takahashi released the great “Wild + Moody” album which couldn’t help to attract my interest with talent like Bill Nelson, Iva Davies, and Steve Jansen contributing.
It’s to my detriment that I don’t have a full compliment of YMO’s recorded output in my Record Cell. Over the years [particularly recent years] I have managed to act on buying the now rare YMO releases that drift into my orbit as well as the amazing lenticular edition of the last YMO album, 1993’s “Technodon.” The latest recording I have was the Zero Landmine “N.M.L. [No More Landmine]” project from 2001. It was a consciousness/fund raising project for an anti-landmine initiative with an astounding array of talent poured into it. Everyone from Cyndi Lauper to David Sylvian participated, and it’s the only recording to feature both YMO and Kraftwerk.
But there’s so much more where that came from. Mr. Takahashi was a prolific artist, with 43 solo releases dating right up to 2019 with a live version of “Saravah Saravah!” I’m so behind on just listening to music, but I really need to bust out that “Neuromantic” album and give it another spin. In the meantime, out condolences to Mr. Takahashi’s family, bandmates, and friends at what must be a time of painful loss.