Kraftwerk get much of the credit for the rise of electronic music in the early 80s & beyond, but for me Yellow Magic Orchestra are at least as influential. Their career started with computer game noises and you can hear their influence in game soundtracks and woven into a diverse range of artists music. Between the bands own albums and the myriad related artists they are a collectors dream.
Wikipedia is fairly good for once on the history. One thing it does highlight is how many of their songs have advertising connections. Fuji cassettes, Seiko watches and Kirin beer are just a few brands that have had the YMO touch. One of their best known songs, "Behind The Mask" (yes Eric Clapton via Michael Jackson) started as a Seiko commercial in 1978. This a version recorded by Sakamoto with Jackson's lyrics.
Never heard that before, very Eighties!
Where Kraftwerk pioneered Techno, YMO started off as kitsch lounge/exotica practitioners and progressed to more dance synthpop based material influencing bands like Human League & Depeche Mode. Early adopters of the Roland TR808 & TB303, they got their shot with Afrika Bambaataa two years after he sampled Trans Europe Express and that introduced them to the Detroit crowd. From there YMO influences crop up everywhere, often second or third generation but there nonetheless.
My favourite YMO homage is on a Vicious Pink 12" from 1984. A Side "CCCan't You See" is fairly standard synthpop, the B side "8:15 to Nowhere" is pure YMO, and the cover of "Great Balls of Fire" would have been at home on a Takahashi solo disc of the time.
Where to start with their music?
My favourites are Solid State Survivor, home of Rydeen, Technopolis, and the original Behind The Mask and Technodelic, Kraftwerk lite synthpop with some innovative early sampling. Unlike the Dusseldorf crew* YMO were a good live band, Fakerholic, if you can find it is the best of their 1979/80 world tour, avoid 'Public Pressure' like the plague, Kazumi Watanabe's guitar replaced by extra synths - horrible. There are some good live albums from recent years, try them online & pick the one you like best. Compilations? YMO have been badly served there. 'YMO Go Home' & 'Kyoretsu Na Rhythm' are the best of an unsatisfactory lot.
Why choose YMO?
I love Kraftwerk but they can be a bit po faced & joyless at times. YMO are fun, they have a uniquely Japanese sense of humour that is frankly odd. If you get the Hitchhikers Guide To the Galaxy you will get YMO. If you listen to nothing else by them try ×∞Multiplies , but make sure it is this version , ignore the stupid Amazon reviews and get it. You will still be laughing in a week.
*Kraftwerk of the 80's that is, now they are different, the Manchester Velodrome is in my top 5 ever shows, but was it a live show or an experience?