Advertising Strategies That Used Music to Outrageous Effect

It makes sense that advertising strategies often take advantage of music since sonic influence can be so tenacious. A persistent jingle may be annoying but it’s broadcasting an advertiser’s message to you on a loop. Now, imagine if that song stuck in your head was one you actually wanted to hear. That’s one of the primary reasons you see so many companies spending millions of dollars in their advertising strategies on the music and endorsements of some of the hottest popular musicians in the industry. Snoop Dogg didn’t promote Norton Anti-Virus for free. Whether using popular musicians to reinforce their messages or original jingles and musical promotions to keep you engaged, marketers are often making music an integral part of their loftiest advertising strategies.

McDonalds is Lovin’ Music Tie-Ins


“Don’t be so quick to walk away…unless it’s another contract from McDonalds.”

McDonalds has consistently turned out some of the most memorable and bizarre popular marketing in the fast food industry but you may have forgotten that two major musicians are at the heart of one of their most enduring slogans. The “i’m lovin’ it” campaign was crafted around a Justin Timberlake single that was co-written by Pharrell Williams. This was one of McDonald’s most ambitious and successful advertising strategies and its first attempt at a marketing campaign with global scope. Timberlake was even paid an undisclosed amount (though estimated at around $6 million) to sing the wordless jingle that also accompanied the start of the campaign in 2003. However, in recent years, Timberlake admitted he regrets his role in McDonalds’ most famous ad campaign.

McDonalds actually branched into original music for a bizarre contest circa 1989 in which people received a 7” vinyl record in their Sunday newspaper as part of the McDonalds $1,000,000 Menu Song Contest. Customers could throw these 7″ platters on their state-of-the-art record players and listen as a scripted classroom of students struggled to memorize a song with lyrics comprised solely of McDonalds’ menu. If your record was the lucky one that featured the students actually managing to complete the song, you would win a cool million. Either way, you just sat through a 2 minute recital of the McDonalds menu. It may seem like a shamelessly cheesy and possibly expensive attempt at drumming up interest but we’d expect as much from the company that brought us attention-grabbing secret menu items like the McGangBang.

Pepsi’s Unfortunate Marketing Mishaps

While the McDonalds advertising strategies straddled the line between shameful and shameless, Pepsi’s vacillated between outrageous and dangerous. However, to be fair to the soft drink giant, their musical marketing missteps couldn’t have been predicted. In 1989, Pepsi entered what they imagined would be a lucrative marketing campaign with Madonna endorsing their product. This year-long marketing juggernaut was to see Pepsi sponsoring her forthcoming tour and would also feature the iconic pop star in a series of television spots. Despite some behind-the-scenes turbulence (like Madonna refusing to insert the word “Pepsi” into her performance in her first commercial), it seemed like everything was going off without a hitch. Pepsi’s first advertisement featuring Madonna only had the chance to air one time before the world premiere of her video for “Like a Prayer.” The video, saturated with images of burning crosses, sex in churches, and the pop singer stricken with stigmata ruffled some feathers with religious fundamentalists and the Catholic Church, eventually putting pressure on Pepsi to jettison any advertising strategies involving Madonna.


Michael Jackson at the fateful moment his hair caught on fire.

However, Pepsi’s most infamous marketing faux pas was a freak accident that occurred earlier in 1984. While filming his 6th take for a Pepsi TV spot, Michael Jackson found his hair engulfed in flames when a pyrotechnic flash went off early. Initially unaware, Jackson continued performing before assistants tackled him to the ground, trying to extinguish his smoking scalp. The pop star, who was arguably the biggest musician in the world at the time, suffered second and third degree burns to his scalp and face. It’s theorized that this incident would lead to Jackson’s obsession with plastic surgery and addiction to pain killers which would ultimately claim his life.

The Dark Side of Rock in Advertising Strategies for…Butter?

Butter’s not a product that screams “darkness” but what is rather dark is watching the rebels of music history line up to hock it. But is it really that surprising to see Ozzy Osbourne appearing in an advertisement for I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter after watching the 4 seasons of neutering that was The Osbournes? More surprising than watching the rock god swap headless bats for buttered toast is a commercial for Country Life Butter featuring former Sex Pistols front man John Lydon. Obviously, the advertising strategies for the butter commodity were aiming for something a bit more comedic, but it’s still strange to see Lydon, who once drew comparisons between fascism and the British government, cartoonishly asking the viewer “Do I buy Country Life Butter because it’s British?” Then again, the Sex Pistols themselves were one of the most brilliant (if not tastelessly exploitative) advertising strategies.

Music Marketing in the Death Care Industry


All the comforts of your bedroom circa 1976.

Who better to hammer home the idea that nothing is sacred than the undisputed kings of tasteless advertising strategies and product endorsement, Kiss. If you lived like the ultimate Kiss fan, you can die like one too with the Kiss Kasket. Featuring airbrushed images of the band members and a proclamation on the side panel stating “Kiss Forever”, this coffin finds Kiss giving Krusty the Clown a run for his money when it comes to shameless self-promotion and merchandising.

On a much smaller level but no less bizarre, entrepreneur Timothy Riley obviously recognized the marketing power of music when he decided to run an ad in the playbill for Chorus North Shore’s orchestral performance of Handel’s Messiah. This may not seem so strange at first glance until you realize that Riley’s business is crime scene clean-up. He’s the guy you call if you need blood stains cleaned out of your carpet following the murder or suicide of a tenant. Just think about that and let the sweet sounds of Handel take you away.

All of these advertising strategies that somehow incorporate music in advertising are either grim, unfortunate, or at the very least unusual. However, the marketing strategists behind these ad campaigns likely recognized the likelihood for shock to make an impression. Marrying shock to music has often worked well, though you may not know it by how quickly Ozzy Osbourne is signing contracts for butter commercials. Accidents aside, it seems these marketers knew what they were doing.


10 Glam Rock Titans Who Gave Better Than They Got

In the early ‘70s, even the dullest bands were dabbing on a bit of rouge and eyeshadow in the hopes of being the new bright thing in glam rock. It’s often believed that the highly influential though short-lived genre got its start with Marc Bolan’s T. Rex when the swaggering star graced his face with glitter prior to a performance. Musical chameleon David Bowie liked what he saw and followed suit, further popularizing glam rock and launching a million pretty faces all vying for the spotlight. Others followed like the art school darlings Roxy Music, the vicious silver-trouser prowlers Iggy and the Stooges, the too-hip detached dazzler Lou Reed, and the gutter glitter punks New York Dolls. Many glam rock dabblers earned their places between the cracks but some were actually churning out some genuine gold. Here we find a list of 10 glam rock titans who gave better than they got:

1. Jobriath: Light from a Dead Star

While he may not be quite as obscure as the other charming and elegant underdogs (or under-diamond-dogs) on this list, Jobriath still deserves a mention because his acclaim has only come in recently, tied to Morrissey’s accolades. Jobriath was meant to be a major glam rock star supported by massive media hype. It’s popularly concluded that his openness about his homosexuality was too cutting edge for the ‘70s rock ‘n’ roll industry that remained macho in spite of all the mascara. While Jobriath’s story is considered a tragedy of unrealized potential, he left behind two official full-length records and another album’s worth of previously unreleased material so his camp quirkiness and cosmic clown ponderings continue to echo beyond his life.

2. Brett Smiley: The Damsel in Distress of Glam Rock

Brett Smiley was possibly too precious for the ‘70s rock scene or so Andrew Loog Oldham, the manager he shared with the Rolling Stones, wanted you to think. Loog Oldham carefully cultivated a delicate porcelain princess of a boy with Smiley, then gave him top session musicians including members of Small Faces to record Breathlessly Brett. But the debut record, consisting of junkshop glam sparkle, a few twinkling ice planet ballads, and a handful of covers, was shelved prior to release. In 2004, the original recordings were finally released to the public, offering up a delayed introduction to Smiley’s breathy androgynous aesthetic to the savvy few. But by then, the distressed damsel of glam rock was all grown up.

3. Cockney Rebel: Expansive Glam Rock PHILOSOPHERS

Fronted by the enigmatic Steve Harley, Cockney Rebel were unfairly smeared by the press as aping Bowie’s style despite only sounding slightly like him. Often foregoing guitar in favor of violin, Cockney Rebel crafted a spacious contemplative glam rock though they weren’t adverse to the odd whimsical stomper which left them an undeniable influence on Brit Pop artists like Blur. Harley’s lyrics were often critiques on both personal and universal levels with his own philosophies at the nucleus. Prominent inclusion on the soundtrack for the 1998 sycophantic glam rock fantasy Velvet Goldmine may have raised Cockney Rebel’s profile slightly, though Steve Harley found greater success with his post-glam recordings.

4. Space Waltz: Ice Glam from the End of the Earth

Space Waltz was often regarded as New Zealand’s take on the icy drama of Bowie but was the singular vision of Alastair Riddell. While Riddell’s music was very reminiscent of Bowie’s, Space Waltz’s sole album proved that he was a confident and adept songwriter in his own right. Some of the tracks spanned nearly 10 minutes of contemplative romance while punchier numbers remained wistfully sage. There was a true poetry to Riddell’s angelic essence. Sci-fi-themed isolation never sounded so sincere as it did echoing from the end of the world.

5. Another Pretty Face: Sonic Diamonds in the Rough

Another Pretty Face were New Jersey’s answer to Bowie, at least in terms of sound. But where Bowie flirted with sexual ambiguity, Another Pretty Face’s frontman T. Roth was very open about his homosexuality. This would often present itself in the band’s lyrics with lines like “I’d make love to your dad if he’s not too bad” and “He’s far out, he’s out of sight/Hope he takes me home tonight.” The rough-and-tumble darlings swung effortlessly between post-apocalyptic lullabies to dying worlds and nocturnal junk drunk stompers, all the while adding a bit of depth to grease-painted campiness.

6. Zolar X: Hollywood’s Perma-Alien Glitter Punks

Zolar X may be remembered less for their music and more for their devotion to their own alien mythology. It’s been said that the members of Zolar X were never seen out of costume or out of character, even carrying out the most mundane of responsibilities in silver space suits. That’s not to say their extraterrestrial take on glam rock was forgettable by any means. Their raw cosmic space glam earned them the coveted spot as house band of Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco, one of Hollywood’s most infamous clubs in the early ‘70s. Many notable punk and deathrock groups of Los Angeles took obvious inspiration from the intergalactic quartet.

7. Be-Bop Deluxe: Baroque Glam Virtuoso

Be-Bop Deluxe were built around Bill Nelson, who looked like glitter’s take on the boy next door but sounded like the ultimate glam rock guitar virtuoso. The band’s debut album Axe Victim showcased Nelson’s ornate proto-power pop tendencies under the influence of full-swing ‘70s glitter resulting in progressive baroque glam. Comparisons to Bowie challenged Nelson to explore new sonic vistas on Be-Bop Deluxe’s subsequent albums, influencing the next generation of post-punk artists and new romantics. While imitations were attempted, Nelson’s talents were too monumental to mimic.

8. Doctors of Madness: Glam Godfathers of U.K. Punk

The Doctors of Madness formed in 1975 as the established glam rock artists were starting to branch out from their flashy templates. While crafting a heavily Roxy Music-influenced brand of art rock, Kid Strange’s Doctors of Madness left some rough edges, radiating an incubating heat to the seedlings of U.K. punk. Among a legion of other punk groups, The Damned were quick to cite Doctors of Madness as a major inspiration. The Damned’s frontman Dave Vanian even briefly served as vocalist for Doctors of Madness. While Doctors of Madness incorporated a dirty edge to their silver machinations, their arrangements were often sprawling and complex, accentuated by unpredictable violins and lengthy passages that would inevitably end in bludgeoning rock ‘n’ roll.

9. The Ultras: Glam Rock Remnants in the Hollywood Gutter

Almost like a cosmic apology for ‘80s hair metal, The Ultras blossomed on the Hollywood scene in the early ‘90s with an update on the trashier side of the spectrum of ‘70s glam rock. Like kittens with diamond-tipped claws, they preciously shredded through a confused scene with just a hint of Motley Crüe to their otherwise doomsday New York Dolls-influenced sound. The band was short-lived, recording The Complete Handbook of Songwriting EP, although members cropped up in other projects including the glammy cult favorite, Celebrity Skin.

10. Fancy Space People: Pleiadian Space Glam

While glam rock is typically regarded as a boys club of sorts (albeit an effete boys club), one of the brightest stars in modern glam rock is the otherworldly Nora Keyes, frontwoman and songwriter for LA’s Fancy Space People. Swinging from Syd Barrett-influenced cosmic space folk to silver boot clomping stompers, the star children of Fancy Space People were quick to catch the attention of Billy Corgan who called on them to open Smashing Pumpkins’ 2011 U.S. tour. Unlike the other artists on this list, Fancy Space People’s star may still be rising as their full-length record has yet to be released.



Great White Sharks Are Truly Heavy Metal

If you love heavy metal, you can now say that you have something in common with sharks. While searching for a great white shark named “Joan of Shark,” a film crew from the Discovery Channel used heavy metal music, blasted through underwater speakers, to bait the beastly, often mythologized creature, into an awaiting cage. Although the heavy metal experiment turned out to be a success, it didn’t come in the way that the crew had originally expected or planned for.

Two Great White Sharks Were Attracted To Heavy Metal


As the crew was filming for the show “Bride of Jaws” during Shark Week, they utilized an underwater military speaker to pump waves of death metal into the ocean in order to attract their target; a massive 16 foot (4.8 m) shark.To the surprise of of the crew,  Joan of Shark wasn’t too amused by the music, but two other giant great whites were, and eagerly approached the boat. Both sharks were over 12 feet, indicating that they may have been younger than Joan and obviously, more attracted to the surge of heavy bass strings and electric guitar cords.

Sharks Are Attracted To Low Frequency Sounds


Although it would be truly fascinating if sharks somehow developed a desire to listen to heavy metal, in reality, the reason for their attraction is based in science. Sharks are attracted to low frequency vibrations found in heavy metal music which are similar to the sounds of struggling fish. That’s why the thumping of metal and double bass pedals under the water, draws them in, and apparently, it’s quite effective. Sharks can “hear” best at frequencies from 20 to 1000 Hz and heavy metal covers many of those.

Not the First Time This Happened


The connection between metal and sharks has been well documented. In 2011 for example, a tour boat operator in Australia drew in sharks by playing AC/DC using specialized underwater speakers. Noticing the behavioral changes in the sharks as the music was being played, the operator turned up the volume as any seasoned metal head would so graciously do. As a result, the sharks became less aggressive, more inquisitive, and actually rubbed their faces along the speaker, as if literally trying to connect with it.

Sharks Don’t Have Ears


Sharks don’t have ears in the traditional sense and instead, use vibrations in the water with their lateral line sense organs, which run from their head along the side of their body to their tail fin. At the top of the underwater food chain, great white sharks are especially known for having a keen sense of smell, being able to detect blood from miles away in some cases. Although it’s unlikely that great whites really like your favorite metal bands like Pantera and AC/DC, the truth is, they just might.


The Eagles of Death Metal Aren’t Really A Death Metal Band

Heartless critics of The Eagles of Death Metal, the band that was playing live during the 11-13 attacks at Le Bataclan in Paris, France, have jumped on the lynch party bandwagon, claiming that the band is in the death metal genre and that it’s fans somehow deserved to be targets of terrorism of the worst kind. Similar to blaming Marilyn Manson lyrics in the wake of the Columbine high school shooting in 1999, Christian pastor Steven Anderson of the Faithful Word Baptist Church, wasted no time tearing into the The Eagles of Death Metal and its fans for going to a “concert of death metal” and “worshipping death.”

 Pastor Anderson blamed the fans


With incredible insensitivity, pastor Anderson criticized the innocent fans at the event and blamed them for going to the concert. In a statement to his congregation of followers following the senseless attacks, the pastor stated“…you bought the ticket, you love worshiping Satan! Well let’s have some of Satan’s religion come in and shoot you!”

Even if the band were of the death metal genre, his comments were cold, cruel, and totally unjustified.

Get the Facts Before Spewing Hate

It doesn’t take much more than a 10 second Google search to learn why the band is called, The Eagles of Death Metal, which shows how much the pastor cared about telling the truth to his audience. Other religious crazies have also criticized the band and its fans just because of their name, again showing the careless stupidity of not doing one’s research before relaying information to a large audience.


One has to wonder why tragedies like the Paris attacks are exploited by fanatics, who use them as scapegoats for their own agendas and mind control games. Are they trying to deceive their audience, or do they actually believe in the hatred they are preaching? Regardless of the intention, it’s shameful and disgusting to use this tragedy and its victims to spread false and hateful ideas.

The Eagles of Death Metal are a rock band

The Eagles of Death metal are a rock band, not a death metal band. The name, “Eagles of Death Metal”, was inspired when founders Josh Homme and Jesse Hughes were watching someone dance in death metal style to “Wind of Change” by Scorpions. They asked him why he was dancing that way and he replied, “This is death metal, dude!” Homme said, “No, it’s not, this is like the Eagles of death metal!”


If the pastor would have simply looked at the titles of the bands previous albums such as , Heart On (2008-2009), Death By Sexy (2006-2007), or Peace, Love, Death Metal (2004-2005),  he might have realized that the band was not promoting death, but rather, cherishing every second of life to the fullest.


The Rock Revolution of Burger Records

Are you ready for Burger Records? Because they’re ready for you! They have been steadily producing records since 2007 and have no intention of slowing down. What has become Burger Records started as a band called Thee Makeout Party! before they turned their attention to producing records. Since then they have produced hundreds of vinyl records, thousands of cassettes, a web TV series, a Burger Podcast and soon their own branded cassette player, the Burger Buddy.

Friends in High Places

Their fan base has grown to include Iggy Pop, Weezer, and Dave Grohl. They have been featured in GQ, The New York Times and Collectors Weekly who call them “One of the fastest growing independent music labels in the world.” Their music ranges in style from punk to ‘60s garage rock to hip hop and they have cultivated an army of artists over the years, producing such bands as The Garden and Gap Dream. They have been joined in their rise by companies such as Vans, Volcom and Sub Pop.

Birthed in Financial Uncertainty


Burger Records store in Fullerton.

Lee Rickard, co-founder and idea man for the company, said, “We’re just homeless rock ‘n’ roll kids.” Burger Records started during the financial crisis in 2007 and as their company bio states, “[They had] the blind optimism of a Disney Imagineer and the fearlessness of a teenage skateboarder.” They produced cassettes at the start, because they were cheap and easy to produce. Thee Makeout Party!, Audacity, Devon Williams, The Go, and Nobunny were the first cassettes they released. They now put out both cassettes and vinyl records.

The primary motivation for them since they started was to promote new acts and reintroduce older acts that they enjoyed. They have reinvigorated older bands like Dwight Twilley, Redd Kross, The Muffs, and hip hop acts like Pharcyde. Soon they will release an album from The Flaming Groovies; the power pop legends’ first original album in nearly 30 years.

The Many Enterprises of Burger Records


The crowd at Burgerama III. (Photo: OC Register)

As they were growing, they promoted themselves by way of a web TV series called BRGRTV. They produced over 100 episodes of BRGRTV and used the platform to promote their shows on the road. Since then they have released over 1000 albums and cassettes.

In 2009, Burger Records opened their store in Fullerton, CA located at a strip mall between a vaping emporium and a tattoo parlor. Burger Records’ store features albums, cassettes, and an atmosphere of chaotic exuberance. According to their bio they use the shop as “their DIY dream factory” and the hub of their ongoing campaign to bring their music to the world.

In addition to their label, store, and web series, Burger Records also produces an array of festivals across California. In the Bay Area, their longest running festival is Burger Boogaloo but the one they were most excited about was this year’s Burgerama which boasted 10,000 people a day. They expect even more next year. They also produce Burger Oasis and Burger a-Go-Go as well as numerous road tours throughout North America and the world. Rickard stated, “We put everything back into the label.” He adds, “We do it because we care. These kids come up, we get them on tour and now they’re road dogs.”

When asked to describe Burger Records, Rickard said, “(Burger Records is a) Quasi-religious propaganda-spreading rock ‘n’ roll mutant. Rare and well-done records since 2007.”


The “Village” That Birthed U2 and Virgin Prunes

Who would have guessed that a tiny lower middle class suburb of Dublin would be the incubator for one of the world’s most successful bands and simultaneously one of the world’s strangest musical projects? Before the electric blue ultra-modern expanses of Achtung Baby or the rustic heartfelt outsider Americana of The Joshua Tree, U2 were an ambitious post-punk group steadily rising to prominence with agile singles like “Gloria” and “New Year’s Day.” But alongside U2, keeping stride in the shadows with a gait at once bestial and elegant, were Virgin Prunes. Both groups emerged from childhood friendship that evolved into an unofficial collective of teenage artists. One band stood as the hearty Jekyll to the others emaciated Hyde. They dubbed their creative tribe the Lypton Village.

Foundation Stones of the Lypton Village


Gavin Friday, Bono Vox, and Guggi.

Members inducted into the Lypton Village were dubbed new names, whether they liked it or not. At the center of the Lypton Village was the make-up smeared Fionan Hanvey, better known by the name with which his Lypton Village brothers christened him, Gavin Friday. When Friday was 14-years-old, he met Paul Hewson and Derek Rowen who lived just a few doors down from him. Hewson was re-named Bono Vox, shortened to simply Bono by the time U2 released its first full-length record Boy. Rowen was inspired to name his acquaintance after a local hearing aid shop called Bonavox, explaining that he simply felt Bono looked like the shop. In turn, Bono re-christened Rowen as Guggi based on a dip in the youth’s face that conjured visions of dribbling saliva and the imagined resulting soundtrack of “gug-gug-gug…” Both Bono and Guggi were repelled by their new monikers with Bono even protesting that he’d rather be called Paul Vox. But Friday justified this particular facet of the Lypton Village philosophy, stating, “We have a feeling we have to accept our names whether we like them or not.”

The Outer Layers of the Lypton Village

Teenage U2.

Teenage U2.

While Friday, Bono, and Guggi formed the nucleus of the Lypton Village, the members were numerous ranging from key players to periphery members who didn’t warrant a name change. The inner circle also featured David Evans, later re-named the Edge for his sharp, angular aesthetic. The Edge’s brother, Dik, played briefly with U2 but ultimately became the guitarist for Virgin Prunes. Joining one of the dual musical projects didn’t automatically grant a member access to the inner circle of the Lypton Village. Adam Clayton, though a member of U2 and acquaintances with the Lypton Village, was ultimately considered a periphery member of the collective.

Virgin Prunes as the Inverse to U2


Guggi and Gavin perform with Virgin Prunes.

Bono formed U2 with Virgin Prunes following shortly after. While both groups were aware of their own interests and directions, they toyed with the idea of playing off each other’s differences. This found the bands sharing song titles while writing radically different compositions. Whereas U2 crafted nimble and evocative post-punk, Virgin Prunes plumbed the maddest recesses of the human psyche, turning in costumed performance art with tribal chaos. On a musical level, the groups stood little chance of overlapping though one could hear Virgin Prunes’ echoing “Walls of Jericho” as a twisted answer to early U2 tracks like “Gloria.” To this day the bands are forthcoming about their sonic differences with Gavin admitting, “If I see Bono, I wouldn’t really talk to him about music.”

The Lypton Village was a perfect storm for creative energy, using friendship and a bizarre sense of humor as the catalyst for a giant of a band basking in the glow of its success and, far below, its shadow twisted, distorted, and shrinking in the light. U2 continues to sell out stadiums and carry with them a legacy of groundbreaking records including The Joshua Tree, War, and Achtung Baby. While Virgin Prunes leave behind an impressive catalogue in their own right including the experimental yet accessible If I Die, I Die…, they eventually disbanded with Gavin Friday going on to an acclaimed solo career and Guggi finding success in painting and pottery. Yet, as the sonic landscapes change, the friendships remain with Bono, Guggi, and Friday remaining in contact to this day.


Yellow Magic Orchestra Rated from Least to Most Synthtastic

Often heralded as the “Japanese Kraftwerk”, Yellow Magic Orchestra surpassed such lazy comparisons time and time again, influencing the musically savvy with their blend of traditional Japanese music, pop structures, and innovative electronic instruments. Michael Jackson even re-worked one of their songs. Haruomi Hosomo served as the nucleus of the group, recruiting Yukihiro Takahashi and Ryuichi Sakamoto to create their intricate synthpop soundscapes. Their unique sound was often imitated but never duplicated. The three principle members of Yellow Magic Orchestra have each developed prolific solo careers possibly eclipsing their work as a trio. Yet, Yellow Magic Orchestra’s pioneering work in electronic music continues to inspire with a decent-sized catalogue of albums. Today, we take on the daunting task of rating the albums of Yellow Magic Orchestra:

8. Technodon (1993)

Technodon suffers the fate of being released a decade after the previous Yellow Magic Orchestra record. A lot can change in a decade and this wasn’t the same Yellow Magic Orchestra fans remembered from the early ‘80s. In retrospect, Technodon isn’t even close to a bad album, combining world music with modern electronics and samples. In fact, it’s probably a logical progression of Yellow Magic Orchestra’s sound. But with the decade break, fans weren’t evolving with the trio and the change in feeling was jarring.

yellow-magic-orchestra-best-albums-sakamoto-takahashi-hosomo7. ×∞Multiplies (1980)

In a way, ×∞Multiplies was more of an EP than an album, finding Yellow Magic Orchestra’s musical selections interrupted by comedy sketches credited to “Snakeman Show.” Knowledge of the Japanese language is pretty crucial for these tracks; otherwise you’re freefalling in bafflement on every other track. The tongue-in-cheek cover of Archie Bell & the Drells’ “Tighten Up” doesn’t significantly contribute to the band’s catalogue. Yet, there are brief moments of genius on ×∞Multiplies, such as the perfect futurist plastic pop single “Nice Age”.

6. Yellow Magic Orchestra (1978)

The self-titled first album from Yellow Magic Orchestra finds the trio exploring the project’s concept without fully settling into it. Traditional Japanese elements are much more at the front than in later releases where such influence is more integrated into the band’s own electro pop compositions.

5. Naughty Boys (1983)

The saccharine synth pop of Naughty Boys found Yellow Magic Orchestra exploring a direct approach in contrast to the experimental minimalism of their previous effort, Technodelic. Every track on Naughty Boys was primed for pop radio frequency. While it may have lacked the depth of a lot of Yellow Magic Orchestra’s other work, it showed the trio could still have fun without peppering a record with Japanese sketch comedy.

yellow-magic-orchestra-ymo-ryuichi-sakamoto-synth-pop-pioneers4. Service (1983)

Yet, the sketch comedy was a recurring element for Yellow Magic Orchestra and Service found the trio echoing the comedy segues that so distinguished ×∞Multiplies. Yet, unlike ×∞Multiplies, almost every musical track is a pop gem, combining the sleek gloss of Naughty Boys with the depth of some of their best work.

3. Technodelic (1981)

Finding Yellow Magic Orchestra at their most obviously experimental, Technodelic was heavy on the sampling but minimal in presentation. However, these basic elements were saturated with pop artistry, creating a subtle psychedelic moodiness in percussive soundscapes. Technodelic is an obvious example of Yellow Magic Orchestra investigating new technology to astounding effect.

2. Solid State Survivor (1979)

Many would argue that Solid State Survivor is the best Yellow Magic Orchestra record. Often used as a gateway to the band’s sound, Solid State Survivor is when Yellow Magic Orchestra really came into their own, painting sonic portraits of a futuristic Tokyo surging with electricity. Pop mastery and a sense of humor are suspended in analog depths on tracks like “Behind the Mask” which was re-worked by the likes of Michael Jackson and subsequently covered by Eric Clapton (strangely).

1. BGM (1981)

BGM summarizes the Yellow Magic Orchestra sound better than any of their releases. While the record stays as consistent as Solid State Survivor, it also showcases the trio’s maturation. Despite Ryuichi Sakamoto being largely absent from the creative process of BGM, his tracks are among the strongest on the record, demonstrating Yellow Magic Orchestra’s heightened chemistry. BGM finds the perfect balance of synth pop and traditional Japanese influence as well as a stoic darkness only hinted at in the best of the band’s previous tracks. While BGM was an acronym for “Background Music”, it stands as a sterling example of why Yellow Magic Orchestra are impossible to ignore once heard.