The Creation of YMO: Harry Hosono and the Yellow Magic Band’s ‘Paraiso’

Written By: 
Randall Roberts
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Celebrating the album that birthed Yellow Magic Orchestra.

Haruomi Hosono released his fourth solo album, Paraiso, on April 25, 1978, three short months after he and members of his Yellow Magic Band recorded it at Tokyo studios Alfa and Crown. A funky AOR fusion record that Hosono describes in the liner notes to Light in the Attic’s reissue as being “made under very calm circumstances,” its nine songs reflect the sound of contemporary Tokyo at the time. “Session work was all fusion,” Hosono said, calling it “still a time when music couldn’t be made without musicians.”

So taken with the results and collaboration was Hosono that he and two members of that studio band, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Yukihiro Takahashi, entered Alfa that July to record their first album as Yellow Magic Orchestra. Those six months in 1978 were a crucial creative explosion, the kind that reverberates not just across the years but across the decades.

Almost exactly a year after the trio first entered the studio as Yellow Magic Orchestra, they traveled to Los Angeles to record. Their debut US performance was on Aug. 4, 1979 at the Greek.

Hosono discussed his first impressions of Los Angeles during an interview with Yosuke Kitazawa for Vinyl Me Please. “We recorded at the famous Sunset Sound studio, did a session with Van Dyke Parks, observed Little Feat recording Dixie Chicken — it was an important learning experience,” he said. “Other than that, we bought a bunch of records and ate a lot of hash browns at Denny’s. I was 22 at the time. Why do American records sound good? Is it the electricity? Is it the magnetic fields? Those are the kind of questions we were asking each other every day. Back then America felt so far from Japan culturally, and I had a strong admiration toward it. But not so much now. It’s the same with Japan too. I wonder what changed so much…”

Solo albums exist within a very selfish world, so they can only be made from your own natural desires. Creating something for others — that sense doesn’t exist in the solo world.

— Haruomi Hosono

Hosono added that producer Van Dyke Parks taught him production techniques. “What I learned from the maestro was the method of layering different colors of sounds one by one, making music like a painter. Discover America taught me how music in America has been greatly enhanced by its hybrid culture, taking cues from Caribbean or Creole music, for example.”

That hybrid culture is a crucial component to Paraiso, and to the polyglot sounds that form to create new musical energy. YMO, for example, were big fans of the exotica sounds being made by Martin Denny, even his reductive “oriental” records of the time. Hosono explained this to Vinyl Me Please:

In the 1950s interesting music was being made all around the world, Japan included. It was an era when all the great music [styles] were influencing each other. In Japan there was a strong mambo influence, even inventing a new rhythm called “Dodompa.” New Orleans musicians were influenced by songs like Ray Charles’ “What I’d Say,” and were incorporating new sounds into their homegrown styles. Where music is born is always unintentional, pleasure seeking, plain and simple, and there’s never any difficulties.

On Monday during our (now twice) weekly Dedicated Listening Sessions at ISC NYC, we’ll be celebrating the world of Yellow Magic Orchestra through the below group and solo albums:

Haruomi Hosono – Hosono House
Haruomi Hosono – Paraiso
Haruomi Hosono – NDE
Yukohiro Takahashi – Saravah
Yukihiro Takahashi – Neuromantic
Ryuichi Sakamoto – Left Handed Dream
Yellow Magic Orchestra – Yellow Magic Orchestra
Yellow Magic Orchestra – BGM

One passing mention in that LITA interview warrants further exploration. Told by interviewer Yuji Tanaka that Paraiso sounds inspired by the jazz supergroup Weather Report, Hosono replied, “It was fusion. [The band] Stuff had a big influence, as well.” Stuff was an instrumental fusion band featuring ace session musicians including drummer Steve Gadd and guitarists Eric Gale and Cornell Dupree.

Unknown to many — and dirt cheap used — Stuff’s self-titled 1976 album is dense with that Hosono sound.

Here are the credits for Paraiso, included because each musician on this list is worthy of research and extended listening dives.

Haruomi Hosono – Bass, Vocals, Steelpan, Marimba, Percussion, Synthesizer (Roland, Yamaha CP-30), Electric piano, Gong, Whistle, Electric guitar, Performer (Birds, Foot Steps), Production
Shigeru Suzuki and Hirofumi Tokutake – Electric Guitar (Suzuki on “Shimendōka” and “Asatoya Yunta”; Tokutake on “Femme Fatale”)
Tatsuo Hayashi and Yukihiro Takahashi – Drums (Hayashi on “Tokio Rush”, “Shimendōka”, “Japanese Rhumba”, “Asatoya Yunta”, “Worry Beads” and “Paraiso”; Takahashi on “Femme Fatale”)
Hiroshi Satō and Ryuichi Sakamoto – Synthesizer (Yamaha Polyphonic, Yamaha CS-80, ARP Odyssey, Rhodes Performer), Piano (both on “Tokio Rush” and “Paraiso”; Satō on “Shimendōka”, “Japanese Rhumba”, “Asatoya Yunta” and “Worry Beads”; Sakamoto on “Femme Fatale”)
Motoya Hamaguchi and Nobu Saitō – Percussion (Hamaguchi on “Asatoya Yunta” and “Femme Fatale”; Saitō on “Tokio Rush”, “Shimendōka”, “Japanese Rhumba”, “Worry Beads” and “Paraiso”)
Masahiro Takekawa – Violin on “Worry Beads”
Teave Kamayatsu – Vocals on “Japanese Rhumba”
Taeko Ōnuki – Backing Vocals/Choir on “Tokio Rush” and “Worry Beads”
Tokyo Shyness Boys – Backing Vocals/Choir on “Tokio Rush” and “Japanese Rhumba”
Hiroshi Kamayatsu – Backing Vocals/Choir on “Japanese Rhumba”
Tomako Kawada – Backing Vocals/Choir on “Japanese Rhumba” and “Asatoya Yunta”

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