The seminal electronica band Yellow Magic Orchestra lost one of its founders, drummer and vocalist Yukihiro Takahashi earlier this year. Last week we remembered the band’s keyboardist Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Nissan commercials; now it’s Takahashi’s turn, and he was even more prolific in his advertising work, contributing to commercials for Toyota’s X100 Cresta and SW20 MR2, the BG Mazda Familia, and the L70 Daihatsu Mira TR-XX.
Before we get to the ads, let’s take a look at what made YMO so influential. Here’s a performance of “Thousand Knives” at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles in 1979, a time when it was rare for a Japanese band to break through internationally, and when disco hits like Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” and Chic’s “Good Times” topped the charts. Takahashi’s on the drums and an absolute machine, and YMO’s global popularity made him a distinguished celebrity in Japan.
By 1985 YMO’s members had each gone onto solo careers. Takahahsi’s “Weekend” was the song for the L70 Daihatsu Mira Turbo TR-XX. At the time with the Bubble Era in full bloom it wasn’t exactly seen as manly to drive a kei car, but the turbocharged Mira was the most powerful car in the kei class. Its sporty bona fides made it male ownership acceptable, and Takahashi’s steez bolstered that image.
In 1989 Takahashi laid down a track for another car commercial. This time it was under his other project, the Sadistic Mica Band, and the car was the seventh-generation Mazda Familia (which we know as the 323). The band dissolved in the late 70s, but reformed in 1989 to release the song in the ad, “Boys and Girls” as their first single. It became was one of the band’s biggest hits. In turn, Mazda sponsored a concert complete with commemorative keychains.
That same year Takahashi also supplied his solo song “Fait Accompli” for the all-new Toyota MR2. The SW20 debuted in Japan two years before it did in the US. The shot of the sleek new mid-engined car revealing itself on the bed of a Hino Super Dolphin, paired with Takahashi’s soulful croon, made a memorable impression with a lot of enthusiasts. A CD single with one of the coolest covers ever printed was made as a promotion.
It wasn’t until 1996 and the launch of the X100 Toyota Cresta that Takahashi actually appeared in a car ad. Alongside Kenji Sawada (who had been in Nissan ads for the U11 Bluebird and N12 Liberta Villa) and Koji Tamaki, the trio performed a version of “Time is on My Side” by Irma Thomas and covered by the Rolling Stones. They even appear in an extended promotional video detailing features like traction control and “Skyhook TEMS” electronically controlled suspension.
Takahashi had a long and rich career that began when he was still in high school. As a side note, he formed his first band with his classmate Masakazu Togo, who later started the folk duo Buzz. Buzz recorded what was probably the most famous car commercial song in Japan, the theme of Ken and Mary for the C110 Nissan Skyline.
Music has always been an indelible part of car commercials, but in Japan the artists are often put front and center. Often the name of the band and song are displayed on screen during the ad. With such prominence it’s somewhat unusual for n artist to have appeared in commercials for so many different makes and models, but perhaps that only proves how talented Yukihiro Takahashi was.