Flashback Friday: Junko Ohashi - Simple Love | Can’t stop the disco

A GIF of Juno Ohashi performing “Simple Love” on TV, wearing a silver spaghetti strap jumpsuit, with her band the Minoya Central Station positioned on elevated platforms behind her.

This week we’re flashing ALL the way back to Japan in the 1970s. An amazing era for music, and one which is not being preserved for shit. So of course this week’s act at time of writing has barely any of their discography avialble on streaming, with YouTube once again being the only way to hear their music and MAYBE watch a live performance before it gets snatched down by a Japanese broadcaster.

Junko Ohashi. Come on down bitch!

Junko debuted on the scene in the era of city pop and disco, and was branded with a group (Junko Ohashi & Minoya Central Station), despite being seen as a solo act. Kinda like Namie Amuro with Super Monkey’s. Selena Gomez and the Scene. Gladys Knight & the Pips. Destiny’s Child.

Although in the case of Junko, the tagging on of a group name came after she had already released albums simply as Junko. And coincidentally, her first single release as part of Junko Ohashi & Minoya Central Station wound up being her biggest hit at the time. And that song was “Simple Love”.

Shout-outs to Miss Thing in the back with the Fantôme bob and the snatched waist.

Y’all hear that note at the end?

Junko was always known for her voice, at a time in Japanese music where vocals were something more people took note of, and it truly speaks to the time.

Music in Japan during the 70s was heavily influenced by popular music in the US; mainly rock and disco, with a continual undercurrent of jazz. Japan and its love of jazz has always fascinated me. In short, Black music been influencing Japan. But that’s a whole other other conversation.

Idol culture was not a thing in the 70s. And choreographed dance routines weren’t what they would go on to be. So acts needed to be able to either sing, or at the very least be able to captivate during a performance. Neither of which seem to be requirement these days. And because so many of the popular acts of disco (as well as soul and R&B) in the 70s were either solo acts or groups who could sing, this became something that record labels sought in Japan.

And I’m completely hypothesising here; but due to a lack of reliance on things other than the ability to sing and / or put on a performance, the high churn of albums acts would record, the amount of televised performances and being in the studio on the clock with session players - I feel like more artists of the 70s took better care of their voices out of sheer necessity. Which is why artists such as Junko who are still around and performing today can still sing live and sound good.

Listening to women sing from the 70s and early 80s (I’m hypothesising again) kinda contextualises a lot of why acts who came up in the early late 90s / early 2000s sing the way that they do. They don’t have what many would deem a typical J-pop voice. Their voices are lower set. And it seems like the influences of singers such such as Junko Ohashi amongst many others, who were still releasing music when the likes of some of our Heisei era debuting faves were growing up. And if they weren’t, then there’s every chance that their parents were probably playing the classics.

Hearing Junko perform “Simple Love” brought somebody like Kumi Koda to mind; whose voice is in a similar range. And stylistically I think Kumi sings a fair amount like Junko, especially on ballads. And yet she be shrieking half the time and disrespecting her own tone. Junko would never.

If Kumi Koda were to ever do another cover album (which she abso-fucking-lutely should do), she should cover a Junko song. And it should be either “Simple Love” or “Silhouette Romance”.

There are several great performances of “Simple Love” floating about, all of which offer something different, between Junko’s mic being on each time, the arrangement differing, the performances spanning decade, and Junko serving a look each time.