KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Thirty Year Thursday – BENJAMIN ORR “THE LACE”

[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986]

Artist: BENJAMIN ORR
Album: THE LACE

Benjamin Orr - The LaceI already wrote about this album in my One And Done series but I couldn’t resist including it here among my favorite albums of 1986. The Cars have been one of my favorite bands since I got their self-titled debut album and its follow-up, Candy-O, via the Columbia House Record Club in 1979. While Ric Ocasek gets the majority of the accolades as the chief songwriter and main lead singer, bassist Benjamin Orr was a major component of their sound, contributing lead vocals to more than 1/3 of their songs, including classics like “Just What I Needed,” “Bye Bye Love,” “Let’s Go,” “Moving In Stereo” and “Drive.” In the year between 1985’s Greatest Hits and their under-appreciated swan song, 1987’s Door To Door, Orr released his only solo album, The Lace. Ironically, he was the fourth & final band member to “go solo,” following Ocasek, guitarist Elliot Easton and keyboardist Greg Hawkes by a year or more. The album didn’t make much of an impact on the charts but it did contain a couple of strong singles, one of which was a Top 40 hit and scored big at both Mainstream Rock and Adult Contemporary radio. With guitars handled by Easton and session whiz Michael Landau and co-production/keyboards courtesy of jazz musician and longtime Joni Mitchell collaborator/then-husband Larry Klein, the musicianship was top-notch, and the same can be said for the majority of the songs, all of which were co-written by Orr with his fiancée Diane Grey Page.

The atmospheric Top 40 ballad “Stay The Night” has a similar vibe to The Cars’ “Drive,” while the driving (no pun intended) album opener “Too Hot To Stop” (also released as a single) should have been a massive hit. Cars fans who missed this album would fall instantly in love with the circular-themed tracks “In Circles” and “Spinning,” and the midtempo “Skyline” shows off Orr’s unmistakable vocals along with a gorgeous harmony-laden chorus. “When You’re Gone” reminds me of “Reach The Beach” by The Fixx, one of my favorite bands in the first half of the ‘80s. The album loses steam a bit in its second half, but it’s still a joy to hear Orr’s voice and each song has its charms, most notably the gorgeous album-closing ballad “This Time Around.” With Orr’s pin-up looks and smooth vocals, it’s surprising that The Lace didn’t find a wider audience, especially among female Cars fans. Tragically, he succumbed to pancreatic cancer in October 2000, leaving The Lace as his only solo release. It’s a great complement to his work with The Cars and, in spite of the synths and drum programming, it still sounds great after thirty years.

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32 comments on “Thirty Year Thursday – BENJAMIN ORR “THE LACE”

  1. ianbalentine
    April 28, 2016

    I love the cars, have since I first heard them in 1978, but have never heard this. I’ll add it to my list, Rich. Thanks once again.

    See, you’re really an ’80’s kid at heart…

    Like

    • Thanks for checking this out, Ian. As long as you enjoy The Cars’ ’80s output (like Shake It Up and Heartbeat City) you’ll probably enjoy a lot of Orr’s songs. You just have to have a tolerance for the production flourishes of the era, which I know you do.

      I’m a child of the ’70s but a teen of the ’80s, so I’m equally enthralled by the music of both decades (plus so much of what came before, of course).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Alvaro Almeida
    April 28, 2016

    Hi Rich, as a teen of the 80’s, I love the first Cars Records specially the first one. With all that synths I lost my interest in. But really liked Benjamin Orr’s voice. Great lost.

    Like

    • Hi Alvaro. Thanks for stopping by. Those first couple of Cars albums are very special to me, but I also enjoyed the synth-and-programmed-drums-heavy sound of albums like Heartbeat City and Door To Door. I completely understand why many fans didn’t stay with them through that era, but beyond the production gloss are all the elements of their earlier output. I completely agree about Ben Orr’s passing. He is sorely missed by all of his fans.

      Like

  3. mikeladano
    April 28, 2016

    I was in a car heading to Guelph with my buddy T-Rev, when they were talking about Ben Orr passing on the radio. I didn’t know much about the Cars then (don’t worry I’ve educated myself since). I didn’t actually know somebody else besides Ocasek sang in the band. So they played “Drive” and it was a revelation. I knew the song but never knew it was the Cars! That’s when I bought their Anthology.

    Like

    • Mike, I’m glad you did your research on The Cars and learned more about them. Ben Orr was such a huge component of their sound but a lot of people didn’t realize that there were two voices in the band. They’re similar but once you know them it’s easy to distinguish between Ocasek & Orr. The Anthology is probably all that most casual fans need, and it’s also good for us diehards as well with those rarities, but there’s at least an EP or mini-album’s worth of essential album tracks that didn’t make the cut on that compilation.

      Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano
        April 29, 2016

        I do fully intend to get some more Cars. Just like I intend to do so with the Police! Every time I go to a used CD shop I check for remasters.

        Like

      • Do The Police remasters include any bonus material? If not, you may be just as well-served with earlier pressings of their CDs. Even though I got the Message In A Box 4-CD set when it was released, I kept my original CDs because (a) they always sounded really good to me and (b) the box set breaks up a couple of albums in the middle and I like to have the option of playing the whole album on a single disc. I did the same thing with Steely Dan. Sure, there are probably subsequent reissues that have better mastering, but if I’m happy with the originals I’ll be happy to avoid spending the additional money.

        As for The Cars, there’s a recent “complete albums” box set that has all the original albums remastered and packaged in replica LP sleeves. Unfortunately they don’t include any inner sleeves, booklets or additional information. The original CDs are very thin-sounding so I hope one day they put out full-packaging (and expanded?) remasters.

        Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano
        May 1, 2016

        Rich the whole issue is that I’ll want whatever versions of the albums have the most songs. I go big or go home. This is why it is sometimes hard for me to jump into bands that are new to me!

        Like

      • Well, with The Police your best option is the aforementioned “Message In A Box” 4-CD box set, which has all of their studio albums in order with bonus tracks included between each album. The sound is excellent. What you give up is the original packaging but you get a really nice box and every song you’ll need. As far as I know none of their reissues included bonus tracks, but perhaps I’m wrong about that.

        Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano
        May 1, 2016

        I thought there were deluxe editions. Either that or the Message in the Box is the reissue I need, I believe. The nice thing is that if I feel the need, I can break up the discs differently to avoid the mid-album breaks. I have a post about “modified listening experiences” coming up and that would be a prime example of what I’m talking about.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Vinyl Connection
    April 28, 2016

    Hi Rich. Couldn’t stand the song (bet that surprises you!) but was mesmerised by the Aryan homo-erotic leather look of Mr Either/Orr. Thanks for a, er, different experience! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for highlighting the Joni connection with the Landau and Larry Klein involvement, Rich, this was new to me. I definitely hear shades of the ‘Dog Eat Dog’ sound but for me the songs lack Joni’s musical richness and originality. But hey, not many are up to that level!

    Like

    • Hi Matt. Comparing Benjamin Orr’s solo record to anything done my Joni Mitchell might be unfair to Mr. Orr. As great of an artist as he was, Ms. Mitchell is one-of-a-kind. I should probably add a link from this post to my Joni series from a few years ago in case it inspires others to check out her music. I’m off to do that now. Thanks for the feedback.

      Rich

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Phillip Helbig
    April 29, 2016

    “Mainstream Rock and Adult Contemporary”

    Back then, they were different categories. Today, mainstream rock is adult contemporary. 🙂 Or maybe senior-citizen contemporary. 😦

    Note that what at the time was called “progressive” is now “classic”.

    Like

    • Very true, Phillip, although anyone with diverse musical tastes doesn’t care about genres or categories. For me it’s either “music I like” or “music I don’t like.” I do, however, find it strange when I talk about “classic rock” since it was simply “rock” when I was growing up.

      Like

      • Phillip Helbig
        April 29, 2016

        I agree, of course: I like what I like, and don’t care what category it is in or who else likes it.

        As Ian Anderson sang, “It was a new day yesterday, but it’s an old day now”. 🙂

        Let’s see, what concert tickets did I buy today? Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express featuring Alex Ligertwood, Beyond the Rainbow and Purple Rising (cover bands—it’s obvious whom they cover), Cara (Irish-folk group from southern Germany with one Scottish member (a former Irish member was replaced by someone from northern Germany when the former left in order to play Scottish music—go figure)), Brothers in Arms (cover band—again obvious), Klaus Major Heuser band (a strange name; it’s Klaus Heuser’s band, but his nickname is Major Healey, the I-Dream-of-Jeannie character; he used to play with Bap, a group who sing in the Cologne dialect, and is one of my favourite guitarists).

        Already bought: John Illsley (who plays many Dire Straits songs and has a singing voice uncannily similar to Mark Knopfler’s), The Iron Maidens (all-female Iron Maiden cover band—have to be seen to be believed), Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Leaves’ Eyes (Norwegian-German symphonic-metal band), saw A-Ha last Sunday, also coming soon are David Gilmour, Rainbow(!) with Thin Lizzy and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Joan Baez, about a dozen Baroque concerts, Ian Anderson, The Corrs, MaideN UniteD (acoustic Iron-Maiden cover band with probably the best singer I have seen anywhere, Damian Wilson (who also sings with Threshold and Headspace (who will be at Cropredy this year, which has a truly excellent line-up: check it out and buy your ticket before it sells out and come to Oxfordshire this summer)) and has a parallel career as a singer-songwrite), Wucan and Baby Woodrose, the Scorpions.

        Like

      • Very impressive concert lineup you have coming up, Phillip. I believe that’s more shows than I’ve seen in the last decade. I’ve probably mentioned before that my regular concert-going days are way behind me. You really need to start up your blog so you can document your live music adventures.

        As always, I’m impressed how you can bring just about any conversation around to Jethro Tull &/or Iron Maiden, among many other brilliant artists.

        Like

  7. J.
    April 29, 2016

    Still haven’t heard this, Rich. Added it to my list after you mentioned it last time (wasn’t aware it existed at that point!).

    Like

    • Hi J. Depending on your enjoyment of mid-’80s production & instrumentation you might find a lot to enjoy here. The three samples I included in the post should give you a good idea about the rest of the album. Hope you like it.

      Like

  8. Victim of the Fury
    April 29, 2016

    I’m one of those folks who, despite buying and liking Cars albums regularly in the late 70s and early 80s, never realized Ric Ocasek wasn’t singing all of the songs. It was until I saw the video for “Drive” that I finally had my eyes opened. Now, of course, I can distinguish who’s singing what easily, but it is still amazing to me how similar they sounded if you weren’t paying attention.

    I played the above embedded videos and am afraid that I still haven’t thrown off the shackles that keep me from broadly enjoying the production and sheen of that particular era in pop music. That said, Orr’s voice and aesthetic (for want of a better word) were always cool.

    Like

    • Phillip Helbig
      April 29, 2016

      “but it is still amazing to me how similar they sounded if you weren’t paying attention”

      On a similar note (pun, as always, intended), John Illsley, bassist with Dire Straits, sounds almost like Mark Knopfler. I don’t think he sang lead on any Dire Straits songs. In contrast to Knopfler, about half of his set (or more) consists of Dire Straits songs (although his new solo stuff is quite good), so I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing him tomorrow. I saw him a year ago, more out of curiosity, and was pleasantly surprised.

      Like

      • I’ve seen a couple of Illsley solo albums over the years but never picked one up. Didn’t know how much he contributed to the Dire Straits records so was always curious how he sounds on his own. Good to know he shares a similar voice to Knopfler. I imagine Illsley has a top-notch guitarist in his band if he’s playing a lot of Straits material. Enjoy the show.

        Like

      • Phillip Helbig
        May 2, 2016

        “I’ve seen a couple of Illsley solo albums over the years but never picked one up.”

        Neither had I—until Saturday night. I bought the newest two and a recent live album on the strength of the live performances. He has 2 or 3 older ones; I’ll have to listen to them first to make sure there is no 1980’s over-production. 😐 I think most of the stuff he played was from Dire Straits and from the two new albums. I haven’t heard them yet, though.

        “Didn’t know how much he contributed to the Dire Straits records so was always curious how he sounds on his own.”

        I’m not sure, but I think he wrote little if any Dire Straits songs. As is often the case, though, band members do have some influence, which is probably why there are few if any “solo albums” I like; I prefer the stuff the same person did with a band. Interestingly, even if it is the case that someone writes essentially everything for the band, solo albums have a different feel.

        “Good to know he shares a similar voice to Knopfler.”

        At least for Dire Straits stuff, yes. I can’t imagine, say, Ronnie James Dio singing “Sultans of Swing”. 🙂 Well, I can, but I’m not sure I want to. (Considering that he used to sing doo-wop, I’m sure he could have managed it.)

        “I imagine Illsley has a top-notch guitarist in his band if he’s playing a lot of Straits material.”

        Two: Phil Palmer and Robbie MacIntosh, at least in the studio. I was at the front of the stage on the side where MacIntosh was, and he was introduced as such, so at least he is on the tour, but am not sure about the guy stage right (audience’s left). Both names should ring many bells.

        There is a connection between Phil Palmer and Robbie MacIntosh which is not entirely musical. Can you spot it?

        John had leukemia and is apparently healed of it now (I went through a similar experience, including a phase sporting Rich’s hairdo (or lack thereof). Recalling this time, he quipped “I really was in dire straits”. 🙂

        Like

      • Thanks for the feedback on Illsley’s material, Phillip (and for sharing his clever “in dire straits” quip). I’ve been utilizing Spotify lately in order to check out certain artists/albums before buying physical product, and his catalog seems like a good one to check out on that service.

        I know of Phil Palmer but can’t remember who he’s played with. MacIntosh I know from Pretenders and McCartney. Not sure about the connection between the two of them. Please elaborate.

        Like

      • Phillip Helbig
        May 3, 2016

        “I know of Phil Palmer but can’t remember who he’s played with. MacIntosh I know from Pretenders and McCartney. Not sure about the connection between the two of them. Please elaborate.”

        The connection is that MacIntosh was in the Pretenders with Chrissie Hynde, who had a child with Ray Davies. Ray (and hence Dave as well) Davies is Phil Palmer’s uncle. (Via another child (no, not the Belfast Child), there is a similar connection to the Simple Minds.)

        Palmer is one of those musicians who has played in the studio and/or toured with a huge number of artists, including Dire Straits.

        Like

      • Thanks for sharing the non-musical connection between Palmer and MacIntosh. Very interesting.

        I listened to about half of one of Illsley’s solo albums on Spotify the other day. It was decent but I don’t think I was in the mood for it at the time. Will go back to it soon.

        Like

    • My friends & I used to enjoy trying to figure out which songs Orr sung on The Cars’ albums. I always assumed everyone did that. It must have been quite a revelation when you discovered it wasn’t just Ocasek on lead vocals. I also enjoyed finding little tidbits of information, like the fact that Greg Hawkes co-wrote one song on most of their albums, or that the first three songs on the debut album all clocked in at 3:44.

      I completely understand why the mid-’80s sounds on this album might not appeal to you. It’s not my favorite era but it’s never bothered me, yet a lot of people really dislike it. Once you get past the gloss there’s a lot of good music to enjoy. No doubt that Orr’s voice was really cool.

      Like

  9. Pingback: Thirty Year Thursday – RIC OCASEK “THIS SIDE OF PARADISE” | KamerTunesBlog

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