Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986]
Artist: BENJAMIN ORR
Album: THE LACE
I 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.