TalkBassists Profiles IV: BEN ORR

Discussion in 'Bassists [BG]' started by Harry Lime, Nov 28, 2001.

  1. Note: This is the fourth installment in my TalkBassists Profiles.

    Our next Topic will Profile the late Ben Orr formerly of The Cars who passed away last year of cancer. I recently viewed the last interview The Cars ever gave featured on the Musikladen DVD not long before Orr's death.

    Ben Orr sang at least half of The Cars hits. I'm not sure if he wrote them as well or not. Well, I have personally never heard anything outstanding in Mr. Orr's work, but who am I to say. I started these Profiles to hear from others.

    So, what does everyone have to say about Mr. Orr then?
  2. Winston TK

    Winston TK Hairpiece Adventurer

    Oct 8, 2001
    Burnaby, BC Canada
    First of all, Mr. Lime, I must commend you on these Profiles. Your subject choices are excellent, and the forum for others' opinions makes for a great read.

    Although Benjamin Orr did not write any of the Cars' material (that distinction fell to Ric Ocasek, with occasional collaborative input from keyboardist Greg Hawkes), his voice is an important trademark of the band. You are quite right to point out the fact that many of the hits featured his lead vocals. "Let's Go", "It's All I Can Do" and the mega-hit "Drive" are classic examples. (Although, "It's All Mixed Up" from the first album is a personal all-time favourite.) In fact, this points to a very interesting thing about the Cars: the fact that there were two distinctive lead singers, and that the principal songwriter realized that certain of his compositions would best be sung by someone else. Certainly not your average situation.

    Orr's look was cool as well. Who can forget that classic shot of a lollipop-wielding Orr on the back cover of the "Candy-O" album? Slick.

    As far as his bass playing is concerned, you're quite right about it not being particularly "outstanding". However, like all good, solid bassists, his parts suited the songs perfectly. His bass sounds were pretty good, though. "Candy-O" overall has a rather interesting bass sound. And the bass sound on "Touch And Go" from the "Panorama" disc is cool. Actually, his playing on that song is very interesting -- very odd timing. Later albums, however, had a more sampled bass sound to them, with seemingly very little human quality to it. (Although the sound in "Magic" is quite grandiose.)

    But, it was really Orr's voice that was his greatest contribution to music. Even on his somewhat rarified solo album, "The Lace", this was obvious. His song "Stay The Night" was a minor hit off that disc, and in my opinion, should have made more of a splash.

    I was quite saddened to hear of his passing. He apparently had been playing right up to his death. He was working with another band and had been for a few years. Supposedly he died just one week after the end of a mini-tour.

    Benjamin Orr
    Bassist. Vocalist. Lollipop lover.
  3. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Supporting Member

    Ben was IMHO a better vocalist than bassist, but that is not intended as a slight to his bass playing.

    He sang lead on some of The Cars biggest hits, including the aforementioned Drive. I always wondered what the dynamics of he and Ocasek's situation were. Ocasek wasn't much of a musician, and I've heard more than once that the guitar that he wielded when Orr was singing was not plugged into an amp. Not sure if that is true or not.

    IMHO Orr was a better vocalist, but Ocasek has an instantly recognizable voice and style, two things that Mr. Orr did not.

    While Ben was no virtuoso, he had a distinctive style and tone, and what he played went well with the music. With Hawkes and Elliot Easton(IMHO a very underrated guitarist) in the band, he did not have to take up a lot of sonic space, just hold down the bottom with the kick drum. He did that very well.

    R.I.P. Mr. Orr.
  4. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    I think he was one of those guys who would consider himself a "songwriter and musician" rather than a "bassist". That utilitarian attitude was reflected in his bass playing. You may hear lots of players opine that "I never heard anything outstanding in his bass work", but I imagine those same people could also not find any shortcomings either. He played for the song, and there haven't been many bands who were better than the Cars at crafting catchy, hit modern-rock tunes.
  5. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    Who sang on "Just What I Needed?"
  6. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    That was Mr. Orr.
  7. I think if you listen to his bass playing real real close you will find that he was a great bass player.

    I.e. In the song Moving in Stereo which has an odd flow if you listen close you can here some quiet background slides that help in the feel of the song.
  8. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    Cool. That was my favorite song of theirs.
  9. I downloaded The Cars track "You might think" as the Jimmy eat World track "The Middle" reminded me of it, so I had to check it out again.

    Ben Orr's bass is a bit buried amongst the guitars (that picked P bass with muting tone sounds just like one of the guitars), but he does play some interesting fills here and there.

    I like his line on "Best friend's girl" too.
  10. cassanova


    Sep 4, 2000
    Who sang my best friends girlfriend?
  11. "My Best Friend's Girl" was sung by Ric with back-up vocals by Ben.

    I first saw Ben with an XL-2 in the "Shake It Up" video. That was the first time I heard of the band. Really cool stuff. Very catchy tune... without the colored hair stuff common back then. Just rockin'.

    There are other songs from "Los Coches" I really like, like "Just What I Needed".

    Ben was not a flashy bassist, but he surely held his ground. Very good voice.

    Left us too early. Ben was cool.
  12. I bought the "Live Aid" DVD set a few days ago which has two songs of The Cars on it, with Ben playing a black Guild 'Pilot' bass: "Just What I Needed" and "Heartbeat City". Both I hadn't heard before, but they were reason enough for me to give their music a closer listen (which means beyond "You Might Think", "Drive" and "Hello Again") and also to do some research on the net, including TalkBass. What a sad surprise to find out Ben Orr died a while ago! Although I seem to remember vaguely of reading somewhere a few years back that "The Cars' guitar player died". They were a cool and somehow strange little band.
  13. OiBass


    Apr 9, 2003
    Did Ben ever play a Ric?
    The tone on alot of the first L.P. and "Candy-O" sounds like
    he did-
  14. budman

    budman Commercial User

    Oct 7, 2004
    Houston, TX
    Owner/Builder of LeCompte Electric Bass
    The first Cars album is a classic. It's one of those albums that you can listen to all the way through. Good stuff.
  15. That first album has got to be one of the top 10 debut albums in rock history.
    matrok likes this.
  16. I found a list of Ric players through Google. Looks like he did :)

    Was Ben actually a pure pick player? Joshua, what's going on in that respect on the DVD you mentioned?
  17. Chiba


    Mar 11, 2005
    Orr was kind of the ultimate feel-based pop bassist. I like the comment on the 'end of the note' - my band's been working up a cover of 'Let's Go' and that was one of the things I noticed right away. Those straight 8ths are VERY straight and VERY precise, and then every now & then he'll throw in a weird run that just makes you go 'wha....?'

    Excellent musician that did what was exactly right for his band.

  18. in the performance of "Drive" at Live Aid it looked like he was playing fingerstyle.
  19. I was actually wondering what other songs the Cars might've played at Live Aid (BTW is it true there'll be a 2nd one soon??) since the DVD only contains "Just What I Needed" and "Heartbeat City", the latter being "decorated" with quite a few wrong notes by Mr.Orr :D
  20. on BBC4 they showed a "Rock goes to college" show with the Cars from the late 70's in the UK.
    he used a Vox Teardrop bass for 2 or 3 songs then switched to a silver Stingray (pick throughout)
    to be honest his tone with the Stingray was rather ratty (dead strings/flats?) and thin- strangely much better with the oddball teardrop Vox hollowbody- fat and distinct.