Ric Ocasek is probably the most recognizable member of legendary rock group The Cars thanks in part to MTV giving him a lot of exposure during the early 80s and the fact that he’s also married to a super model. Most rock fans know that the guy who really gave the band substance was Benjamin Orr.  Originally born as Benjamin Orzechowski (which is as good a reason as any to change his last name), he was the bassist who also happened to share lead vocal duties and write many of the hits.  If you listened to the tunes without knowing the band’s history, you would think that all songs were sung by one guy.  When I was young and learning about rock & roll, I always assumed Ric Ocasek sang lead on every song. It wasn’t until years later that I realized Benjamin Orr actually sang lead vocals on many of the songs I assumed were sung by Ocasek. Many of the Cars biggest hits including Let’s Go, All That You Needed, and their biggest hit Drive (peaked at #3 in 1985 on the Billboard Top 100 chat) were sung by Orr.   He was the band member that brought the ladies to the shows.  With his moppy blonde hair, dimpled chin and baby face rock star image, he was the best looking guy in the band.  It was a shock that most of the videos that showed on MTV featured Ric Ocasek instead of Orr.

In 1986, Benjamin Orr released a solo album, The Lace in 1986.  The first single had moderate success.  That song is Stay The Night.  Stay The Night peaked at #24 on the Billboard Top 100 Chart, while reaching #6 on the mainstream rock chart, and #2 on the Adult Contemporary chart.   A formulaic song of the 80’s that sounds like something you could expect from John Waite or Whitesnake, it still has a noticeable melody.  The opening synthesizer beats lure you in immediately.  The song features a  simple chorus, but Benjamin Orr really shines on this song.  It’s definitely one of the more unexpected hits of the 80’s, and of course a song you might hear occasionally on radio, but never at a club.  Wouldn’t it be fitting for a great slow dance when you are drunk, and trying to get the girl you just picked up to come back with you and stay the night (pun intended!)  Check out the cheesy 80’s video below, does it get any cheesier than this?   Orr’s costume and make-up like a rock and rollin’ Barry Manilow!  The basic plot of the video is that Benjamin is so bored that he just roams around and plays his guitar even though the majority of the song is done via keyboards. He then calls it a night and walks through the fog of the city. Stay The Night was Orr’s only hit;  His second single, Too Hot To Stop, failed to chart, earning Orr the distinction of being another of those 80’s one-hit wonders.  Until recently, The Lace was out of print and considered a rare fnd.  Collectors were recently paying up to $100 just to get their hands on the original album.  in 2006 the album was reissued by a small record label, Wounded Bird Records.  He would return to The Cars in 1988 for one more album before the band’s subsequent break-up.  Orr was still touring as a solo artist in the 90s, but never achieved the success he had as a member of The Cars or with his one hit single.

The rock world since a great musician in October of 2000 when Benjamin Orr passed away at the young age of 53 years old.  Pancreatic cancer took him, and from I’ve heard, he was in really bad shape for the years leading up to his death.  A friend of mine told me he had seen Benjamin Orr at a local bar, and he looked terrible and unrecognizable. Orr’s pretty boy looks were replaced with a totally broken down rock star appearance.  Benjamin Orr was a huge influence on many future rock bands including Fountains Of Wayne and John Mayer.  Sadly, a full-blown Cars reunion never took place with the original members.  With Orr’s death, it will obviously never happen.  The Cars did get back together recently, but without Ric Ocasek who felt that without his late friend Benjamin Orr to join him, it was probably in bad taste.  He gave his former band members permission to reunite but only under an alternate name.  In 2006, The New Cars hit the road playing their classics with Todd Rundgren handling lead vocals.  As of yet, The Cars are not in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, but I assume will eventually get in.  Hopefully soon, so future generations of rock music fans can appreciate Benjamin Orr’s contribution to new wave and rock and roll.