Today’s Know Your Player is about Benjamin Orr, the bassist from the classic power pop band The Cars. Orr wasn’t just the bass player, he also sang lead on many of The Cars biggest hits. Let’s take a look at his style and gear and listen to a selected discography of his playing.
Benjamin Orr (September 8, 1947 – October 3, 2000) was an American rock musician best known as the bassist and vocalist for the rock band The Cars. He sang several of their best known songs, including “Just What I Needed”, “Let’s Go”, and “Drive”. He died of pancreatic cancer in 2000.
The Cars were the most successful American new wave band to emerge in the late ’70s. With its sleek, mechanical pop/rock, the band racked up a string of platinum albums and Top 40 singles that made it one of the most popular American rock & roll bands of the late ’70s and early ’80s. While they were more commercially oriented than their New York peers, the Cars were nevertheless inspired by proto-punk, garage rock, and bubblegum pop. The difference was in packaging. Where their peers were as equally inspired by art as music, the Cars were strictly a rock & roll band, and while their music occasionally sounded clipped and distant, they had enough attitude to cross over to album rock radio, which is where they made their name. Nevertheless, the Cars remained a new wave band, picking up cues from the Velvet Underground, David Bowie, and Roxy Music. Ric Ocasek and Ben Orr’s vocals uncannily recalled Lou Reed’s deadpan delivery, while the band’s insistent, rhythmic pulse was reminiscent of Berlin-era Iggy Pop.
Ben Orr is known for playing Music Man Stingray basses, although for live performances he used a variety of basses. I’ve seen him playing a Music Man Stingray, a Rickenbacker, a Vox Bill Wyman Teardrop, and a Fender Precision. He plays with a pick and often employs palm muting. This combination of picking while muting gives him a punchy, almost guitar like sound. He plays higher up on the neck, placing some of his lines in the guitar range. This style is reminiscent of Paul McCartney (The White Album and beyond). Listen to the isolated bass on “Bye Bye Love” below to hear his aggresive picking style. Classic rock tone.
Orr is a great example of a power pop bassist, and a unique vocalist as well. (Don’t forget Fast Times at Ridgemont High.) Below are the Hits, followed by two videos with his isolated bass and vocals. Ben Orr!
The Cars Greatest Hits Collection
- “Just What I Needed” (from The Cars, 1978)
- “My Best Friend’s Girl” (from The Cars, 1978)
- “Good Times Roll” (from The Cars, 1978)
- “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” (from The Cars, 1978)
- “Bye Bye Love” (from The Cars, 1978)
- “Moving in Stereo” (from The Cars, 1978)
- “Let’s Go” (from Candy-O, 1979)
- “It’s All I Can Do” (from Candy-O, 1979)
- “Dangerous Type” (from Candy-O, 1979)
- “Touch and Go” (from Panorama, 1980)
- “Shake It Up” (from Shake It Up, 1981)
- “Since You’re Gone” (from Shake It Up, 1981)
- “I’m Not the One” (from Shake It Up, 1981)
- “You Might Think” (from Heartbeat City, 1984)
- “Drive” (from Heartbeat City, 1984)
- “Magic” (from Heartbeat City, 1984)
- “Hello Again” (from Heartbeat City, 1984)
- “Why Can’t I Have You” (from Heartbeat City, 1984)
- “Tonight She Comes” (from Greatest Hits, 1985)
- “You Are the Girl” (from Door To Door, 1987)
Isolated Bass and Vocals for “Bye Bye Love” (created by josse1975)
Isolated Bass and Vocals for “Just What I Needed” (created by josse1975)