Barry Marshall: Boston Boys, Part 1

The more I learn about the Boston rock-and-roll scene of the 1970s, the more I am struck with how entrenched and artistically incestuous the players were… and still are! They were in and out of each other’s bands, jammed in the clubs together, shared crash pads and drugs and women. They were all grabbing for that brass ring combo of self-expression and fan-following that meant success. In competition with each other but also in cahoots, many made it, many didn’t. And out of the chaos and the grime and the striving, a welding happened; the unbreakable bond of a brotherhood was forged by survival and experience, and they all felt loyalty to it.

With producer and multi-instrumentalist Barry Marshall, I stumbled across a loose thread of a memory and followed it down and around his unique path in Boston music history, where the friendships cemented in those raucous days would yo-yo throughout his career for the next 50 years.

It kind of started with this: Back in 1980 all five members of The Cars were in the studio to promote the Panorama album with Mark Parenteau on WBCN. Let’s zoom in on one part of the interview for a minute. At about the 16:35 mark, a guy calls in and identifies himself as Edgar (or, more accurately, “Ed-gah”). He makes his comments and asks his question, but during the call he is ‘outed’ by staff member Eddie Gorodetsky, who reveals that the caller is actually named Barry Marshall. David immediately jumps on board with the joke. I snipped that audio out and posted it by itself, if you want to take a listen.

Now fast-forward to a couple of months ago when our good friend Becky B was scouring the internet for photos of Ben. She came across these pictures from a record release party in 1979 for a Boston band called The Marshalls. See Ben and David? And guess who they were posted by? Yup, a guy named Barry Marshall – that name! She immediately recognized the possibility of the connection to the WBCN recording and confirmed that yes indeedy, this Barry is the very same one that called in on that interview forty years ago. Barry was floored when, prompted by Becky, he took a listen to the recording. “I honestly hadn’t thought about that since I did it,” he laughed.

Thanks to Becky’s sleuthing, I was able to get in touch with Barry and chat with him about his relationship with The Cars. As it turns out, the bond of friendship between these Boston musicians started early and has remained relevant over all these years.

At the beginning of the 1970s, clubs in Boston were fairly boiling with talented and wild-eyed musicians who were ready to blow the lid off of the music scene. The roster of groundbreaking names is long and stunning (and heavily intertwined!), so for our purposes, I’ll just mention a few. Jonathan Richman and his Modern Lovers were on the scene, with David Robinson on drums. Simultaneously, there was a band called The Sidewinders that was fronted by singer Andy Paley. Andy Paley was friendly with The Modern Lovers, and also good buddies with our drummer and songwriter Barry Marshall, so through Andy, Barry met and became friends with David Robinson in about 1975-76ish. Whew! Did you follow that?

the bell buoyAt the time, Barry lived in Scituate, a South Shore community located about an hour southeast of Boston proper. Many Boston bands made their way to the stage of a local club called The Bell Buoy. Barry remembers seeing Cap’n Swing play there a couple of times and he really liked them, taking note of their unique look and sound. “Ben didn’t play bass and was the main singer. I remember him in high boots, like a pirate! Elliot wore a beret a lot. And they had longer hair.”

That would have been about 1976. Not long after that, a new band called The Cars showed up for a gig. Barry recognized Ben and Ric from Cap’n Swing, and low-and-behold, there was David Robinson on drums. Barry was surprised by the visual contrast between the two bands.

“[Cap’n Swing] were still kind of ‘hippy,’ and The Cars completely went in a different look,” he explained, acknowledging how obvious it was that David designed the unique style of The Cars. “I’m one of those people that actually truly believe that David … I mean, all of them were crucial to the success of the band, but David was actually especially crucial because I really saw the difference right away. I really liked the other band a lot, I thought they were really good, but I was completely knocked out as soon as I saw The Cars.”

Barry came to know the other members of The Cars through his early connections. “We were kind of friendly with them from the get-go because of David,” he confirmed.  Andy Paley knew Elliot, too, and everyone’s paths crossed and criss-crossed all over the place.

The Cars played at The Bell Buoy probably once a month for about a year, performing four sets a night, three nights in a row. They did some original stuff, but they also sprinkled in covers like, “Love is the Drug” by Roxy Music and “Gimme Little Sign” by Brenton Wood. In fact, Barry vividly remembers Elliot singing, “Something Else” by Eddie Cochran, and that is where Barry’s WBCN comment came from.

Barry genuinely thought Elliot had a great voice and enjoyed it when he sang, but it was pretty obvious that The Cars were settled on just Ric and Ben on vocals. Still, Barry would bring it up just to tease Ric. “I used to joke even when I was playing with them, just before they really took off. I used to needle Ric and say, ‘Oh, you should let Elliot sing more. He’s great!’ and he would actually get almost mad about it. He wasn’t amused!” Barry recalled, laughing. “Although I got along really well with him; I got along with all of them. They were really great.”

But where did “Ed-gah” come from?

Around 1975, Barry and his siblings were striving to get their own band, The Marshalls, off the ground. In order to help make ends meet (and partake of some cool free perks), Barry took up writing in local papers: he wrote opinion pieces and film reviews for publications like The Real Paper and The Boston Globe. When he started writing about the music scene, he recognized that as a musician himself there was a bit of a conflict of interest, and, not wanting to tarnish his credibility, he began writing under the pen name of Edgar Willow. Eventually he gave up the writing gigs as his own music career got more serious and successful, but the alias came in handy for things like calling up his buddies on the radio and busting their balls during their interviews. Haha!

The_Boston_Globe_Thu__Dec_20__1979_
Edgar Willow review, The Boston Globe, December 20, 1979

The Marshalls, consisting mainly of the three brothers, Kenny, Kevin, and Barry, and later their sister, Ellie, started playing seriously in 1975. All of them wrote songs, contributing to the fun, happy vibe of the group; they were ambitious and eager. The Marshalls opened for The Cars several times when The Cars were on their way up. Not everyone had heard of them yet, but they were famous around town. “[The Cars] were already known in Boston as being the hot-shit new band in Boston,” as Barry put it.

Because The Marshalls had the connection with The Cars early on, they got the gigs with them; Barry guesses they played about ten openers for them altogether. “And then when they really got going, it was a little bit more difficult to get opening for them, because all of the bands that were a little bit bigger than us in Boston tended to get it then.” And rightfully so, Barry concedes. “It was understandable, why it went that way. But we were still friends with them; everybody was friendly, there was no issue about that. If anything, they were so friendly that they’d have so many people backstage that it was a problem!” he joked.

As The Cars’ popularity grew, and they were getting closer and closer to landing a deal, Barry and David would help each other out when it came to booking shows. Barry explained, “It was like, ‘Hey, I could put together a show at this place in Marshfield called the Rexicana, and if you guys were to open, I would put it together just to play with you all.’ And David might say, ‘Yeah, we need a gig for so and so to come see that weekend.’ That happened with a couple of gigs at The Club in Cambridge, where I put together three nights at the joint with a band called The Criers from NYC, and David mentioned, ‘Oh, we need to play for someone that weekend, would you want to put us on the bill?’ And they played two of the nights, which, of course, were packed! I wasn’t really booking as a job, but I was promoting shows just to get The Marshalls good gigs!”

One night in late 1977, Barry pulled together a gig for The Cars and The Marshalls. They played a weekend at The Rexicana:  two nights, sold out, for about 800-1000 people each performance. Unexpectedly, Barry saw a bit of Cars’ history being made.

You know how David plays the Syndrums on “Good Times Roll” and “My Best Friend’s Girl” on the first album? Well, those Syndrums were a pretty new technology at the time, and it’s no surprise that David wanted them. Using the advance money the band received from Elektra, David worked with Syndrum rep Andy Bergsten to purchase a set, and the two spent some time fiddling around with them in the studio, figuring out the most effective way to incorporate them into The Cars’ songs.

So on one of those specific nights at The Rexicana, Andy came in and David played the Syndrums for the first time in a live set. Barry was floored when he heard the results. It was SO revolutionary. “Nobody had seen something like that. People in the audience were stunned,” Barry recalled, still impressed with the genius of the sound. “It was amazing.”

1977. business cards from his wallet
Business cards from Barry’s wallet, 1977. Courtesy of Barry Marshall; shared with permission.

Those were exhilarating times. “Opening for The Cars was really fun, first of all, but second of all, it was educational,” Barry emphasized. “We learned a lot about showmanship and about performance and stuff.”

Of course, Ben made a lasting impression. “Ben Orr had a huge influence on every band in Boston. Half the guys in Boston imitated the things that Ben did, if you know what I’m saying,” Barry shared, laughing. “Those looks he would give, and the way he would bend down with the bass, and that ‘pursed lips’ thing! I even did that a couple of times! That little pout that he did, to me he invented that. I mean, I don’t know if he really invented that, but to me he did!”

The Marshalls Barry on left
The Marshalls (that’s Barry, smoldering on the left)

Barry continued, “I gotta say, I honestly don’t think The Cars might have made it quite like they did – they wouldn’t have been as big if it wasn’t for him, because he sold it in the beginning, he totally sold it.”

But The Cars’ influence went deeper than exuding rockstar sex appeal. Barry had example after example of how his bond with the members of The Cars continued to intersect with the trajectory of his own career.

1977. business cards back side
Back of the Andy Bergsten business card. Courtesy of Barry Marshall; shared with permission.

After The Cars got signed, David bought two brand new sets of Slingerland drums, and he gave Barry a deal on his old ones. In around January, 1978, Barry and his brother went to pick them up from Ric’s house where they were stored. While they were there, Ric started asking them questions about what was happening with their band. At the time, The Marshalls were talking with a manager and there was some interest from a record label and talk of publishing, and it was a bit over Barry’s head; he didn’t quite understand the process. He explained all this to Ric, and Ric said, “Oh, okay… you guys got a little time? Come on in the house and let’s talk and I’ll explain some of this to you.”

Still grateful, Barry explained, “We spent like two or three hours with him, and to this day, that’s the most I ever learned about the music business in the shortest amount of time.” He continued, “For years, later, I taught a lot of that music business stuff and every once in a while I’ll say, ‘well the person who taught me most about this was Ric Ocasek.’”

Remember when I mentioned Andy Paley earlier? Well, in the late 70s Andy was the caretaker of this incredible mansion at the bottom of Beacon Hill that was owned by the Museum of Fine Arts. While he was in residence, he used to throw these amazing, elaborate parties there. In 1979, when The Marshalls released their first album, Andy hosted their record release party, and Ben and David attended (see those two photos above). By this time, The Cars were riding the charts with their debut album and getting Candy-O under their belt, too, so their presence created quite a buzz. “As an element of the party, that was a big deal that they came. A lot of people talked about the party because, ‘oh! The Cars were there!’” Barry laughed.

In some ways, it wasn’t a surprise: the support, the endorsement, the returning of a favor for a Boston brother. “The one thing about The Cars… they were super-supportive of local bands. They were really nice.”

The Marshalls had some local success – and a lot of fun – with their original music, and Barry found his true calling, though not as a drummer. That first album served to showcase Barry’s production skills, and it wasn’t long before other artists were asking him to produce their stuff.  Gradually it took on a life of its own, and ultimately Barry ended up carving out a long and varied career as a producer of music and movie soundtracks, while continuing as a performer and session musician.

[You can take a listen to The Marshalls’ original tunes by clicking on this playlist I created. Great stuff!]

In fact, Barry was into producing records when The Cars bought their own recording studio, Syncro Sound, in 1981. He did several projects there, like these charity Christmas albums he produced for WBCN. The Cars let Barry work on them at Syncro Sound basically for cost. Though it was pretty much ‘nose to the grindstone’ when he was focused on a job, Barry could definitely feel the club-like atmosphere.  There was always something going on at the studio. The Cars recorded there (of course), and Ric, Elliot, and David were all involved in producing various acts. David lived right around the corner off of Newbury Street and he came in a lot. There was always a steady stream of different people going in and out. “It was definitely a hang.”

Barry owned a video store on the same street. “Very typically people would rent all the video tapes for that place [Syncro Sound] at my store, and so I would see Ric about every other day doing that. He’d come in and get about ten movies just to amuse people to keep them out of his hair when he was working, you know what I mean? So it was enough of a clubhouse that he did that to keep them out of his hair, literally.”

Eventually the studio was sold and Barry didn’t run into the guys much anymore. shagThe years marched on, and the Boston brotherhood stayed intact. Barry worked closely with Andy Paley on the soundtrack for the 1988 film Shag, The Movie, producing two songs with the iconic rhythm and blues singer Lavern Baker. That experience led him into one of the most fulfilling stretches of his career as Ms. Baker’s producer and musical director from 1989 until her death in 1997. It was the best of all worlds for him: he was touring and playing on stage with her in front of thousands of people, jamming with people he grew up idolizing, and running things from the producer’s chair. Even more importantly, Ms. Baker influenced Barry’s growth as a man and a musician.

“If she hadn’t died in 1997 I might still be doing that, because it was that much fun. We had a good relationship; more like a mother-son almost, because at the time I started working with her I was about 37 or 38, and she was about 59-60, so she was an older woman, of course. I loved hanging out with her; I had such a great time. Every day I did with her I learned something about music, and every day I did with her I learned something about life. It was that kind of a thing. It was tremendous.”

Take a minute to enjoy this footage of Barry (on the right with the red guitar) performing with the legendary Lavern Baker in 1991. Man, that woman can SING.

After Ms. Baker passed, Barry turned his attention back to producing music for Boston artists. During these years Barry would run into Elliot from time to time through work with Andy Paley and other common friends in LA. They crossed paths again in 2013 when Barry was producing an album for a fellow Scituate-tonian (I might have just invented that word), Kevin McCarty and his group, Twice the Size of Jupiter. Barry invited Elliot to play on the album, and Elliot was terrific. Barry remembers, “I realized this is a guy that is not only a great guitar player, but he really knows how to play sessions; he really knows how to get what you need and fairly quickly.”

Having established a good working relationship, and being highly impressed with Elliot’s professionalism and versatility as a session musician, Barry recently collaborated with Elliot on a much more current album… but the story of that project overlaps with the path of another rocker, a next-generation Boston musician who has Cars threads of his own to weave. Should we be surprised?

Stay tuned: Boston Boys, Part 2 will include the rest of Barry’s story, insight into Elliot in the studio, an encounter with Ben in the 90s, and the journey of a kick-ass new album you’re definitely going to want to hear!


Here’s a little Barry Marshall bonus: a snippet of an episode of Joe Viglione’s Visual Radio show featuring Barry and Fox Pass co-founder Jon Macey. I love it!

In other words:

Image result for danny louis ben orr
The Cars, c. 1977; Danny Louis on the far right.

“Ben was a good friend, and we played a lot of great music together in just a few short years. We were pals. I’ve only known a few great singers who were pure ‘naturals’ like Ben. He just opened his mouth to sing and sounded perfect—like a hit record.

“His musicianship was stellar, and he was just a very fun guy to know and hang out with. He was consistently a good and kind fellow, and I’ll always miss him and remember fondly all the good times we spent together.” — Danny Louis of Gov’t Mule, formerly with Cap’n Swing and founding member of The Cars, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars by Joe Milliken, p. 65

 

Lyrics: I Know I’ve Had My Chance

** I’m sorry I don’t have the audio for this, but I’ve heard the song and it’s a lovely, bittersweet ballad sung by Ben. I jotted down the lyrics, which were probably written by Ric Ocasek, though I don’t know that for sure. **

“I Know I’ve Had My Chance” by Cap’n Swing

I can’t remember when we had some time to spend

Seems like it’s been a year or two

I was traveling on the road, and you stayed at home and sewed

You stitched the lonely side of you

 

We were always friends pulling at different ends

And now you tell me that we’re through

I know I’ve had my chance, I know I’ve had my chance

I know I’ve had my chance

 

Now that you’ve given me just what I need to see

I hope that you will be just fine

When love is on the stray and feelings fade away

There ain’t no pushing back in time

 

We were always friends pulling at different ends

And now you tell me that we’re through

I know I’ve had my chance, I know I’ve had my chance

I know I’ve had my chance

 

I know I’ve had my chance (missing you… missing you, babe)

I know I’ve had my chance

I know I’ve had my chance

capnswing.therat

Lyrics: Will You Still Love Me Tonight

Will You Still Love Me Tonight by Cap’n Swing

I’ve put this off for a long time:  trying to decipher the lyrics to this rockin’ song. The unfortunate sound quality makes it brutal! Still, I’ll do my best because I love it and Ben sings it, and because I’m sure the words are so cool. Feel free to help me out if you’ve got any insights for me — it’s a bit of a mess. 

I’ve been a … A happy man

You don’t have to twist my head to see where we landed, yeah

Yeah, I’ve had my share of the pleasure

I’ve had my fill of man

 

Will you still love me tonight

We can make it until the twilight

Will you still love me tonight

 

I’ve been a misdemeanor over here, breaking the law

I had a … person up here, taking a fall

I hear the…

I’m having a ball, yeah

 

Will you still love me tonight

Can we make it to the twilight

Will you still love me tonight

 

Would you love me tonight? Would you love me tonight, tonight?

Would you love me tonight? … Alright…

 

I hopped a freight train to nowhere, it didn’t take long

A heard hundred who that told me that they couldn’t be wrong, yeah

And it was still at a party and you … too long, alright

 

Will you still love me tonight

Could you make it until the twilight

Will you still love me tonight

 

Would you love me tonight? Would you love me tonight, tonight? Would you love me tonight?

…Alright… shake it up

[Ben: “Thank you.” Ric: “We’re off for a little bit, uh… we’ll be right back. Thank you.” Ben: “Stick around, get high, enjoy yourself.”]

Episode 47: Cap’n Swing

Episode 47 headerBefore The Cars were The Cars, there was Cap’n Swing!

In case you’re not familiar with this “almost famous band,” Cap’n Swing (CS) was Ric Ocasek’s musical effort just prior to The Cars. To read more about them on this blog, Dave created a handy link that will pull up all content with the Cap’n Swing tag. Go to tinyurl.com/capnswing. Easy peasy!

The episode starts off a little fuzzy, but it doesn’t take long for our hosts to get into the ‘swing’ of things (see what I did there??? Haha!). Donna runs down the cool history of CS and Dave recounts how the demos made their way to the ears of the Fanorama. At the time the audios surfaced many people assumed that CS was made up of the same five guys as The Cars; it wasn’t until more information was shared through social media that people were introduced to Todd Roberto, Danny (Schliftman) Louis, and Glenn Evans. Dave had compiled the songs into what he called the “Jezebel” album and made a very cool CD cover to go with it. Back in the day, the music was shared around through the mail before the songs hit the internet.

While the band wasn’t perfect, there is SO much to love about Cap’n Swing! Using their own favorite tracks as springboards, Dave and Donna take some time to discuss the differences and the similarities between the styles of Cap’n Swing and The Cars, and how that can be attributed to the difference in the two bands’ very talented lineups.  They also touch on several songs that have two versions, one sung by Ben and one sung by Ric. And don’t miss their speculation on the true meaning behind “Magic Pants.” It’ll make you want to flow-oh…

Knock knock.jpgJust a warning… There are a few little digressions in this episode, like:

  1. Why do women wear slips?
  2. Did Ben have hobbit feet?
  3. Cartoon Ric and Cartoon Ben: the day that Dave started to appreciate “Magic Pants”
  4. Donna’s impression of the Cowardly Lion
  5. How much would you pay for a Cap’n Swing CD?
  6. Rico’s tips for staying warm during this extra-cold winter

Aaaaand… Donna ends the show with a hilarious Cars joke (thanks to IO). Is it the first in the Fanorama?

Now don’t forget… Find us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @TheCarsPodcast  (individually we’re @night_spots  and  @sweetpurplejune ), and subscribe to our audio outlets! You can listen by clicking the Youtube link below, or visit us on iTunes or Soundcloud. Wherever you connect, be sure to subscribe, share and comment. You can also email us at nightthoughtspodcast@gmail.com. Let us know your thoughts — we’d love to hear from you!

Episode 45: The Cars Year in Review 2018

EP45“Twenty eighteen… probably the most exciting year we’ve had as fans since Move Like This came out.” ~ Mr. Steel Wool

Another year gone… can you believe it? And this one has been a doozy!  Dave and Donna are joined by dear friends of the show Kurt and Jenny as they revisit all of the amazing happenings in the Fanorama over the last 12 months.

Before they dive in, they quickly recap the latest news in The Cars world: the song “Let’s Go” shows up in the new Transformers movie Bumblebee, a guitar signed by the 2018 RRHOF inductees is up for bid, and Dave reads a sexy letter from Alberto Vargas congratulating Donna on her recently published Atlanta burger article.

From there they start to work through the 2018 calendar. The list of incredible milestones is long and luscious.

  1. The thrill of The Cars’ induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
  2. The next installment of the expanded editions
  3. Chris Morris rocks the Fanorama with his incredible illustrations
  4. Reliving the glory of having Greg Hawkes on the podcast
  5. Ric Ocasek’s recent artistic activities
  6. Turbocharge comes to life… sort of…
  7. New audio files that surfaced from Cap’n Swing, The Grasshoppers, and Richard and the Rabbits
  8. Ben’s biography gets published

… And so much more!

Before they close out they attempt to answer the pressing questions: Anything new for 2019? Is there anything left? What can we expect?

You’re going to want to be sure to stay through to the end. This fun episode wraps up with a new recording of “the business” by vocal talent Elizabeth, followed by a Christmas song by our faithful and talented friend Brett Basil, who gives us his take on what it might have sounded like if The Cars ever did a Christmas song.

Now don’t forget… We want to connect with you! Find us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @TheCarsPodcast  (individually we’re @night_spots  and  @sweetpurplejune ), and subscribe to our audio outlets! You can listen by clicking the Youtube link below, or visit us on iTunes or Soundcloud. Wherever you connect, be sure to subscribe, share and comment. Let us know your thoughts — email us at nightthoughtspodcast@gmail.com. We’d love to hear from you!

Click below to join us in celebrating The Year of The Cars!

Episode 31: An Interview with Greg Hawkes

“We’re actually five different personalities, and all five come out on the record… Hawkes, our keyboard man, is a living cartoon.” — Benjamin Orr, The Plain Dealer, June 9, 1978

Episode31goofus

Dave and Donna were thrilled to spend an afternoon chatting with The Cars’ multi-talented synth wizard, Mr. Greg Hawkes. Dave was as cool as a cucumber, but as you can imagine, Donna was pretty nervous at first. Greg’s relaxed, open demeanor soon put her at ease. The conversation took on a natural sway of its own, with Greg sharing generously from his cache of memories from his days before, during and after The Cars. His wonderful sense of humor shone through as he fielded questions about David Robinson’s warm hands, clothes shopping with Benjamin, and his favorite cuss word.

Beyond that, he was sweetly candid about a variety of subjects, including:

  1. Benjamin being honored at the Rock Hall
  2. Giving us a peek at Richard and The Rabbits
  3. The Danny Louis timeline
  4. Ric and Paulina
  5. Thoughts about The New Cars
  6. The Fierce Tibetan Gods project
  7. … and lots more!

The time flew by before they knew it, and there was still so much to explore from his 40+ years in the business. Greg was gracious enough to commit to a ‘part 2’ in the near future — what a treat! Stay tuned for that.

It only took a minute for Dave and Donna to collect themselves and jump into the Midnight Scroll which featured an interesting discussion about The Cars in court. Be sure to join our NiGHT THOUGHTS page on Facebook or follow us on Twitter (links below) to see the newspaper article detailing the lawsuits. Thanks to our good friend Brett (aka BB) and Christopher for the letters. A quick recap of the June 6th celebration of the debut album’s 40th anniversary closed out the show.

As always, we hope you’ll find a way to get in touch. Here are some links to help!

Find us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @TheCarsPodcast (individually we’re @night_spots  and  @sweetpurplejune ), and subscribe to our audio outlets! You can listen by clicking the Youtube link below, or visit us on iTunes or Soundcloud. Wherever you connect, comment and let us know your thoughts — we’d love to hear from you!

And now… the secret sauce… Greg Hawkes!

Benjamin: Lead Vocal List

C’mon, do I even need to say it? Benjamin’s voice is… everything.

Beautiful to the ears. Wonderful in vocal range. He opens his mouth and easily creates those lilting harmonies, or those deep warm tones.  Dramatic, melodic, seductive. Full of disdain or smoldering with emotion. Exuding confidence. Descending and weaving and pressing close…

I could go on and on, gushing about the mellifluous sounds that come out of that man, but I promised myself I wouldn’t. This is supposed to be just straightforward research. As you know, I love to have my little rows of facts and dates and figures; they make me so happy. Pulling data together and organizing it into a meaningful, structured presentation gives me a geeky thrill.

I’m a nerd… I know this.

So I decided I wanted to see a list of all of the songs Benjamin sang in his far-too-short career. Typing it into a single column in chronological order triggered a bout of pinball-machine-analysis and deep, varied speculations, but I’ll keep those to myself for now. And as satisfying as it was for me to see the list in a simple Word doc, I decided to stretch myself into the world of designing ‘infographics’ with this article. Bear with me, they are a little basic, but I wanted to add some color.

(And did you like my title? “Vocal List”… “vocalist”… see what I did there? Haha. Okay, okay… moving on…)

Before we dive in… some little disclaimers:

  1. This blog post is a work in progress.
  2. During the Milkwood and Ocasek & Orr years with Ric, the two harmonized and shared vocals so often that I decided not to list every single song they recorded, but instead only listed the ones where Benjamin handles the lion’s share of the vocals.
  3. I believe Ocasek & Orr recorded a version of “Start It All Again,” and I have always assumed that Benjamin sang the lead on it (as he did with Cap’n Swing), but I didn’t list it under O&O since I’ve not actually heard that version (but boy, would I love to!).
  4. I understand that Benjamin did some background vocals for other artists, but I haven’t been diligent about making notes when I come across that information. I’ll start a file to collect those notes, so hit me up with links, please and thank you.
  5. And again, I am only listing songs where he sang lead or the majority of the vocals…
  6. …except for “Since I Held You” and “You Are The Girl.” Wikipedia gave Benjamin a shared vocal credit on those, so I added them, too.
  7. I’ve only addressed songs that I’ve actually heard or can otherwise verify the existence of, but as always, I obviously don’t know everything. If I’m missing information PLEASE let me know!

And we’re off!

BENVOCAL1d

BENVOCAL2b

BENVOCAL3

** Update July 26, 2018: Added two songs to The Grasshoppers and the songs recorded by The Mixed Emotions (recently discovered through ebay). Also updated The Cars’ demos column to include “Midnight Dancer” and the demo recording of “Shake It Up” from the expanded edition of Shake It Up, released in 2018.

**Update August 18, 2018: Added “When You Gonna Lay Me Down” to The Cars — a song I somehow forgot to list. Thanks so much to my dear research-nerd-twin, JMW, for the catch!

**Update October 5, 2018: Added “I Know I’ve Had My Chance” to Cap’n Swing. Made available for sale by Glenn Evans in April, 2018; apparently recorded on August 28, 1975.

**Update June 17, 2019: Added “You Wanna Man” (written by John Gardina, sung by Ben) and “Julie Ann” (written and sung by Ben) to The Mixed Emotions. “Julie Ann” was performed and recorded with The Mixed Emotions at some point, and then apparently recorded again at Cleveland Recording Studio in November of 1969 while Ben and Ric were playing as Leatherwood.

Lyrics: Dream Trader

Dream Trader by Milkwood/Cap’n Swing

There was a man from Maryland who said he could not feel

He had a hard time telling just what was real

To lie beneath the frozen sky searching for a sign

The clouds, they billowed gracefully in strange design (like crystal line, yeah)

 

And as he watched them wane, drifting off to sleep

To dream of sailing ships on down in the Chesapeake

He might have stayed there all day feeling so fine just chugging wine

So fine just chugging wine

So fine just chugging wine

 

They found him in the morning, he was facedown beside a stream

He never did awaken, oh no, from that dream

From that dream, from that dream

Lyrics: City Lights (needs help!)

There is nothing like getting to the last mile of a tough 10-mile run and having this song hit my ears — I love it! It’s one of my favorites from Cap’n Swing. But those lyrics? HELP! This has been the hardest song for me to translate (which is why I saved it for last – haha!). It’s even worse because you think you hear things but it doesn’t make sense, and because Ric is Ric you can’t even say, “He would never write that…” He would write anything! Haha! So yes, I need help. Please feel free to take a listen and let me know what you hear. And please, don’t miss Benjamin’s amazing background vocals on the  third and fourth verses… oh my!

City Lights by Cap’n Swing

City lights, swinging scenes and money machines

Well, they’ll drain you from the pain

Yeah, oh, I’m singing at the Sea Stars on the slippery boulevard

You see there’s something wrong, there’s always something wrong

You do see there’s something wrong, (that’s right) there’s always something wrong

 

Huge arms???

Well I was given the come on, and I was paid with dead lights

And I was feeling like dynamite

I was pulling a look tonight

I can’t see my reflection, I can’t hear your rejection, I can’t feel your reception, I can’t hear your rejection

For one thing, there’s always something wrong, I gotta fix it up;  there’s always something wrong, I gotta fix it, fix this.

 

You had to frown at the picture

You had a telephone romance

You had a suit that was made of stone

And you had it coming in love pants

You had it tucked in a black box you pulled it out for your sister

You hear the dial, it went vroom vroom

You closed your eyes and you kissed her

 

You better open your crystal eyes, you better open your crystal eyes

You better open your crystal eyes, you better open your crystal eyes

 

Well I was dancing on sunsets and you golden girls with your shirts wet

Rockabilly, I’ll take chain

We were just sitting around in the silver rain

The war, it was crashing on TV

And television at CB’s

And I said, everybody was so high, everybody was so high, everybody was so high, everybody was so high

 

You say you want to get out of here

With your big fingers and ginger peel (??? appeal)

I think those kids would pop a tear

Everything ain’t too clear

 

I said, you know there’s not much I’m willing to think

??

I don’t know how you feelin’ but

I know you feel so… so fine

 

Superior contributors to the lifespan of etheria

Some mutants, they work… ???

???????????

 

You better open your crystal eyes, you better open your crystal eyes

You better open your crystal eyes, you better open your crystal eyes

 

You know I just can’t hear your symphony, and I can’t look at your tragedy, I can’t sing to your harmony; I can’t even see your pornography. I can’t even relate to your artistry, that’s pretty bad

I just want to be set free

??????????

Lyrics: Indigo

Indigo by Cap’n Swing

Wake me up in the middle of the flight

Show me which way to go, oh… to indigo

Swing me up sweet purple June

Hold me like I’m a child, oh… that’s about to go wild

 

I’d like to know just where you’ve been

If you would like to try again

I’d like to slow the spin I’m in

Would you like to begin?

 

Silver Sunday tease my eyes

I am too dissatisfied, oh… with your other side

Roll me up and drop me down

Leave me back in New York town, oh… that’s where I’d like to be found

 

I’d like to know just where you’ve been

If you would like to try again

I’d like to slow the spin I’m in yeah

Would you like to begin, baby

 

Wake me up in the middle of the flight

Show me which way to go, oh

To indigo, oh

To indigo, oh

To indigo, oh

Indigo, oh

To indigo, oh

Indigo