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:
This blog post is a work in progress.
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.
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!).
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.
And again, I am only listing songs where he sang lead or the majority of the vocals…
…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.
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!
** 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.
The first is that I got to meet one of my dear “Cars world” friends in real life, the beautiful Lori J., and it was wonderful! Even sweeter in person than over the internet, there wasn’t nearly enough time for me to get my fill of her. I am forever grateful for her kickstarting my family vacation up into Canada, and I am looking forward to planning future get-togethers with her.
And the second? While I was in Canada, Rhino Records released the audio file for “Shooting for You.”
Just so you know, I don’t have any big insights on this release; I’ll summarize what information is already out there, but this article is mainly just going to be me, processing my feelings about the ‘new’ song.
While this track is being included as one of the bonus features on the upcoming Panorama expanded reissue (to be out July 28, 2017), evidence shows that it was actually originally recorded as a possible piece of Heartbeat City. Elliot Easton has affirmed that the track is an unfinished outtake, not a complete product. It was, of course, written by Ric Ocasek, and copyrighted in 1983.
Like I said, I was in Canada when this hit the ‘net, and only checking in here and there since I was on a family vacation. I was touched at how many of my dear Cars friends made sure I got the link when the track was released to the public. I confess, I didn’t listen to it right away. I just couldn’t. Knowing that Benjamin was on vocals – that I was going to be hearing something from him I had never heard before – I knew I needed to be in the right atmosphere and right frame of mind to experience it for the first time. That may sound a little dramatic… but there it is.
The Monday after we returned home I had a meeting an hour away, and I decided that being alone in my car was the perfect place to indulge. I’ll admit, I got a little emotional the first time through. It made me miss him so much; sort of brought to the surface those strong feelings of loss that I keep tucked away most of the time. I switched off the stereo and took a little quiet break after that first listen, just to let it sink in.
Once I got myself settled, I played to it repeatedly as the miles slipped away. Several things stood out to me.
Of course, I love his entire vocal, but the way Benjamin says, “I’ll be shooting for you, I’ll be shooting for you tonight” is just addictive. I think it’s especially the ‘tonight…’ his inflection… it makes me crazy.
Also, Benjamin’s voice called to mind The Cars’ cover of “Funtime,” mainly because of the line “you don’t need no self-control.” I like that.
You know how there are two versions of “Night Spots?” The earlier demo of that song is kind of like this one; with some of the parts missing (compared to the album version) and how it has sort of an edgy, raw feeling to it. I like that, too.
Greg sounds like he’s experimenting with lots of different synth possibilities. It’s kind of fun. He does that one little riff that reminds me of Saturday morning cartoons when there would be some storyline having to do with the orient — that just seems SO Greg! Haha!
No guitar solo from Elliot. A little article was posted about it on the web, and when asked about it Elliot explained, “Honestly, I just think it’s an unfinished song, and we never got around to putting a solo on there. I don’t recall any particularly nefarious reason other than that!” So there you go.
Before I continue, if you haven’t heard the song yet, here is the link to it. Lyrics are here. Take your time.
This song was later given to Alan Vega, and he released it on his 1985 solo album, Just a Million Dreams (produced by Ric Ocasek). It gives a good idea of what Ric’s vision for the song might have been, though I’m still so curious as to how our five guys would have worked out a final version to make it entirely their own, had they finished it together.
After saturating myself in The Cars’ track, I switched over to the Alan Vega recording and listened to it a couple of times. His version is obviously fleshed out and polished, highlighting the rough state of the original. It includes different lyrics, a guitar solo, prominent background vocals, and more focused synthesizer work. I liked it, which surprised me, since I only associate Alan Vega with his work with Suicide (which I don’t care for). Here’s the link for his:
Of course, I prefer The Cars. I have had Benjamin’s voice in my head all week, telling me to ‘simmer down,’ and reminding me that I ‘don’t need no self-control.’ My man.
I am looking forward to hearing the other two previously unissued tracks coming out at the end of July: “The Edge” and “Be My Baby.” I’ve got both the CD and the vinyl Panorama products ordered; we’ll see how long it takes me to actually be stable enough to experience them. Haha!
I have four kids, ages 10-17, and for the most part, they do not enjoy listening to the Cars. They tolerate it fairly quietly, although whenever we get in the car they beg, “Please, Mama, NOT the Cars!” But if they *have* to listen to anything Cars-related (and they often do) they prefer Benjamin’s solo stuff. As you can imagine, that is FINE with me!
So… a funny thing happened this weekend… I had to give my 13yo daughter instructions on the proper time and place to ‘go deeper’ about the Cars. Hahaha!
We met another parent while we were at my youngest son’s soccer game and the subject of music came up. EG (my precocious one) asked him if he had ever heard of the Cars, because her mother was obsessed with them. Yep, of course he’d heard of them, he said. Sooo… EG launched into a monologue on the merits of Benjamin’s voice on his solo work (she prefers the unreleased tracks over The Lace because, as she notes, “his voice sounds so much more mature and he seems to really believe in the lyrics he’s singing”), and she is really getting into her little speech when…
I notice the other parent’s eyes had glazed over (just before he turned his head to look anywhere else but at her), and he mumbled something about how he likes all genres of music… before he abruptly moved away. So I gently told my daughter, “Honey, some people just listen to the Cars on the radio and they don’t really want to discuss it.” She just shook her head — foreign concept. We had a good laugh over it.
Here’s her “all-time favorite” Benjamin song (the one she says she’s going to sing if she ever gets on America’s Got Talent — LOL):