#1056: Mod Socks by The Grasshoppers

Peak Month: April 1965
8 weeks on Vancouver’s CFUN chart
Peak Position #11
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 #104

Benjamin Orzechowski was born in September 1947 in Lakewood, Ohio. His school nickname was “Benny 11 letters” because of the number of letters in his surname. While in public school Orr learned to play the guitar, bass guitar, keyboards and drums. He recalled in an interview, “I had a lot of encouragement from my parents. They started me with drum lessons. I had 13 years of formal lessons.” He was a lead singer of a number of groups including the Grasshoppers from 1964 to 1966. After the band split up in 1966 he was drafted into the U.S. Army in the late 60s, but did not go to Vietnam. After he was discharged he went by the name Benjamin Orr, and went on to found the Cars who had a number of new wave hits including “Let’s Go” and “Drive“.

References to the Grasshoppers started popping up in spring 1964 in The Cleveland Plain Dealer, in Cleveland, Ohio. This was as the band began to play live shows and appear on local TV stations. The group even spent 13 weeks as the house band on the musically driven TV show The Big 5 Show. The show premiered in August 1964 and was later rechristened Upbeat once it was syndicated nationwide.

On Nov. 27, 1964, the Grasshoppers had a high-profile gig as one of the openers for the Beach Boys, the Shangri-Las and Jay and the Americans at the Cleveland Arena. In Deember 1964 the  Grasshoppers opened for the Dave Clark Five. “We call ourselves the Grasshoppers because we leap around a lot when we play,” drummer Sid Turner told The Plain Dealer’s Jane Scott, in a January 30, 1965, article titled “Meet the Men With Green Feet.” The article was titled so because the piece revealed the band members dyed their boots green.

As the year progressed, the Grasshoppers’ profile increased around town. The band reportedly received haircuts for the benefit of a Life magazine photographer, while an argument about Orzechowski’s long hair played out in the letters section. One teen said Orzechowski’s long hair made her “sick.” In July ’65, a Grasshoppers fan from the U.K. arrived in Cleveland to great fanfare. Her favorite member? Orzechowski, who was characterized as “lik[ing] shrimp cocktails and sweaters, but not snow.” This increased attention coincided with the popularity of two 1965 singles, “Pink Champagne (And Red Roses)” and “Mod Socks.” The Grasshoppers recorded the former tune for local label Sunburst Records, while the latter was scooped up by Warner Bros., and reached  #104 on the Billboard chart. In Vancouver the tune peaked at #11, while in Cleveland it peaked at #17.

Mod Socks by The Grasshoppers

Well who wears mod socks?
Girls wear mod socks.
My sister wears mod socks.
My mother wears mod socks.
My aunt wears mod socks.

My fans wears mod socks.

Girls wear mod socks.
Fans wear mod socks.
My mother wears mod socks.
My aunt wears mod socks.
My brother wears mod socks.
My fans wear mod socks, let’s go now….

 

Mod was a subculture that began in the United Kingdom in the 1960s and spread, in varying degrees, to other countries. It continues today on a smaller scale. Focused on music and fashion, the subculture has its roots in a small group of London-based stylish young men in the late 1950s who were termed modernists because they listened to modern jazz, although the subculture expanded to include women.

Significant elements of the mod subculture included fashion (often tailor-made suits); music (including soul, ska, and R&B); and motor scooters (usually Lambretta or Vespa). The original mod scene was associated with amphetamine-fuelled all-night dancing at clubs. The Kinks song “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” from 1966 commented on the mod subculture.

In England during the early to mid 1960s, mods often engaged in brawls with rockers, which led to many news articles in the UK  describing the “moral panic” over mod and rocker riots. In the mid-to-late 1960s, the conflicts between mods and rockers subsided, as several rock bands, including The Who and the Small Faces adopted a mod style.London became synonymous with fashion, music, and pop culture in these years, a period often referred to as “Swinging London.” The Grasshoppers from Cleveland were attuned to pop-rock fads and culture across the Atlantic and its’ spread to North America. And so their song, “Mod Socks” aspired to benefit from the fad. It would seem that in the spring of 1965 listeners to CFUN wanted to know who wore mod socks.

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According to the Grasshoppers lyrics even their brother wears “mod socks.” In that case they would likely have been paisley.

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The Grasshoppers’ career was cut short when drummer Sid Turner was drafted. Even though a 1966 show listing touted the reactivated band, the group couldn’t sustain momentum. Orzechowski, meanwhile, played in a band called Mixed Emotions immediately post-Grasshoppers. Orr also later joined a band called Colours. Then he was drafted “a little later, but luckily I didn’t go to Vietnam,” he told The Plain Dealer in 1978. “But when I came back I had mixed emotions about music for awhile and was a little disoriented about what I wanted to do.” After returning from life in the army he went by Benjamin Orr.

Interestingly enough, however, the seeds for the Cars had already been planted several years before. Though both Orr and Ric Ocasek told variations on their meeting story through the years, Orr revealed in a November 20, 1987, Cleveland Plain Dealer interview that he and Ocasek actually met each other because of the Grasshoppers.

In the mid-’60s, Ocasek was living in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights because his dad worked for NASA. According to Orr, his future Cars bandmate rang him up after seeing the Grasshoppers perform their last gig as the house band on Upbeat. “And after that, we began writing songs together,” Orr said. But it took a while for the Cars to coalesce. Orr and Ocasek bounced around for a few years, and at first lived in Columbus, Ohio, where they founded a booking agency and played originals to disinterested crowds. Later, the friends lived in Michigan and then moved to Greenwich Village.

On the strength of The Cars #3 hit, “Drive” on the Billboard Hot 100, in 1985, Orr appeared on the U.S.A. for Africa ensemble contributing vocals for Africa benefit song “We Are the World“. Orr died in 2000 at the age of 53 of pancreatic cancer.

#TheSixties
#TheCars

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