Debuting on Dick Miller’s Somerset label in 1957, the ubiquitous 101 Strings really took off when Miller formed a partnership with Al Sherman in ’64. Revitalized on the ensuing Alshire Records, 101 Strings hit their peak in 1967 with over 25 albums released in that year alone.
Often derided as faceless product jamming the dollar bins in local Goodwill and Salvation Army thrift shops, it should be noted, in order to spawn so many used albums, the 101 Strings first sold that many new albums.
Contrary to revisionist pop history, the 101 Strings – not the Fabs – created the defining soundtrack of the 1960s. (And, with their prodigious output, the 101 Strings managed to outsell the Beatles during the 1960s.)
Most people drudged through the decade, oblivious to the freedoms of Woodstock Nation. For the immeasurable silent majority, life was Bonanza, Richard Nixon, raising kids, chicken casserole and keeping upset with the Joneses Monday through Friday – all set to the assuaging strains of the 101 Strings.
No less than The Beatles, the 101 Strings were superb innovators. Under the direction of music mastermind Monty Kelly, the 101 Strings often pushed the envelope on easy listening, pop and (even) acid rock. Sure, there’s mind-blowing versatility in the shift from “Eight Days A Week” to “Tomorrow Never Knows” … but it’s small change compared to the quantum leap from “Killer Joe a Go-Go” to “Flameout.”
Unfamiliar with those titles? The 101 Strings performed a lot of originals. Most of their albums contained two or three compositions penned by the session arranger – usually Robert Lowden, Joseph Kuhn, Kelly (although “big names” such as Nelson Riddle, Don Costa and Les Baxter also contributed work). Invariably these tunes were the very best work of the 101 Strings. (The 101 Strings’ original material even exceeds that of the Beatles.)
The topic here is studio pop deluxe. For most of their “psychedelic masterpieces,” the Beatles required ample professional assistance. Who played the uncredited orchestrations on “Within You Without You,” “Good Night,” “Something,” and “The End”? None other than 101 Strings. (No wonder their Beatle cover album rings with such a zing.)
The 101 Strings went into decline following the death of Monty Kelly (in ’71). (It’s no coincidence the former Fabs went down the potty then as well). Alshire was sold to Madacy Inc. in 1996, presumably in time to pick up lounge revival momentum, but, alas, Madacy’s CD reissues unerringly avoid the adventurous sessions of 101 Strings altogether. Get the vinyl versions… but which ones … out of hundreds?
Consult an expert!
Now presenting a review discography of easy listening’s most prolific practioners. Check the 101 Strings disco-blog for a new album evaluation every day or two. Never mind the (dope smoking, jive-antic, couldn’t-perform-the-stuff-live) Beatles, 101 Strings has it all – from the Roaring Twenties to Astro Sounds From Beyond the Year 2000.