Home / Never Mind the Beatles … Here’s the 101 Strings

Never Mind the Beatles … Here’s the 101 Strings

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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.
Edited: [GH]

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About DAyTripper

  • That is annoying; I guess the author has changed his site without updating the article.

  • jeffm

    I click the link for discography reviews and get connected instead to a page about volleyball. Huh??

  • zingzing

    i just listened to a bit of “flameout” from that 1968 album… it sounds most like faust or neu… some german experimental band. interesting. not that i’ll ever buy it.

  • Gordon GoHah Mellencamp Hauptfleisch

    I mean 102nd (what was I thinking?)

  • Gordon GoHah Mellencamp Hauptfleisch

    And in an amazing coincidence, the 5th Beatle did double duty as the 102st String.

  • Please see comment #5.

    When did Beatle fans stop having a sense of humor?

  • The string players who played on “Within You, Without You” were hired by George Martin. The string overdubs were recorded on April 3, 1967 and the players were Erich Gruenberg, Alan Loveday, Julien Gaillard, Paul Scherman, Ralph Elman, David Wolfsthal, Jack Rothstein and Jack Greene on violins, and Reginald Kilbey, Allen Ford and Peter Beavan on cellos. The information was found by Mark Lewisohn on EMI studio sheets.

    The identities of the string players on “Good Night” are unfortunately lost, however, the recording of the strings took place on July 22, 1968. The string overdubs for “Something” and “The End” were recorded on August 15, 1969, and due to the large number of musicians present (30 pieces) the individual musicians were not given namechecks in Lewisohn’s book, however, there isn’t a shred of evidence that any persons associated with 101 Strings played at any of these sessions. I would assume that those musicians at the sessions were recruited from George Martin’s ample contacts within the London classical music community or from EMI’s roster.

  • That’s right – and Million Seller Hits Arranged & Conducted by Les Baxter, an album of new Baxter compositions, wasn’t really a “million seller” and there wasn’t really 101 string players on every 101 Strings album. In my attempt to emulate the quaintly overblown Alshire hype, I had hoped, by comparing 101 Strings to such an obviously uncontested target such as the Beatles, the spoof would be obvious to all (except the most obtuse).

  • Ken

    “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.”

    There is no truth to this statement. Nobody, no organization that keeps track of international sales, holds this to be true.

  • No chart toppers, but Astro Sounds From Beyond the Year 2000, the space-acid-rock experiment from 1968 became a high-profile cult classic around 1996, ending up on several reissues; Fatboy Slim sampled it on his big album, the one with “Rockefeller Skank.” There’s also the 101 Strings ‘porn’ album The ‘Exotic’ Sounds of Love, a collectors’ holy grail. Les Baxter’s last compositions were recorded by 101 Strings, too, and was reissued in the ’90s. In traditional sales, Soul of Spain was the most popular title. Rhino or some label really should go into the catalog and pull the better originals out of the Madacy vaults – some of the sitar stuff from ’67 is legendary amongst those in the know. One of the best samplers is the ’68 European version of Love Is Blue – featuring many of the 101 Strings most ‘rocking’ sessions in remixed versions which bring up the drums.

  • Very cool – will hunt them down – did they get any chart-toppers, who did they influence?

  • Great article (and title, too). I remember 101 Strings as being as faceless as they were unbiquitous, but I never knew they had also backed the Beatles.