Promotional copy of first 101 Strings album, 1957
101 Strings Orchestra was a brand for a highly successful easy listening symphonic music organization, with a discography exceeding 150 albums and a creative lifetime of around 30 years beginning in 1957. 101 Strings had a trademark sound, focusing on melody with a laid-back ambiance most often featuring strings. Their LPs were individualized by the slogan "The Sound of Magnificence", a puffy cloud logo and sepia-toned photo of the orchestra. The 101 Strings orchestra included 124 string instruments, and was conducted by Wilhelm Stephan. The orchestra's famous official photograph was taken in the Musikhalle Hamburg.
Miller and rock and roll
Record label mogul David L. Miller came to prominence by releasing the first Bill Haley & His Comets’ records in 1952–1953 on his own Essex label (followed by Trans-World, then Somerset Records). In this capacity, Miller played a role in the creation of rock and roll.
Miller and 101 Strings
Following the rise of mood music (practitioners Mantovani and Jackie Gleason Presents), Miller subcontracted the Orchester des Nordwestdeutschen Rundfunks Hamburg (the Northwest German Radio Orchestra of Hamburg) conducted by Wilhelm Stephan to play in-house arrangements of popular standards. The first three 101 Strings albums were released in November 1957, and twelve more titles were released in 1958 (many of which featured recycled material from earlier albums attributed to the New World Orchestra, Rio Carnival Orchestra, and other light music orchestras). These records were pressed by Miller's own plants and released through his own distribution channels (such as grocery stores).
His core staff arrangers were Monty Kelly, Joseph Francis Kuhn, and Robert Lowden. All three proved adept at writing original compositions that were stylistically consistent both with contemporary hit songs and each other. Miller placed these on 101 Strings albums to provide additional publishing revenues.
Kelly's earliest successes were Latin and Spanish travelogues (such as the "Soul of Spain" series), although he became 101 Strings' "Now Sound" specialist following the British Invasion. Kuhn concentrated on radio-friendly numbers in the "Pops"'s orchestral manner ("Blues Pizzicato", etc.) which provided Somerset its initial catalog of originals. Lowden composed lounge ballads (such as "Blue Twilight"). Their body of early 1960s work was recycled via re-release throughout the next twenty years.
Sherman and 101 Strings
In 1964, Miller sold the franchise to Al Sherman, a successful record label distributor, who renamed the label Alshire (based in Los Angeles) and moved recording to London. Sherman retained Miller as a partner to oversee production and A&R. The Alshire era is characterized by large-scale expansion of product, attempts to branch out to younger markets and beginning in 1969, eventual stagnation (although late efforts by Les Baxter and Nelson Riddle were released under the 101 name in 1970). Output decreased from 1974 on. A tribute to John Lennon (composed of earlier Beatle tribute material – 101 Strings play Hits written by The Beatles) in January 1981 marked the final 101 Strings effort.
Many 101 Strings albums are simply orchestrated versions of pop hits and show tunes, although the early Somerset material contains many examples of the exotica and lounge genres. Songs of the Seasons in Japan, Hawaiian Paradise, and East of Suez are three such albums. 101 Strings Play the Blues and Back Beat Symphony were early experiments in symphonic-pop hybridization, while Fly Me To The Moon contains five noir-ish originals. Alshire releases include ‘Now Sound’ albums such as Jet Set, Sounds of Today, and Astro-Sounds from Beyond the Year 2000, the last of which has been frequently sampled by electronic music artists of the 1990s and 2000s (decade).
Sims and the New 101 Strings Orchestra
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The Alshire catalog was sold to Madacy, Inc. in the 1990s and, under the direction of Greg Sims, a "New 101 Strings Orchestra" began releasing a series of CDs (including a two-volume Beatles set). 101 Strings compilations were reissued on CD during the "lounge revival" of the 1990s. Few 101 Strings LPs have been re-released in their original form.
If one goes to the Madacy site to view their 101 Strings collection, exactly the same description that was used on the Bel Canto's ST- 76 two track stereo release about the 101 Strings sound is reprinted. The 50 Hz hum heard on many of those tape recordings was due to the Ampex 350's filtering which was not well suited for European 50 Hz power. The "My Fair Lady" and "King and I" releases have what appears to be the sound of dirty mixing pots used on the fly during those sessions. There were a number of tape releases that sounded like tape copies of pristine Stereo Fidelity vinyl which actually, were not all that pristine. Stereo recordings were made with a triangular cutting stylus. This resulted at times in pinch distortion which early conical styli did not handle well. Inner grooves especially, due to the increased density of the recorded information due to the slower relative movement of the track under the stylus, were more susceptible to distortion with conical styli in use at the time this record was released. The later development of elliptical styli allowed more precise tracking of the track and greatly reduced inner-track distortion.
In the 10 years and 2 months of their existence, 101 Strings sold over 50,000,000 records worldwide.
The orchestra had five hit albums in the UK, including one number one.
- Gypsy Campfires #9
- The Soul of Spain #17
- Grand Canyon Suite #10
- Down Drury Lane to Memory Lane #1
- Morning Noon and Night #32
- 101 Strings in a Hawaiian Paradise
- 101 Strings in a Symphony For Lovers
- 101 Strings Play Million Seller Hits – Volume 4
- 101 Strings Play and Sing the Songs Made Famous by Olivia Newton-John
- 101 Strings Play Songs of Faith
- 101 Strings Play The Blues
- 101 Strings Play The Hit Songs From Rodgers and Hart "Pal Joey" and Victor Herbert's "The Red Mill"
- 101 Strings Play the Sugar & Spice of Rudolph Friml
- 101 Strings Play The World's Great Standards
- 101 Strings Play Victor Herbert Favorites
- Award Winning Scores From The Silver Screen
- Back Beat Symphony
- A Bridal Bouquet The World's Most Beautiful Wedding Songs
- Broadway Cocktail Party
- Cole Porter
- Concerto Under the Stars
- Dynamic Percussion
- East of Suez
- The Emotion of 101 Strings at Gypsy Campfires
- Exodus and Other Great Movie Themes
- Fire and Romance of South America
- Fly Me To The Moon
- The Glory of Christmas
- The Golden Age of the Romantics
- Great Composers – Romantic Favorites
- Hit American Waltzes
- Hit Songs From Hit Movies
- Hoagy Carmichael and Duke Ellington
- I Left My Heart In San Francisco
- I Love Paris
- Italian Hits
- A Mediterranean Cruise to The Rivieras – Spain, France, and Italy
- Million Seller Hits Composed by Jim Webb and Burt Bacharach
- Million Seller Hits from the Golden Age of the Dance Band
- Million Seller Hit Songs of the 30s
- Million Seller Hits of the 40s
- Million Seller Hits of the 50s
- Million Seller Hits of 1966
- A Night In Vienna
- A Night In the Tropics
- A Night Serenade in the Quiet Hours
- Piano Concertos and Rhapsodies
- Porgy and Bess
- Richard Rodgers
- The Sound of Henry Mancini
- The Romantic Melodies of Victor Herbert
- A Romantic Mood For Dining and Dreaming
- Russian Fireworks
- S.R.O – Standing Room Only – Broadway Hits
- Songs For Inspiration and Meditation
- Songs From George M. – Cohan, That Is – And New York, The Good Old Days
- Songs of Hank Williams and Other Country Greats
- The Soul of Mexico
- Soul of Music, U.S.A.
- The Soul of Spain
- The Soul of Spain, Vol II
- The Sounds and Songs of the Jet Set
- Hits Made Famous by the Supremes
- The Tijuana Sound
- Concertos U.S.A.
- Astro-Sounds from Beyond the Year 2000 (1969)
- Nelson Riddle Conducts the 101 Strings (1970)
- The 'Exotic' Sounds of Love (1970)
- San Francisco – City of Romance (1974)
- T.V. Themes (1975)
- Movie Themes, Arrangements by Les Baxter (1975)
- Twenty-Five Years of Show Hits
- The Soul of Spain
- 101 Strings play the World's Great Standards
- An Evening of Pops Concert Favorites
- A Night Serenade in the Quiet Hours
- Hawaiian Paradise
- Million-Seller Hit Songs of the 40s
- Ravel: Bolero
- Soul of the Blues
- Concertos for Lovers
- Swingin' Things from 101 Strings
- 101 Strings Plays Hit Songs for Girls
- After a Hard Day – Music to Relax By
- Love is Blue (L'Amour Est Bleu)
- Million Seller Hits – Volume 1
- Million Seller Hits – Volume 3
- Million Seller Hits – Volume 2
- 101 Strings with Twin Pianos – Million Seller Hits
- Million Seller Hits of Today
- Lullabies for Baby
- 101 Strings with Romantic Piano at Cocktail Time
- 101 Strings play Romantic Songs of the Sea
- 101 Strings plus Guitars Galore – Volume 2
- 101 Strings plus Trumpet
- 101 Strings play Hits written by The Beatles
- 101 Strings play Million Seller Hits of Today written by Simon and Garfunkel
- Come Sail With Me
- Gold Award Hits
- Greatest Hits of Ray Charles
- Million Seller Hits
- The Many Moods of 101 Strings – this Bonus LP1-A was "not for sale."
- Songs of Carole King
- African Safari – The Activity and Excitement of an Actual Big Game Hunt!
- The Magnificent Waltz -- 101 Strings Orchestra
- Solid Gold Vol. 1 – 101 Strings (cassette-1983 Alshire ALSC-5393)
- 101 Strings – Tribute to Hank Williams
The music of the 101 Strings Orchestra was prominently featured throughout the film Easy Listening (2002).
- Huey, Steve. "101 Strings Artist Biography by Steve Huey". www.allmusic.com. All Media Network, LLC. Retrieved 19 August 2014.
- "One Hundred and One Strings with the Alshire Singers". allmusic.com. All Media Network, LLC. Retrieved 19 August 2014.
- "D. L. Miller". spaceagepop.com. SpaceAgePop. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
- Billboard – Google Books. Books.google.com.au. 9 September 1967. Retrieved 18 March 2012.
- Virgin Hit Albums, 1st ed., p. 205
- "Easy Listening Soundtracks". www.imdb.com/. IMDb.com, Inc. Retrieved 19 August 2014.