101 Strings Orchestra was a brand for a highly successful easy listening symphonic music organization, with a discography exceeding a 100 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.
Record label mogul David L. Miller (born 4 July 1925, son of Albert L. Miller and Olive-Jane Bardsley Miller in Philadelphia, died 24 May 1985 in London) 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.
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.
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).
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
The music of the 101 Strings Orchestra was prominently featured throughout the film Easy Listening (2002).