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John, Paul, George, Ringo need not apply
June 10, 2014 12:32 AM   Subscribe

Finding the Beatles too intense, too lyrical? Try 101 Strings Imagine a person who in the late sixties decided that the Beatles were too intense, too opinionated for them; they loved the music but not the message. That person could get just what they wanted in the form of the 101 Strings
posted by Ferreous (63 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Still too intense for me. Could you do it with just 100 strings?
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:35 AM on June 10 [15 favorites]


I have two 101 Strings albums (vinyl, naturally), neither of them featuring Beatles music.

There was this whole peculiar industry that involved reinterpreting known music into a "less offensive" (or is that "less intrusive"?) format from years ago. Muzak, which has evolved into something else now, had this down to (I think literally) a science. Some of the arrangements are quite interesting, most of them deserve to be lost into the dust of the past.

I keep wanting to find a good source for really good "elevator music" renditions of material, but never have found one. Which is a shame. It would make for one hell of a MetaFilter post, if I could find the right trove of songs posted online someplace.
posted by hippybear at 12:36 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Near where I live this year in minnesota we can pick up a radio station that plays Beautiful Music It's one of only a handful that still broadcast in the US. They play lots of stuff like this or even more lurid things like full on wavery moog covers of help!
posted by Ferreous at 12:40 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


There should be a really long Metafilter post about Muzak that nobody ever notices but which, somehow, is always in the background.
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:41 AM on June 10 [13 favorites]


I dunno, I'm rather enjoying the Sgt. Pepper arrangement. Is this necessarily something that was trying to make the music less intrusive, or just champion it in a different format? Even Sir Paul did it to his own compositions with the fabulous Thrillington.
posted by scrowdid at 12:41 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


This video SLIGHT BREAKING BAD SPOILERS has a ton of seriously great elevator music in it.

Walter Wanderley is a chill music wizard.
posted by Ferreous at 12:42 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


It seems less like "the Beatles need reinterpreting: where can I get a massive string orchestra to carry out this important musical mission?" and more like, "Fuck, what the hell can I get this massive string orchestra to play?"
posted by Segundus at 12:44 AM on June 10


Oh and anything by Sergio Mendes and the Brasil 66

Avoid the 77 or 88
posted by Ferreous at 12:45 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


But then... Sir Mix-A-Lot performs "Baby Got Back" with the Seattle Symphony
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:49 AM on June 10 [9 favorites]


Whoah, whoah, that is way too much for me. I'll be over here listening to some John Bayless.
posted by darksasami at 12:55 AM on June 10


Also the same station I referred to before (97.5 KNXR, Rochester MN) broadcasts the John Doremus show "Patterns in Music" where the host as been dead since 95 with all direct references of the date taken out and cut in and use commercial prompts like the host were alive.

Hot tip: John Doremus is also the voice of Sinistar
posted by Ferreous at 1:00 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


twoleftfeet: That lady in the black dress alone is worth the price of admission.
posted by pmv at 1:24 AM on June 10 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I get the feeling that she paid a small fortune for season tickets to the symphony and put up with endless nights of Wagner and Mahler and smudges of brie and white wine just so she could shake it like that one night.

Sir Mix-A-Lot said in a radio interview that during rehearsal he could tell that many of the symphony musicians were just sight reading - that they hadn't heard the original song before they started playing it - because he saw the expressions on their faces change as he started the lyrics.

The orchestration was by Gabriel Prokofiev, who, by the way, I shit you not, is the grandson of the Prokofiev.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:46 AM on June 10 [15 favorites]


Their Sgt Pepper's is far more bombastic than the Beatles' original!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:42 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Finding the Beatles too intense, too lyrical? Fuck off and listen to Barry Manilow, then. You're too stupid to listen to the Beatles.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 2:48 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


In all fairness, the Beatles can make you think, which is disturbing.
posted by tgyg at 3:00 AM on June 10


Their Sgt Pepper's is far more bombastic than the Beatles' original!

What we need is a boombastic version of Sgt. Pepper.

Easy Star's Lonely Hearts Dub Band.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:35 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Devo's support act used to be a less intense Devo
posted by mattoxic at 4:23 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


The real 101 Strings classic is their exotica album Astro-Sounds from Beyond the Year 2000.
posted by vathek at 4:30 AM on June 10 [5 favorites]


It's like punk never happened. I refer, of course, to the 101 Strings version of Never Mind the Bollocks.
posted by Decani at 4:43 AM on June 10


Finding the Beatles too intense, too lyrical? Fuck off and listen to Barry Manilow, then.

What if Barry Manilow's too intense?

Where does this madness end?
posted by metagnathous at 4:50 AM on June 10


It's like punk never happened. I refer, of course, to the 101 Strings version of Never Mind the Bollocks.

Please, tell me that this actually exists!
posted by metagnathous at 4:52 AM on June 10


> There was this whole peculiar industry that involved reinterpreting known music into a "less offensive" (or is that "less intrusive"?) format from years ago.

Covering pop music was more of a thing in the 60s than today. It was a time when some of the biggest shows on television were live variety shows, and if you'd booked an actor with singing talent but nothing to promote, or a big-name star from five years ago who wanted to update their image, you'd have the show's orchestral arranger adapt one of the current hits to their singing style and vocal range.

And that in turn descends from early television which was all (or nearly-all) live, and before that, radio which was all live. Folks wanted to hear the hits, but you couldn't book Frank Sinatra every week, and if you were WPPP, 1130 MHz Eastern Central Ohio, you were never going to book Frank Sinatra, but you did have the Bobby Availableguy Show Featuring The Musicians Local 483 Swing Band five times each week, singing Frankie's latest along with the week's most popular numbers, all in their own signature overly-amiable way.

So the music listening audience, particularly the segment who'd come of age in the forties and early fifties, accepted cover performances as a normal thing. This was what they'd grown up hearing. The kids, for whom radio formats were based on recorded music and for whom the only TV worth watching were prerecorded shows, movies, and national broadcasts of the variety shows with the original artists, didn't necessarily like it, but they didn't have any agency in the matter of music buying either.

The cover albums were always cheaper than the original artist albums. Two bucks for 45 minutes of recent hits by a bunch of session musicians who are paid by the hour and can sight read their way through single takes was a better entertainment deal for your money than $4.50 for 35 minutes of music by Herman's Hermits, 32 minutes of which were padding around the one song that charted (or, needless to say, two singles at $1.00 each). License a dozen Beatles compositions, have the producer do the arrangements, list all the songs on the front cover to let buyers know they're getting all killer, no filler, and the small-time record company had a guaranteed mover that's almost pure profit! Some of the albums also splashed the run time across the cover to make it even easier to optimize purchases on the quantity == quality metric. Especially helpful when mom was at Sears buying birthday presents for the kids.

Which is not by itself the reason why there was so much treacly stuff out there. If you look, you'll see all kinds of cover albums of Beatles hits, for example. In any style. The Beatles had better name recognition than almost anybody, and they had genuinely strong songwriting chops too, so it's easy to understand how their music ended up everywhere in almost every combination. I once had a Mike Curb-produced album of Beatles songs performed in baroque arrangements. The jacket had a photo of the band members in 18th century court costumes and cornball liner notes about how these people had somehow traveled through time and thought the Beatles were cool, or something. Bach was also a trendy thing in the late 60s.

Production dates might be within two or six months of the original artists' releases -- these albums were not doing rehashes simply to extend the shelf life of a major hit, they were trying to ride its coattails. And they got to cater to the fans of big band music, or light orchestral music, or country music, by continuing to feed them fresh new music in a style they like. It's a hell of a lot cheaper and easier to pay Lennon & McCartney's publisher a fee to use "Yesterday" than to have a room full of songwriters trying to come up with something as good and recognizable. In fact it was going to be impossible to come up with anything as recognizable.

And why would they try to make the music more offensive/intrusive than The Beatles? The Beatles had just enough controversy and edgy buzz as it was; take that edge off the performances and you have something dad will be comfortable letting the kids listen to in the living room.
posted by ardgedee at 4:52 AM on June 10 [34 favorites]


The London Philharmonic Orchestra was used to create the cacophony (among other things) for the original "A Day in the Life". Here, they perform the entire thing, in a 2011 Beatles tribute performance in Moscow. Hear also: The album version.

If that isn't enough, you can hear their entire Classic Rock Classics (redundant much?).
posted by spock at 5:04 AM on June 10


The cover albums were always cheaper than the original artist albums. Two bucks for 45 minutes of recent hits by a bunch of session musicians who are paid by the hour and can sight read their way through single takes was a better entertainment deal for your money than $4.50 for 35 minutes of music by Herman's Hermits

See also: Pickwick Records/Music for Pleasure.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:09 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


It pretty much always sounds 'asleep' and strangely dead when you turn a vocal line into an instrumental melody.

I think (?) this is because (in popular styles at least) the singer will anticipate a majority of the downbeats by a few fractions of a second, e.g. when Paul gets to the refrain and sings the line 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club band', he arrives at that 'sgt' just a tiny moment before the band. Added to which the points at which a singer takes breath or allows her words to sink in do not apply to most instruments so they sound like they're stopping and starting randomly.

These factors are what means listening to this stuff actually makes you begin to feel a bit unsettled in the stomach and to even dislike music after a while. It's confusing to the ear and the mind.

And where's the snare drum?
posted by colie at 5:25 AM on June 10 [4 favorites]


The beatles make you think, which is disturbing. Yeah but... they sure did have a knack for writing material that worked as elevator music. The Stones and the Who, the other members of the Holy Trinity of British rock, didn't manage it nearly as much, if ever. It isn't as if those bands never wrote slow, beautiful melodies, but you just don't hear them in dentist's offices. Wild horses? Never that I remember. The song is over? Never that I remember. Eleanor Rigby? $1400abb987d times and counting.
posted by jfuller at 5:38 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


> The real 101 Strings classic is their exotica album Astro-Sounds from Beyond the Year 2000 yt .

Purchased!
posted by Fleeno at 6:25 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Man, I has never heard of 101 Strings until this post EXCEPT I had because it is referenced in the Douglas Adams (co?) authored InfoCom game Bureaucracy. So thanks for the joke context.
posted by dismas at 6:26 AM on June 10


What if Barry Manilow's too intense?

Pat Boone
posted by kirkaracha at 6:36 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


As it happens, we were in a local furniture store yesterday, looking at recliners for my mom, when this big, fancy wall clock started chiming the hour. It was a chorus of syrupy, cloying chimes every grandmother would probably adore. They were playing a familiar tune, though...In My Life. I had to get out of there right away. I love that song, but this was an abomination.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:37 AM on June 10


I'll stick with The Better Beatles
posted by thelonius at 6:44 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


What we need is a boombastic version of Sgt. Pepper.

I'm simply boombastic, totally fantastic. They call me Mr. Ringo, lover, lover, oh...
posted by jonp72 at 6:54 AM on June 10


Also only vaguely related but Ringo kinda looks like Bono these days.
posted by dismas at 6:58 AM on June 10


101 Strings was definitely a part of my childhood (60s Manhattan).

I think Mad Men really missed a trick in not incorporating their music into the storyline somehow. It wasn't all Zou Bisou Bisou.
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:01 AM on June 10


Devo's support act used to be a less intense Devo
I give you....Dove, the band of Love.

Gentleman Caller is obsessed with Devo -- down to pronouncing their name de-VO -- and I have picked up knowledge about things like this along the way
posted by pxe2000 at 7:04 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


The beatles ... sure did have a knack for writing material that worked as elevator music. The Stones and the Who, the other members of the Holy Trinity of British rock, didn't manage it nearly as much, if ever. It isn't as if those bands never wrote slow, beautiful melodies, but you just don't hear them in dentist's offices. Wild horses? Never that I remember. ... Eleanor Rigby? $1400abb987d times and counting.

Yeah, the Beatles' songs have held up better on their own, abstracted from the particular sound of the band. "Wild Horses" and "Eleanor Rigby" are perfect examples.
posted by John Cohen at 7:07 AM on June 10


By the way, Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was the album that finally got my parents listening to the real Beatles.
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:10 AM on June 10


101 Strings is better than Muzak and worse. Where do I start. OK: French horns. This 101 Strings version has French horns in the exact same place in the arrangement that George Martin stuck them in. Muzak on the other hand, explicitly banned French horns from their carefully calibrated music…calibrated to perk up the workers in late mornings and mid afternoons when wage slaves tend to get a bit tired.

OK I'm on song #2 now, "Hey Jude," and am pitying the fool on the guitar. I suppose he could rock out, but he needs the bread, man…Wait a minute…Why are there jubilant Sikhs with happy children on the video? Am I high?

Man, I'm still listening! #3 is "Free as a Bird," a song I happen to like. Now this arrangement isn't bad. Picking a flute to play the melody, with a little clarinet counterpoint, works just fine. Oh no! Here comes the string section! I'm outta here.
posted by kozad at 7:37 AM on June 10


"Something in the Way She Moves" just made me cry at work.
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:41 AM on June 10


Very pleased to share one of my favorite local radio shows: Jet Set Planet. Glen Leslie specializes in fancy Friday night cocktail lounge music, and slathers on the 101 Strings.
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 8:04 AM on June 10


This was the soundtrack to my childhood. Pretty much all my parents listened to other than Sinatra was this kind of soothingly bland covers of current pop hits.

Then I got myself a transistor radio and started listing to 77 WABC and the WMCA Good Guys and never looked back.
posted by tommasz at 8:06 AM on June 10


Man, I'm still listening! #3 is "Free as a Bird," a song I happen to like.

Wait, what? Having always thought of 101 Strings as a phenomenon of the 1960s-70s, this threw me, because "Free as a Bird" was of course from much later. Here's the story.
posted by rory at 8:07 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


There's so much more available beyond cover bands like the 101 Strings.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:11 AM on June 10


After listening to a few tracks on YouTube, I do believe that 101 STRINGS made some of the best comedy albums of all time.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 8:24 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


There's also this orchestral White Stripes album.
posted by roll truck roll at 8:25 AM on June 10


In the same vein, yet entirely different, Beatles Producer George Martin did an album of Beatles remakes as his "farewell project" and he got Jeff Beck to play guitar in front of a full orchestra for Here Comes The Sun. The end result still gives me goosebumps.
posted by hippybear at 8:35 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Ringo looks kind of like Bono

Ringo has a great Twitter account that he clearly administers personally. Basically he just Tweets 'peace and love' or 'love and peace' about three or four times a week, and also pics of his birthday cake and other nice snacks he's had. Ringo spent about 3 years out of school before leaving at 14 or so and his spelling is terrible, which just adds to the whole homespun vibe.
posted by colie at 8:51 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


In all fairness, the Beatles can make you think, which is disturbing.

Yeah. Yeah, I would like to be under the sea. In an octupus's garden with you. I would like that. Whoa, heavy...
posted by Naberius at 8:57 AM on June 10


Ack, so embarrassing. That's John Williams on classical guitar, not Jeff Beck.
posted by hippybear at 9:01 AM on June 10


Well explained, Argedee!

This also fits with my memories of listening to top 40 rock and roll radio in the early 70s, but with a stepfather who insisted on country in the car, and would go off about how bad my music was and how good his was. And I would get so pissed off at him because they were all the same god damn songs! A huge piece of country radio back then was top 40 pop/rock songs sung by country singers with more of a drawl and with the guitars twanged up a bit.

And sometimes the lyrics changed if they were too edgy for the country/family values market. My favorite has got to be Gilbert O'Sullivan's proto-emo kitschfest "Alone Again, Naturally."

I swear to God, there was a country cover of that song that took the line where the singer claims even God has abandoned him:

Oh, if he really does exist
Why did he desert me


and changed it to a more reassuring


Well I know he really does exist
And he never will desert me


Which doesn't fit the song on pretty much any level. It breaks the meter, it doesn't fit semantically with the rest of the sentence in which it is placed, and it completely undercuts the entire theme of the song. I remember listening to that and just melting down into a fit of indignant WTFery. Ah, good times.
posted by Naberius at 9:22 AM on June 10


Al Kapone performs "Whoop That Trick" with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra.
posted by vibrotronica at 10:04 AM on June 10


This cultural sequence went into reverse when The Verve used an orchestral arrangement of The Rolling Stones's 'The Last Time' as the basis of their song 'Bittersweet Symphony.'

They used the violin ostinato from a 1966 orchestral version and as a result the Stones ended up taking 100 percent of the songwriting royalties in an out of court settlement.
posted by colie at 11:31 AM on June 10


I once had a Mike Curb-produced album of Beatles songs performed in baroque arrangements.

Might it be In the 20th Century Bag, by The 18th Century Concepts? It has the dudded-up band photo and the Mike Curb imprimatur, but it's only got one Beatles cover.

These other albums don't seem to have the Curb connection, but they're definitely Beatles, and they're definitely baroque:

-The Royal Beatleworks Music
-The Beatles Go Baroque
posted by Iridic at 1:22 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Oh dear god why oh why another beatles cover

And now, The Nutley Brass performs The Ramones in dynamic extra-relaxing monophonic sound.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:31 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


> Might it be In the 20th Century Bag, by The 18th Century Concepts?

Holy poop, yes.

And wow, only one Beatles number? Faulty memory is faulty. The other albums you cite back up my thesis, tho', that cheap knockoff albums were flying fast and furious and chasing trends like crazy.
posted by ardgedee at 5:52 PM on June 10


The Philip K. Dick novel 'The Divine Invasion' had a protagonist in a suspended animation with a defective brain stim feed playing the 101 Strings version of The Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack in his head for 100 years.
posted by ovvl at 6:22 PM on June 10


How about a Bing Crosby Beatles medley?
posted by jonp72 at 7:26 PM on June 10


a bunch of session musicians who are paid by the hour and can sight read their way through single takes


The recipe for pure funk
posted by colie at 12:55 AM on June 11


“What if Barry Manilow's too intense?”
Pat Boone


I don't know. Pat got pretty intense a few years back.
posted by LonnieK at 11:34 AM on June 11


The other albums you cite back up my thesis, tho', that cheap knockoff albums were flying fast and furious and chasing trends like crazy.

Yup. The "Royal Beatleworks" album was in the shops "within five weeks of conception."

Then again, the arranger* points out that scribbling out the music, handing it off to copyists, and throwing together a crew of jobbing musicians to play it isn't too far removed from actual 18th century tradition.

*Then-wunderkind Joshua Rifkin, who's led a really interesting career. I'm putting together a post on him right now.
posted by Iridic at 12:06 PM on June 11


See, man? Everything starts with the Beatles.

Also, everything starts with Bach... there were so many albums of baroque-on-modern-instruments and modern-music-played-baroquely in the 60s, too...
posted by ardgedee at 1:53 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


The blue has grooved to the sound of Sachal Studio's cover of Take Five before but it wasn't until today that I realized that what piqued my interest was how much it reminded me of the Indian musician's Another Hard Day's Night from "Help".
posted by cleroy at 3:26 PM on June 11


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