The 101 Strings Orchestra – Astro-Sounds from Beyond the Year 2000 [Alshire Records, 1968]
the id is the set of uncoordinated instinctual trends; the super-ego plays the critical and moralising role; and the ego is the organised, realistic part that mediates between the desires of the id and the super-ego
And so it goes that when your jaw drops to the floor at the sheer unadulterated cosmic audacity of The 101 Strings Orchestra’s take on psychedelia and phasers you hear not one but the amalgamation and complicated history of three albums. Come with us then on a psychedelic and psychiatric journey into larceny, LSD, and loon pants.
In the 60s rock music and pop trends exploded and shifted on an almost daily basis, and due to Decca Records A+R man Dick Rowe’s insistent no to The Beatles a few years before, record companies jumped on anyone and everyone with a guitar and a long haircut. Enter The Id, who recorded 10 unremarkable tracks for 1967’s The Inner Sounds of The Id – a workmanlike rendition of standard British beat and erstwhile groove. The album failed to make any significant dent on the charts and would remain obscure if producer/manager Paul Arnold didn’t pull a John Dean and abscond with the masters of the unpublished outtakes.
Fast forward a couple of heady psychedelic months and enter noted session guitarist Jerry Cole – he provided legendary licks for The Byrds Mr Tambourine Man and The Beach Boys Pet Sounds among others. In the background, Paul Arnold passes some of the Id masters to Cole and arranger Monty Kelly, who then release The Animated Egg – a phaser-laden LSD-fest. This album in turn still fails to chart – but the story continues.
Meanwhile, in 1957, David L. Miller founds The 101 Strings Orchestra to cash in on the mood music boom. He takes lush orchestration and applies it to pop standards, exotica, and world music. Adults in suburban America with their brand-new stereo consoles provide the soft background music to a thousand dinner parties and Miller becomes very successful indeed, and he founds Alshire Records in 1964 with an aim to produce 150 albums a year.
It just so happens that The Animated Egg comes out on Alshire, and it just so happens that The Beatles release Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Miller smells a cash-in opportunity.
Miller takes The Egg masters, adds the lush orchestration of The 101 Strings Orchestra – and Astro-Sounds from Beyond the Year 2000 explodes.
- Flameout: Phasers unleash from the very nano-second of the track and you find yourself in some very deep psych territory. I cannot even begin to imagine the reaction from your average Strings‘ fan when confronted with the out and out fish-eye lens and slow groove ponderousness of Flameout. I once mixed this with a Bill Hicks’ monologue on the joys of LSD and it proved a perfect match. (Original Egg track – Sock It My Way)
- Re-entry to Moog: A very mellow jazz groove with pizzicato guitar noodlings and then a wonderful sweep of low-key strings. A sexy, late-night wash of sound. (Original Egg track – That’s How It Is)
- Space Odyssey: This loads heavy string and orchestra washes over a standard, chugging pop beat with the usual jangly guitars. It almost feels like the Strings grabbed a mellow Jefferson Airplane outtake and beefed it up. (Original Egg track – Sure Listic)
- Astral Freakout: We embrace phasers from the offset here again over a typical go-go mod beat, but in the hands of the Strings it feels like appropriate after dinner dance fare for the over 40s. Along with Flameout and the bonus track Instant Nirvana, this has become a DJ and loungecore compilation standard. (Original Egg track – A Love Built on Sand)
- Orbit Fantasy: With grunge groove guitars and phasers set to stun this sounds like one of those tremendous library tracks for the inevitable scene inside a discotheque in a 60s cop thriller or exploitation flick. (Original Egg track – Inside Looking Out)
- Barrier X-69: Is that latter day country rock Grateful Dead? The guitars get twangy and the phasers reign supreme but it’s definitely a look at the future of the decade – ironic, given ’69 in the title. (Original Egg track – Slippin’ and Trippin’)
- A Disappointed Love with a Desensitized Robot: The guitars borrow heavily from The Spencer Davis Group‘s Gimme Some Lovin’ before everything kicks up a high-energy notch and the strings kick in magnificently for a top-notch freakout. Like ll the tracks on this album, the string parts sit on top of a mixed down Egg original. (Original Egg track – Guitar Freakout)
- Where Were You in 1982?: And we’re back to a trippy little Mod beat with heavy phasers, and you really do start to wonder who Dave Miller envisaged as the intended audience. Too string-heavy to appeal to the kids – way too out there to stick with Mum and Dad and their dinner guests. (Original Egg track – Dark)
- Trippin’ on Lunar ’07: There’s no escaping the wink of the original’s Ah Cid here as the most phaser heavy track and the moist poisonous strings combine to provide a sensual soundtrack to the grown-ups first electric brownie. The soundtrack to a thousand key parties, no doubt. (Original Egg track – I Said, She Said, Ah Cid)
- A Bad Trip Back to ’69: This track seriously swings – and it’s one of the only tracks on the whole album where The Egg are to the fore and the Strings are phased into near oblivion. (Original Egg track – Down, Down, and Gone)
So which box do we pick: The Id, The Ego, or The Super-Ego? (
The Inner Sounds of The Id is pretty unremarkable – and I have no idea why the outtakes didn’t make the final cut. When they turn up on The Animated Egg you can see what Dave Miller saw behind the cash signs (he famously said that he was “in the plastics business” rather than a record producer.) The real stroke of genius here is the addition of the lush strings and the full-on phasers for Astro-Sounds. Suddenly you’re in another solar system altogether and it’s no wonder that modern-day dancefloors pump this out and DJs steal a phrase or two in remixes.A must-have in your collection.
(Karma Sitar, Whiplash, and Instant Nirvana appear as bonus tracks on the 1996 reissue.)
(The 101 Strings Orchestra disbanded in 1981. More outtakes from The Id appeared in the form of The Purple Fox, The Projection Company, T. J. Swift & The Electric Bag, and more – but none with the cult endurance and appeal of Astro Sounds.)