Little Anthony With Whom?

It’s a chart listing that sparks . . . well, not quite cognitive dissonance but at least the thought, “Huh! I wonder how that turned out.” The record in question – sitting at No. 41 in the Billboard Hot 100 on October 30, 1965 – is “I Miss You So,” credited to Little Anthony & The Imperials with The 101 Strings.

Little Anthony & The Imperials were, as most might know, an R&B vocal group from Brooklyn that first broke into the charts during the summer of 1958 with one of the great heartbreak songs of that musically fertile decade: “Tears On My Pillow.” The record went to No. 4 (No. 2 on the R&B chart) and was the first of what turned out to be twenty-five records in or near the Billboard Hot 100 into 1975.

There were a few gaps in there. Most of the group’s records in the months following the success of “Tears On My Pillow” hung around the lower portions of the Hot 100; the one exception was “Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko-Ko-Bop,” which went to No. 24 (No. 14, R&B) in early 1960. Two more records tumbled around the lower parts of the chart in the next year or so, and then Little Anthony & The Imperials weren’t heard from for a while.

According to Wikipedia, Little Anthony (Anthony Gourdine) left for a solo career while other members of the group came and went during that time. In 1963, Gourdine came back and the group found its way to a new record label, DCP (Don Costa Productions), where it teamed up with producer Teddy Randazzo, a childhood friend of the group.

Then came a string of Top Twenty hits: “I’m On The Outside (Looking In),” “Goin’ Out Of My Head,” “Hurt So Bad” and “Take Me Back,” with the middle two of those reaching the Top Ten. (All four records made the R&B chart, with the first three of them reaching the Top Ten and the last peaking at No. 15.)

And now enter the 101 Strings. Billed as the “World’s Largest Orchestra,” the first orchestra called the 101 Strings was actually, says Wikipedia, the Northwest German Radio Orchestra of Hamburg, signed by David L. Miller to record “in-house arrangements of popular standards” for his Somerset label. The first album was released in 1957, and Wikipedia notes that twenty-four records were released in 1958, some of which were filled with “recycled material from earlier albums attributed to the New World Orchestra, the Rio Carnival Orchestra, and other light music orchestras.”

The 101 Strings sold lots of lush, romantic records, many of which were based around geographical themes. In 1959, The Soul of Spain reached No. 9 during a thirty-two week stay on the Billboard album chart. (In his Billboard Book of Top 40 Albums, Joel Whitburn notes that The Soul of Spain was No. 1 for forty-six of the forty-seven weeks that Billboard published a “Best Selling Low Price LP’s” chart.) Two years later, The Soul of Spain, Volume II went to No. 21. The orchestra(s), through shifts in popular taste and in the ownership of the 101 Strings concept (with resulting label changes), continued to release records into the 1980s.

That’s all fine, but this morning our interest is in the 1965 single “I Miss You So.” As incongruent as the pairing of Little Anthony & The Imperials with the 101 Strings seems for an instant, a second thought – recognizing the lushness of Little Anthony’s ballads – brings a little less skepticism. And though the strings might be a bit overblown, the single seems to work, as does “Get Out Of My Life” on the B-side, which is also credited to Little Anthony & The Imperials with the 101 Strings.

“I Miss You So” didn’t do as well as the previous singles by Little Anthony & The Imperials, peaking at No. 34, but it still brought the group its last Top 40 hit.

I should note that it’s entirely possible that “I Miss You So” was not the first time the group had been backed by the 101 Strings. I’ve seen at least one source that says that the 101 Strings also played on “Hurt So Bad,” and the sound of that record certainly would support that. But the record labels I’ve seen for “Hurt So Bad” do not credit the 101 Strings, while “I Miss You So” does, and it was that credit in the chart listing that caught my eye this morning. As always, more information is always welcome.

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2 Responses to “Little Anthony With Whom?”

  1. Tim McMullen says:

    Interesting background on Little Anthony & the Imperials and on the ubiquitous 101 Strings. Did you find a total output for the orchestra? It must be in the hundreds, which is an amazing output; of course, you can’t really compare an ever shifting group of musicians to somebody like Hank Snow, who recorded about fifty solo (with perhaps a couple of duet) albums. Still, 101 Strings output was voluminous.

    The one thing I notice about this piece is that “The Imperials” are nearly in absentia, unlike most of their bigger hits where their backup and interplay were much more in evidence.

    Thanks for digging up and digging the music.

  2. Paco Malo says:

    Whiteray, I found this post both well written and quite informative. Those strings though? I’d say that’s my definition of an over-produced song. If you’re gonna slap strings on a pop song, I’d nominate Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound treatment on “Paradise” (1965) by the Ronettes. That song moves me every time I hear it.

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