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  • Strings in pop records

    just listening to a bit of barry white and pondering. why did strings suddenly start getting used so much in pop and disco records in the 70s?

    was this a production gimmick consciously borrowed from socially-acceptable and big-selling easy listening records?

    was it because the sound of strings is associated with romance in some way?

    was it for purely musical reasons?

    did orchestras need the cash?

    discuss...
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  • #2
    But haven't they always been used in pop music? If you listen to early British pop tunes by artists like Billy Fury, they also have strings in them. The Beatles used them (Sgt. Pepper). The Stones them (As Times Goes By springs to mind). Not sure whether this theory holds water, Ed!

    Let's get back to cheese
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    • #3
      I agree with Bill.
      Buddy Holly was one of the first mainstream white artists to do his own arrangements and production, and many of his records were backed by a simple beat combo ... but he also did tracks such as "Raining In My Heart" which used the established system of jobbing arranger, producer and bloody great orchestra.

      I guess you could call this an easy listening record, but in that case, most commercial music was easy listening until the 1950s and the new forms were informed by the existing forms, including using the same instrumentation.

      James Brown's "It's A Man's Man's Man's World" is an example of strings in soul before the 70s, as is much of Motown's output.

      The late 60s were also the heyday of arranger producers who used orchestras along with small groups to back up singers falling into all categories: easy, pop and soul. I'm thinking of Jimmy Webb, Burt Bacharach and even our own dear Johnny Harris for example.

      You can't beat yer basic Danish Blue.
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      • #4
        Originally posted by [b
        Quote[/b] (ladyboygrimsby @ Dec. 12 2003,16:53)]Let's get back to cheese  
        Oh no its a cheese virus which now mutates into different threads.
        Give a man a tree, He'll take a forest!

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        • #5
          Isn't it to do with the distinction (and confusion) between the popular and light entertainment categories in the days before particular genres (like soul, rock, dance etc) came into play?
          As I understand it, jazz artists (and later rock'n'roll ones) were perceived to be playing for niche markets, unless you shoved them in front of a big orchestra when they became 'light entertainment', and so mainstream - worthy of a slot on 'The Royal Variety Performance' or a run at the London Palladium!

          It gets very mixed for most of the 60s, though - Phil Spector, say, or the way people like Aretha Franklin did 'standards' type records as well as soul ones over the years. People like Nancy Wilson, Dionne Warwick (Bacharach-David generally, I guess), Dusty Springfield - all of them cut around between 'pop', 'soul' and 'jazz' in ways that only seem odd now those are seen as distinct categories: to them (and their producers) I suppose it was ALL 'light entertainment'.

          It's the confusion that makes that 66 - 71 period so especially fertile, I think: soul musicians played garage rock, funk bands did lush OSTs and folk bands started doing loads of mushrooms and bringing out the celestes and ouds. Weird (and much-suppressed by many of a certain age talking about the decline in quality of the pop charts) is that the likes of Ken Dodd and Englebert Humperdinck were bagging nearly all the number ones even as The Beatles (who they do recall being quite popular) were chucking orchestras and sitars all over their records and getting the Classical Music critic of The Times all excited by their 'suspended middle eights' or whatever it was.

          Let's not forget the likes of Deep Purple (surely the model for Spinal Tap??) with their 'Concerto for Group and Orchestra', or the millions of prog bands getting all classical on our asses as Mr White started laying down 'Love's Theme', too. Guess in some ways, Western pop without strings lathered on is more of an anomaly than with...
          a giant steam-powered turntable in warwickshire plays six foot cement recordings of Prince Albert's speeches to the rejoicing populace

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          • #6
            And let's also not forget the pioneering work of our very own John Barry, who created a whole new sound consisting of four violins close miked, which proved very popular in the early sixties, and was much imitated.

            I think the decline of the large string section on record can be attributed almost as much to musicians pricing themselves out of the market as changes in musical taste.

            Take, for example, the 'Hot Hits' LPs: they regularly employed impressively sized orchestras, and the end results were usually excellent - and these were just for transient, anonymous, throwaway LPs. Likewise, Reg Tilsley used to employ sixteen players in the violin section alone on his recordings for Fontana - another budget label, albeit with major label backing.

            As the seventies wore on, and into the 1980s, these recordings became too expensive to produce, and with orchestral samples on synthesisers getting better all the time, the big session group became almost obsolete.

            Now look at the situation today - there are very few non-classical orchestral recordings being made, and those that are are usually recorded in Eastern Europe, where the City Of Prague Philharmonic and the like are affordable and readily available.

            American companies like Muzak often used to come to the UK because US musicians were too expensive to use - now we have a similar situation over here, where producers have to go abroad to find a decent size orchestra at a reasonable price.

            Personally, if I had my way, all records would have a massive string section on them......

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            • #7
              I fuckin love shtrings !!!!!!! Thankyou please................
              SECRET RUSSIAN ROMANTIC GUITAR PSYCH BREAKS

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              • #8
                yes, i don't see why strings should get such a hard time - i'm fairly partial to a bit of stringery.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by [b
                  Quote[/b] (eclipsechaser @ Dec. 12 2003,17:03)]
                  Originally posted by [b
                  Quote[/b] (ladyboygrimsby @ Dec. 12 2003,16:53)]Let's get back to cheese  
                  Oh no its a cheese virus which now mutates into different threads.
                  Cheese Strings, anyone?
                  Let him have the lot for £2.00 - we were only going to throw 'em out anyway...

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                  • #10
                    I agree with Lord Thames on this one -  I love the sound of a big string section that's been well arranged and recorded. Here are some of the arrangers who I think are particularly brilliant when it comes to scoring for strings -

                    Roy Budd (Wagnerian brilliance on 'Fear Is The Key' OST etc)
                    Eumir Deodato
                    Steve Gray
                    Keith Mansfield
                    Tony Osborne
                    Robert Farnon
                    Rogier van Otterloo
                    Bob James
                    Johnny Harris
                    Dick Doerschuk
                    Syd Dale
                    Henry Mancini
                    Barry Morgan's brother is a driving instructor

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                    • #11
                      I agree with 70's Kid, Lord Thames, Wooly and Avid Me...I mean Towny

                      Anyway, playing Devils advocate I'd say strings were in music way before guitars, the electric bass etc, so maybe we should be asking why they are in records too?
                      He also contributed songs for the Jim Henson movie vehicle 'Muppets From Space'.

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                      • #12
                        .....And surely a lot of those guys would have been influenced by classical composers, i hear a Johnny Harris string arrangement and i can hear echo's of Ravel and Debussy. This might have been the case with a lot of the other names mentioned. when combined with a contemporary group the string section is mainly used in a descriptive way to 'set a tone' and augment said band. John Barry (again) is certainly an early exponent of the string section, but so was George Martin, George Shearing and Nelson Riddle.
                        derelicts of dialect

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                        • #13
                          And not forgetting Barry Gray. ::
                          derelicts of dialect

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by [b
                            Quote[/b] (vibra @ Dec. 14 2003,16:27)]
                            Originally posted by [b
                            Quote[/b] (eclipsechaser @ Dec. 12 2003,17:03)]
                            Originally posted by [b
                            Quote[/b] (ladyboygrimsby @ Dec. 12 2003,16:53)]Let's get back to cheese  
                            Oh no its a cheese virus which now mutates into different threads.
                            Cheese Strings, anyone?  
                            That's real appealable cheese...

                            I like strings, me. Especially inna Curtis Mayfield/Isaac Hayes stylee.

                            You freeking scientologists are all the same, quible, dribble and then demand ice creams. Ohhhhhhhhhhh.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by [b
                              Quote[/b] (Rich Hero @ Dec. 15 2003,11:23)]That's real appealable cheese...
                              I cannot believe there's a confectionery product called 'Nads'.
                              Let him have the lot for £2.00 - we were only going to throw 'em out anyway...

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