Embassy Records. The label that reigned supreme, on Woolworth’s counters, from 1955 to 1965.
It is very easy to criticise Levy’s and it has to be agreed there is a good deal of evidence available to condemn the company. However, if we examine the known facts Levy’s can be excused a few of their foibles. They were a small company employing (as far as I can ascertain) around fifty or sixty employees. What really cannot be denied is Oriole’s commitment to quality. Their production values and pressings were universally acknowledged to be first class. When you consider that the only item they did not produce was the record sleeve their achievements were monumental. Additionally with a limited budget, promotion of their products was severely constrained. From nineteen fifty to nineteen sixty-four Oriole’s main manufacturing period they charted only on a handful of occasions, although I have been informed that with more muscular promotion and with continuity of supply Oriole would have had many more big sellers.
Who could blame Levy for sub-conning? In the late fifties and early sixties the BBC were highly selective in their musical output and their only real competitor in the light music market was Radio Luxemburg… and Luxemburg was sustained by sponsorship and advertising. Unlike the big companies such as Decca, EMI, Philips and Pye who purchased hours of airtime, Oriole just could not afford to buy airspace… and consider… all these companies had other strings to their bow; they manufactured electronic products, Oriole simply made records. As personalities, Jacques I feel was a curmudgeon, although he retired in the early sixties, Morris, on the other hand was patriarchal and required deference, an old fashioned boss in fact… additionally he too was close to retirement, he could see that in the face of new technology the studio and factory would soon need a re-fit and in all probability there was neither the will nor the money available. He was obviously deficient in managerial skills but I feel he struggled mightily to keep the firm afloat and he probably felt the most sensible course to keep the label viable was to sell out. Notionally the Woolworth’s Embassy deal, which had sustained the company for so long, was shortly due for renewal and there was a robust rumour that Decca and Selcol were about to bid for the franchise. Mores were changing within the record buying public and Woolworth’s were considering new strategies. The CBS deal in all probability was the best available and it retained his employees for several more years. Levy continued for a short time but the Oriole label was officially dropped in December 1964.
The Aston Clinton plant is now much enlarged and an electronics company (Sony) uses the site as a distribution centre.