Oriole

Out-A Space: The Spotniks in London (LP): The Spotniks, Oriole, 1962

As thick as a plate and as heavy as a 78, Oriole’s 45s were on the scene in time for the 1960s; heavyweights in everything except the size and focus of the company.

Far from being some blue-labelled upstart its pedigree stretched right back to 1925, with a returning boost from 1950 onwards. It was owned by Morris Levy (no relation to the US Roulette boss of the same name) and his brother Jacques was in charge of the studio. From 1925 to 1935, the fledgling Oriole label distributed US Vocalion discs. 

Their original label  had been called Levaphone Pure-Tone, and specialized in American jazz and novelty material from the US Vocalion and Pathe labels. Levaphone had originated in the Levy family bicycle shop, which started selling records, then making them. Their early records were pressed by British Pathe.

The Only, Only One For Me: Ukulele Ike (Cliff Edwards), 10″ 78 rpm, Levaphone 1925. Ex-Pathe

Early discs

From 1937 they operated from the prestigious New Bond Street, an unusual location for a record label. The offices were in one building, the studio was just along the street. They ceased operations for the war, reopening in 1950.

Pre-war Oriole

The Pearls: Jelly Roll Morton, Oriole 78 1927

Post-war

Pru Pru Prudence: Annette Mills, Oriole , 78 rpm 7″

They did a series of 1950s children’s records with their own elaborate company sleeve. Annette Mills created Muffin The Mule, and later Prudence Kitten. The children’s discs are unusual as 78 rpm records, which were 7” instead of 10”. Prudence Kitten first appeared on TV in 1950, and Annette Mills died in 1955, which is as close as I can date the record.

Images of Oriole … an EP selection click to enlarge

It seems they didn’t run to four colour printing, just the two, for most releases.

Oriole and Embassy

Oriole were also the company responsible for producing the cut-price Embassy records sold in Woolworth’s (SEE Embassy). This is the financial basis for their success in that Embassy were said to be taking 5% of the weekly singles sales in the UK.

As Embassy singles were recorded at the same London studio as the British Oriole singles – a busy centre often hired out for film overdubbing and other recordings – it’s known that several artists and musicians on the Oriole roster appeared on both labels doubled under different names.

Several artists graduated from Embassy to Oriole: Maureen Evans, Dick Jordan, Neville Taylor. Johnny Gregory, while head of A&R, created the fictitious Latin-American bandleader, Nino Rico, useful as a cover name for any Latin-American style records. Nino Rico was so well-received that they shifted him to Oriole and issued a 10” LP. It was as if Embassy was a test bed for reliable artists, whose reward was promotion to the non-budget label.

We Will Make Love: Russ Hamilton, Oriole 45, 1957. UK #2

Russ Hamilton’s 1957 Oriole hit We Will Make Love was also available on Embassy at the same time with the same arrangement and musicians but not the same singer. Russ Hamilton was replaced by Gerry Grant. It is claimed that the guaranteed sales of Embassy gave it priority at the pressing plants because the Woolworths deal dictated a guaranteed weekly delivery. With We Will Make Love, supplies of the Oriole disc ran short while Oriole were pressing the Embassy cover version, which just prevented the original record getting to number one.

Russ Hamilton was a former Butlins redcoat, and a successful Scouser before The Beatles. We Will Make Love was #2 in Britain. It was issued in the USA where they flipped to the B-side, Rainbow, and got a #4 Billboard hit. Hamilton said they’d flipped it by mistake, but my first thought is that America read the modern meaning of “make love” as “have sexual intercourse” rather than the older “coo sweet nothings.”

The studio

Their studio has variously been described as over a pub and over a fashion store, and as an ex-dance studio and an ex-art gallery. These were likely incarnations of the same building, with the fashion store at the front and the Bunch of Grapes pub conveniently at the back in Deering Street. It was along the street from the offices in a separate building. Jacques was always the guy running the studio. Ex-engineer Bill Johnson recalled:

The Studio at 73 New Bond Street was built into what was once an art gallery. The room was roughly 40’x40’ and backed onto Dering Street. Below was a pub called the ‘Bunch of Grapes’ which became a haven for the recording community of the area in the late fifties. The acoustic engineers had built a soundproof shell within the gallery, all on a floating floor. Even the control room was within the shell. Above the control room was a void to the ceiling of the old art gallery. Here they had dumped old gear, redundant Brunswick recording lathes, several racks of transcription discs (16″ x 33 rpm records the wartime precursor of LP’s) and the like. Originally sessions were recorded direct onto disc live. And, although I only have this by hearsay, it was not until (Mr) Jacques returned from Germany at the end of hostilities clutching a Magnetophon tape machine, which seemed to have fallen off a panzer wagon, did they convert to pre-recording on tape. (He was always a bit hush-hush about what he did in the war – as he was in business.) The machine ran at 30 ips and made a dickens of a noise as I remember. It used open sided European platters of quarter inch tape 3,250ft long. Many of these revolutionary devices had been captured by the advancing expeditionary forces during the war and distributed to allied countries for evaluation. Bing Crosby got his hands on one, created Ampex and the rest is history. The one we had still retained the secret rotating scrambler head used to transmit secret messages to agents in the field, as well as normal linear heads.

(Robert Farnon Society, UK website)

The Mercury connection

Ko Ko Mo: The Crewcuts, Mercury B-side, 10″ 78 rpm 1955. Made by Oriole.

From 1952 to the end of 1955, Oriole distributed the major US Mercury / EmArcy catalogue in Britain, which was the foundation of the revived label. The early releases were labelled Oriole, before Mercury appeared under its own name. 

Gallery: Oriole 78s licensed from Mercury … click to enlarge

 Patti Page’s #9 hit in 1953, (How Much Is) That Doggy In The Window was on an Oriole labelled disc. The Mercury label had some major Oriole-distributed hits. The Crew-Cuts got to #12 with Sh-Boom in 1954, and #4 with Earth Angel in 1955. These were both 78 rpm only.

Mercury EP …

The Man That Got Away (EP): Georgia Gibbs, Mercury. 1955. Made by Oriole.

EmArcy EP

The Bean (EP): Coleman Hawkins et al, Mercury. EmArcy series Made by Oriole.

The BBC connection

Oriole in the early 1950s manufactured and distributed records for the BBC. Before the BBC launched its own label, they had to be cautious about maintaining independence and distributing their favours among the majors. Oriole, outside the top four, was a solution.

The Sounds of Time: Oriole vinyl 12″ LP

One of their earliest LP releases was a BBC co-production The Sounds of Time 1934-49. The centre label dates this as 1949, but Oriole did not re-open until 1950. It was probably the date of the original BBC broadcasts. It was originally issued in a leather bound case with five Shellac 78s. The illustrated vinyl LP has the same cover design, but is laminated on both sides, and I’d say definitely after 1955. The LP centre is late 50s, but I have seen other copies with Oriole’s early 60s design, so it stayed in print for years. You get three monarchs, George VI, Edward VIII and the then Princess Elizabeth, rubbing shoulders with Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goering and Presidents Truman and Eisenhower.

Oriole’s own productions

Gallery Oriole 78s design … click to enlarge

Jack Baverstock was A&R manager of both Oriole and Embassy in the 1950s. In 1954 he recruited Johnny Gregory as musical director and arranger for Embassy, though he worked for both labels. One year in particular (1957) gave Oriole two Top 5 hits – available in both 78 and 45rpm – We Will Make Love by Russ Hamilton and the skiffle classic Freight Train by Chas McDevitt and Nancy Whiskey. 

Volare gallery … click to enlarge

Oriole “International Series” had its own coloured centre, pink / fuschia for 45s, purple for 78s, It also had a new catalogue series, starting at ICB 5000, for a couple of Italian hits by Domenico Modugno in 1958 and 1959, riding on the taste for all things Italian in Britain: espresso bars, Lambrettas, Vespas, Sophia Loren, Italian suits with narrow lapels, winklepicker shoes, Neapolitan ice cream (from Walls … pink, white and green), trattorias, spaghetti. Looking at the list, it consists entirely of things my headmaster disapproved of at the time. Pizza hadn’t even taken off and lay in the future. Decca was mining the same vein for its reissues of Italian Durium hits.

Volare was a monster hit in Italy, selling 800,000 after it came third in the 1958 Eurovision Song Contest. It was number one in the USA. The original title was Nel blu, dipinto di blu. It became known as Volare from the chorus, which was an inspired late addition by co-writer Dominico Modugno. Oriole wisely labelled it Volare with a tiny subtitle, aware that the average English punter would be too embarrassed to stumble out the Italian words in the local record shop. It was less of a problem in the USA, where the Italian-American community was large enough to make the original a hit. In 1959 it received the grammy for Record of 1958 and Song of 1958 in America. Its all-time sales as a song in various versions come to 22 million.

There were a large number of cover versions … and this is germane to Oriole’s UK status. Ironically, for a label that specialized in cover versions, they had the original and arguably the best version. Why? It’s hard to know. The American hit was on US Decca, which was sold as Brunswick in the UK, but the Italians had done a separate deal for each market. Oriole got it to #10 in the chart. Then Marino Marini got it to #13, and though a cover by a fellow-Italian, it was on Decca distributed Durium. Dean Martin (Dino Crocetti) had the idea of recording a ‘half-in-English’ version (which is as close to Italian as most Italian-Americans get). Dino got to #2. He was on Capitol, an EMI label. No competition for distribution then, but I’d say the ‘half-English’ swung it for Dino. There was a French version by Dalida, which was #1 in France too. Then comedian Charlie Drake got a version to #28 … on EMI’s Parlophone.

Oriole’s roster

Some of the late 50s Oriole output veers close to budget label cover versions, such as 4 Great Marches by Eric Coates performed perfectly well by Michael Freeman & His Orchestra, but it’s not Bernstein. Soundtrack cover EPs were done by many labels, but the Oriole ones, like Follow That Girl in 1960 don’t look any different from Embassy’s soundtrack cover EPs of the era. (And may not be!)

LPs don’t turn up much at all. They managed to get the Bristol Old Vic production of Salad Days on LP in 1954. Embassy from the same stable did a lot of musical show covers on EP and LP at this time … maybe they sold better in Woolworths.

Selection of Songs From Salad Days: Bristol Old Vic Production, Oriole LP 1954
Oriole LP centre label design: Salad Days

Oriole tended to favour ballads, jazz, and instrumentals of various kinds, with an underlying penchant for humour, (Don’t Have Any More Mrs Moore by David Kossoff, Dankeschoen Bitterschoen Wiedersehen by Eddie Wilson) never quite stepping into full-bloodied rock and roll until its last three years (1962-64) and the era of The Big O Show.

 Oriole had some odd releases in its catalogue. TV’s Dixon of Dock Green, Jack Warner, recorded An Ordinary Copper, the theme tune, in 1958. The same year Father Aime Duval released Tap Your Sabots, Bernadette, one of several religious releases. It was by the warbling French Jesuit priest, Father Duval, pre-dating Father Ted by years. He first recorded in 1956.

Lourdes Centenary Festival (EP): Father Duval, Oriole 1958

His first Oriole EP is labelled Lourdes Centenary Concert 1958, but consists of two singles, As and Bs. There was a second EP too. With songs like Tap Your Sabots, Bernadette, he couldn’t fail. His singles sold 200,000 copies each in France. His claim to fame is the first (and last) priest to sing on 6.5 Special on TV. He went on to play 3000 concerts in 45 countries and died an alcoholic. There is a causal connection. The English language songs were commissioned and recorded by Oriole.

EPs … Extended play

Oriole and Embassy had a strong interest in EP releases. The younger market simply couldn’t afford LPs in the UK, and let’s be snotty, your armchair hi-fi LP enthusiast probably didn’t frequent Woolworths being uninterested in Pick ‘n’ Mix sweets or cheap cosmetics.

Oriole – Records of Distinction …click on image to enlarge

December 1959 brought a new label design, with “Records of Distinction” as the buzz phrase.

Oriole International continues

They also reintroduced the “Oriole International” series. Alice in Kwelaland has INTERNATIONAL SERIES under the Oriole logo, and a different series number: ICB 4. This came out in March 1962, when the “New Era” was already under way with new sleeves, but they decided to keep the old design for International, probably because the new boss wasn’t interested. He was right, none of this material fitted “New Era” Oriole from 1962.

Other examples were Vladimir Troshin on Moscow Nights from September 1962, Mina with Un Tale and Robertino Loretti with O Sole Mio in 1964. One of the last ever Oriole discs, Turn The Lights Down Low by Steve Arlen was in 1965, still persisting with this design.

Oriole- New Era

At the beginning of 1962, Oriole had a complete makeover. If you look above at the “Images of Oriole EPs” you can see why they needed it. In December 1961, John Schroeder was recruited from EMI, where he had just had two number ones as producer and writer. He was given a free hand to rebrand and recreate Oriole as a competitor to the majors. Schroeder believed in Morris Levy’s vision of creating a major player; shifting the Big Four labels to the Big Five, and rejected a rival offer from Philips. To this end, he personally redesigned the label right away, introducing the black and yellow design.  The logo Young, New and Exciting was emblazoned on every sleeve and the revived label was advertised as Oriole – New Era. 

Then Schroeder cleared out the artist list, only three survived the cull: Jackie Lee & The Raindrops, Clinton Ford and Maureen Evans.  He insisted that they research an American label connection. Then he shifted releases from a monthly basis to a weekly basis. They also slimmed down a bit on the weight of its plastic, though an Oriole single was still a meatier slice to be reckoned with than the wafers served up by some of its competitors.  A new recording by Jackie Lee & The Raindrops, There’s No One In The Whole Wide World, (written by Schroeder) was entered for the Eurovision Song Contest to get publicity. Three of the quartet went on to greater things … Jackie Lee (aka Jackie), Les VanDyke and Vince Hill. Les VanDyke was a mainstay of the Oriole-related Embassy label as Johnny Worth, and the writer of Adam Faith’s early hits.

Lastly, Schroeder insisted that Oriole launch its own Radio Luxembourg showcase,The Big O Show. The hopefully named ‘Big’ O Show was a twice-weekly showcase of Oriole’s entire catalogue that ran for fifteen minutes on Radio Luxembourg on Wednesdays and Fridays at 9 pm – half-an-hour may have been beyond its capabilities. The first four releases on “New Era” Oriole were the three surviving acts selected by Schroeder, plus Franz Liszt Twist by new discovery, The Gary Edwards Combo. Schroeder’s efforts were rewarded by a chart placing for Clinton Ford’s Fanlight Fanny, and the Gary Edwards Combo just missed the Top Thirty. 

Clinton Ford with The George Chisholm All Stars: Oriole LP 1962

Schroeder has described recording Fanlight Fanny. The song was Clinton Ford’s idea and one of Schroeder’s first sessions. He booked trombone player George Chisholm, known as a man “game for a laugh” and asked him to book the other musicians, credited as the George Chisholm All Stars on the record. Schroeder assembled them and spent 45 minutes checking and adjusting levels, then sent them off to the pub downstairs for an hour to get well-oiled. He insists there was only one take, and it was done in an atmosphere of hilarity in the studio.

On the LP they note:

George Chisholm … For George perhaps best known to the masses for his tomfoolery on ‘The Black & White Minstrel Show, is without doubt the most experienced and accomplished jazz trombonist in Britain.

Derek Johnson, sleeve note to Oriole PS 40021, 1962

Not a great recommendation then.

New Musical Express, November 1962

By 1963, with The Spotniks and Maureen Evans doing well, Oriole was confident. Maureen Evans’ Like I Do, produced by Schroeder, was a number three hit in February 1963 (it only got to #5 in the New Musical Express). Maureen Evans’ Melancholy Me EP says on the reverse:

She is in the vanguard of Oriole’s rapidly growing influence In Britain’s pop hit parade.

The thing about Like I Do is that it had been recorded by Nancy Sinatra in the USA and borrows its tune from Dance of The Hours by Ponchielli. Teresa Brewer also covered it. The three women between them inspired the best song based on Dance of The Hours: Hello Mudduh, Hello, Fadduh, by Alan Sherman in 1963. 

New Musical Express advert

Oriole is remembered fondly by singles collectors for several reasons. Its greatest successes and enduring prestige came through foreign talent … Domenico Modungo, Father Duval, Motown and Time artistes. Even Maureen Evans was Welsh. Swedish guitar aces The Spotnicks (Orange Blossom Special played in space suits) knocked up several Top 40 entries for the label. The Spotniks got about a bit. The Out-A-Space LP was London, then you have On The Air EP, then two EPs from The Spotniks in Paris. They gave a generous six tracks too. There’s an LP from The Spotniks in Berlin and another LP, The Spotniks in Spain.

Gallery: Spotniks EPs … click to enlarge

In the New Era, Oriole also released some of Joe Meek’s independent productions, notably The Dowlands and Screaming Lord Sutch. They tried British instrumental groups too, though The Telstars sounds like a choice (and name) for their Embassy label rather than the main one. The Trebletones were a vocal group, best known for their cheesey Good Morning song on the Butlins label, sold by Butlins Holiday Camps. Hi-de-Hi.

In 1962, Schroeder did a deal with Berry Gordy and Oriole American was launched. That merits its own page.

SEE: ORIOLE AMERICAN

They also shifted the jazz and blues catalogue to REALM. See REALM.

Oriole were partial to ripoff covers of American hits too, in common with their major label rivals. Looking at releases like Your Nose Is Gonna Grow (Christine Quaite covering Johnny Crawford’s original), Will You Love Me Tomorrow (The Raindrops covering The Shirelles), The Big Hurt (Maureen Evans covering Toni Fisher) or Don’t Ever Change (The Dowlands covering The Crickets) the line between an Oriole cover at full price and an Embassy cover at budget price is extremely slim. And having made the Oriole cover, they usually went on to do an Embassy version with the same arrangement and a different singer.

Take Six (EP): from This is Merseybeat 1963

A side excursion for Oriole was Merseybeat. EMI had taken the lion’s share of Liverpool groups (The Beatles, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Swinging Blue Jeans, Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas), Decca had The Big Three, Philips grabbed The Merseybeats and Pye got The Searchers. What about the rest? John Schroeder accepted Bill Harry’s invitation in July 1963 and went up there and signed the remnants, producing an LP This is Merseybeat  (Volumes 1 and 2) and an EP Take Six. The EP was owned by many garage band musicians in late 63. It’s one I bought new.

The word remnants sounds derogatory, but in Liverpool several of these bands were considered to be the cream of the crop: Rory Storm & The Hurricanes, Ian and The Zodiacs, Sonny Webb and The Cascades, Faron’s Flamingo’s, Earl Preston and the TTs. They were recorded by a mobile set-up at the Rialto Ballroom over one weekend in July 1963. Oriole did a deal where they paid no fee and no royalties, but allowed artists to use the material as their demos when seeking new labels. Each band did just the two songs. They were given time to rehearse before recording their slot, but then recorded in mono in one take.  Oriole released several singles following the album.

Many good bands were taped, then left out, because of the songs they chose, including my band, the Mastersounds, who were then signed by RCA.
Mal Jefferson, sleeve notes to Mastersound CD release of both LPs.

In the same era, they signed Carter-Lewis & The Southerners (later The Ivy League) for three singles. Buddy Britten & The Regents were another discovery with four Oriole singles.  Four is significant. Like most labels, Oriole tore up contracts after three flops, unless someone really believed in the artists. Schroeder obviously did, because Carter-Lewis followed him when he moved to run Piccadilly. Buddy Britten recorded versions of If You Gotta Make A Fool of Somebody and Money from The Beatles stage acts, but Freddie and The Dreamers and Bern Elliot had the hit versions.

Demos … click to enlarge

Oriole had a high proportion of releases to chart hits, so they must have been selling them somewhere. Demo discs are few and far between, which may not have helped their sales.

Among the 1964 releases you can find Australia’s The Seekers, a year before success, and Jerry Landis singing Carlos Dominguez and He Was My Brother. Jerry Landis is better known as Paul Simon. Val Doonican picked it up and recorded it on his charting LP, The 13 Shades of Doonican giving Paul Simon a fair income.

Screaming Lord Sutch had singles like Dracula’s Daughter and She’s Fallen in Love With the Monster Man, and keeping up the novelty were The Go-Gos hitting the new Dr Who fad and seasonal sales with I’m Gonna Spend My Christmas With A Dalek.

Oriole had a quiet sideline in spoken voice LPs. The Caretaker is the soundtrack of the film from 1964, which was self-financed by Harold Pinter and the cast. It was issued as a two-LP set, but apparently you could buy each LP separately (Why?). I found LP 1 on its own unfortunately. The 2-record set has sold for £120.

The Caretaker by Harold Pinter (LP): Original soundtrack, Oriole 1964

Oriole owned its own pressing plants at Aston Clinton and Colnbrook, kept busy by the weekly Embassy titles for Woolworths, which accounted for 5% of total UK weekly sales. They also pressed for the other majors when sudden sales peaks appeared, as well as for other independents like Melodisc and Top Rank before EMI took that label over. The plants were surprisingly modest.

The Oriole pressing plant building had once been a garage (Bakers), so it was quite antiquated (when compared to CBS’s later facility in Aylesbury). Most people in Aston Clinton village knew each other, so the set-up at Oriole had a very informal atmosphere. Back when Oriole took over the London Rd building (1954) & set up their operation, most people got to work by bike or bus. So the workforce was just about all local. The plant manager lived in a house located next to the factory. If jobs were available with Oriole, staff would tell local family / friends and they would apply & land the posts, so it ran very much on the ‘big family’ principal. Oriole Records under the Levy’s also pressed up the cheap cover versions of current hits on its Embassy label . Each week, workers were allowed to take a record of their choice home for free. The factory site was opposite to the Rising Sun pub (now the China Water restaurant), so I’d guess on a Friday after work, the lads would have a drink before heading off home. I haven’t been able to establish how many people were employed there, but it can’t have been that many. 
Roburt, Soul Source co uk

The pressing plants made the company an attractive proposition, and US giant CBS was seeking its own pressing facility instead of relying on its manufacturing / distribution partnership with Philips. When a label relies on another to press records, it will have problems sourcing enough stock of a sudden hit. That’s exacerbated when CBS might have an American hit, and the British label might have a cover version rivalling it, and can choose which to prioritise. CBS needed control over production.

Why did the Levy Brothers decide to sell?

John Adams: 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.
embassyrecords.co.uk website (LINKED)

Some time shortly after the CBS takeover, the Colnbrook plant was shut down (the equipment was ageing), and the Aston Clinton plant also needed a major upgrade. Pre-1964 CBS records pressed by Philips are said to be better pressings than those soon after the Oriole takeover, and before Aston Clinton was upgraded. (The site is now a distribution centre for CBS / Columbia’s parent compay, Sony).

Oriole (and Embassy) as an independent came to an end in September 1964 after the company was bought up by CBS and most of the catalogue ceased to exist. The catalogue numbers continued up to CB 1992 in February 1965, with I’m Ready / Down The Road Apiece by The Quakers (CB1992) as the last release.

Oriole records continued to be issued until November 1965 (though only one or two after June) with a new CB catalogue number series starting CB 301 in March 1965.

Alex Bamforth: There was some sort of promise by CBS to retain the Oriole style, which lasted about twenty-four hours. Subsequently the Oriole label was collapsed, with most of their recording personnel having their contracts terminated. Maurice Levy was kept on as chairman in name only, but in truth he retired to his Windsor home and was rarely seen at the business, in 1967 he severed all ties. Maurice never kept many masters, as he believed that if a record was not a big seller there was no requirement to retain them. What happened to any remaining Oriole masters is an ongoing debate. From my enquiries and investigations I believe they were destroyed although there is a suspicion that any original masters that remained were sent to Canada.
embassyrecords.co.uk website (LINKED)

Later Oriole discs gallery … click to enlarge

Among the CBS releases with CB300+ catalogue numbers with Oriole labels were  Derek & The Freshmen with Gone Away, Tony & Howard with The Dictators (Just In Case), and Ritchie Blackmore (Getaway), now worth about £600 mint because of his later career in Deep Purple. The demos of 1965 have deserted Oriole’s discrete A for “Advance” in the centre and switched to CBS’s standard white label with a red A filling the whole thing.

The Spotniks in Berlin: The Spotniks, Oriole 1965. Early CBS pressing and address

Among the other releases in 1965 was The Spotniks in Berlin dusting off the hits of late 61, like Walking Back To Happiness. It has an Oriole label, but a “Product of CBS Records Ltd, 104 New Bond Street, London” address panel. It’s one of the last Oriole records.

Most 1965 releases were specialist dancing class discs (titled Quickstep or Foxtrot above the name of the tune)  by The Phil Tate Orchestra. These were sub-titled Dance Teacher’s Strict Tempo Series and the series dates back to 1957. Tempo as laid down by the Official Board of Ballroom Dancing is under the titles. The centre design is Oriole’s first 45 design, but they were re-pressed for years and I’m told arrived in plain white sleeves later on.

It was mainly Phil Tate & His Orchestra keeping the dancing schools going. It must have been decent business because CBS reissued Phil Tate’s 1960 Oriole EP Party Dances with those essential front parlour party dances, Hokey Cokey, The Conga, The Gay Gordons and Boomps-A-Daisys soon as they had put Oriole to sleep. Most will prefer the original Oriole sleeve where the conga line is led by a Dustin Hoffman lookalike (Oriole 1960) to the bland sub-Letraset illustration of the CBS reissue. My kids’ primary school had a copy of Party Dances in the late 80s.

Galleries: Phil Tate … click to enlarge, and these photos really need to be enlarged!

Tate’s Gallery Dance series in 1962 has evocative photos. Tunes for Twisters is usually mono. Continental Hits for a more sophisticated kind of dancing class was in full stereo.

Phil Tate had recorded many singles and EPs for Oriole. Tate moved over to the IDTA dance label, and his specialist dance records must have been reissued year after year, as they appear in a variety of sleeves.

Basically, Oriole’s roster was dumped, except that US Columbia mined the two This Is Merseybeat LPs for an American Merseybeat compilation.

The sturdy Oriole pressings were robust items and some hidden gems remain amongst them.

PAUL’S CHOICE: Greatest original Oriole single – not counting the Spotnicks or the American soul stars ? How about The Franz Liszt Twist by The Gary Edwards Combo (1962). Surely a hit record if it had been on a different label and more people had had the chance to hear it.

PETER’S CHOICE: Sweet and Tender Romance, Carter-Lewis & The Southerners. It starts with pounding piano, then the voices come in just like Crosby, Stills and Nash … just five years earlier. There’s a nice bit of cheesy organ (Farfisa?) in the background, but it’s the vocal blend, and the acoustic guitars in the mix. I reckon it was stylistically a couple of years too early to be a major hit. It might have been in 1966. They had John Carter and Ken Lewis on vocals, but in 1963 their group at various times employed Big Jim Sullivan and Jimmy Page (guitars), Viv Prince (later of The Pretty Things) and Bobby Graham on drums.

CBS kept the Oriole 73 New Bond Street studio, and one of CBS’s early British productions was The Paul Simon Songbook. The session data sheets used for The Paul Simon Songbook sessions were actually Oriole Records session sheets with “Oriole” crossed out. There were three sessions in June and July 1965.

Even earlier, on May 12th 1965, Bob Dylan walked up the stairs at Levy Studios after his solo Royal Albert Hall concerts. He recorded a two sales promo spots to encourage CBS employees, then cut a version of If You Gotta Go, Go Now with members of The Bluesbreakers, including John Mayall and Eric Clapton. Dylan played piano. On the count-in, one of the band laughs and says ‘You haven’t worked much with bands, have you?’ to which Dylan replied ‘I don’t need no count, man.’

Sleeve matching

With secondhand singles, aesthetics and value suggest putting the right disc in the right sleeve for the right year. There are guides online, but at least two are plain wrong on Oriole. To a design eye, matching is clear. It’s basic:

Oval logo

Oval logo on disc goes with oval logo on sleeve. Oriole are blue or very rarely, mauve, discs, Oriole International are pink. The sleeve remains the same and is the same design on both sides.

Galleries … The Record of Distinction  era… click to enlarge

Rectangular logo on disc, rectangular logo on sleeve which will be orange with “The Record of Dinstinction”.

Galleries … New Era Oriole … click to enlarge

Yellow and black vertical striping on Oriole (white and black on Oriole-American) go in the yellow sleeve.

Oriole EP designs

You can date EPs by the logo:
(1) oval to December 1959
(2) rectangular with a lare EXTENDED PLAY below to early 1962
(3) rectangular with stronger vertical lines, 1962-1965. If Extended Play is printed, it’s small.

These things went on for years and cover designs were updated.

EPs centre designs:

oval:

rectangular:

New era

Oriole in the charts:

We usually use The Guinness Book of Hit Singles, but there are often differences between that and the rival 40 Years of NME Charts. NME (New Musical Express) favoured younger bands more than the Record Retailer Chart which Guinness used. For example Your Momma’s Out of Town by Carter-Lewis and The Southerners spent five weeks in the NME chart and reached #20. It never appeared in the Record Retailer chart.

New Musical Express 1 November 1963
titleartistyearposition UK
(How Much Is) That Doggie In The Window?Patti Page19539
Freight TrainChas McDevitt Skiffle Group19575
We Will Make LoveRuss Hamilton19572
Greenback DollarChas McDevitt Skiffle Group195728
Wedding RingRuss Hamilton195720
VolareDominico Modugno195810
Ciao Ciao BambinoDominico Modugno195929
Old ShepClinton Ford195927
The Big HurtMaureen Evans196026
Hallelujah, I Love Her SoDick Jordan196047
Little ChristineDick Jordan196039
Love Kisses & HeartachesMaureen Evans196044
Paper RosesMaureen Evans196040
Too Many Beautiful GirlsClinton Ford196148
Fanlight FannyClinton Ford196222
Orange Blossom SpecialThe Spotniks196229
Rocket ManThe Spotniks196238
Like I DoMaureen Evans19623
Hava NagilaThe Spotniks196313
Just Listen To My HeartThe Spotniks196336
Your Momma’s Out Of TownCarter-Lewis & The Southerners196320 (NME)
All My LovingThe Dowlands196433
I Love How You Love MeMaureen Evans196440
Oriole hits: not many for the “fifth biggest label”

Interesting for collectors …

Oriole had a good number of interesting “non-hits.” Some are collectable … Jerry Landis books at £40 mint. Richie Blackmore books at £600 mint in Rare Record Price Guide 2022 (up from £400 a few years ago). Instrumental groups like The Spotniks and The Barons are perennial collectables. Not investments, just above average for their era. Then they did go for novelty acts. The Carefrees did We Love The Beatles (booked at £25).

The bands who had appeared on This Is Merseybeat … Faron’s Flamingos, Rory Storm & The Hurricanes, Ian & The Zodiacs, Sonny Webb & The Cascades … all rate at between £25 and £50 in mint condition. Screaming Lord Sutch is over fifty quid, weird, especially considering he was one of the worse three live performers I ever saw. He was also one of the few who simply moved over to CBS on the demise of Oriole.

Right at the end, Oriole were signing some interesting British bands. That final Oriole recording by The Quakers lists at £150 mint in the guide book.

titleartistyear
Passing StrangersLonnie Donegan & Tommy Reilly1957
An Ordinary CopperJack Warner & Tommy Reilly1958
Pick Up The PiecesJackie Trent1961
Will You Love Me Tomorrow?The Raindrops1961
Franz Liszt TwistGary Edwards Combo1962
There’s No One In The Whole Wide WorldJackie Lee & The Raindrops1962
The MethodGary Edwards1962
Fallout ShelterMike & Bernie Winters1962
If You Gotta Make A Fool of Somebody / MoneyBuddy Britten & The Regents1963
So Long Little GirlThe Dictators with Tony & Howard1963
Do You Love Me?Faron’s Flamingos1963
Dr FeelgoodRory Storm & The Hurricanes1963
Shake SherryFaron’s Flamingos1963
You’ve Got EverythingSonny Webb & The Cascades1963
Only FifteenAdrienne Poster1963
Sweet & Tender RomanceCarter-Lewis & The Southerners1963
Beechwood 4-5789Ian & The Zodiacs1963
We Love You BeatlesThe Carefrees1963
Myra / With A Swag On My ShoulderThe Seekers1964
She’s Fallen In Love With A Monster ManScreaming Lord Sutch1964
Aren’t You Glad You’re YouThe Carefrees1964
Skinny MinnieCarter-Lewis & The Southerners1964
Carlos DominguezJerry Landis (PaulSimon)1964
Dracula’s DaughterScreaming Lord Sutch1964
I’m Gonna Spend My Christmas With A DalekThe Go-Gos1964
Gone AwayDerek & Freshmen1965
GetawayRitchie Blackmore1965
I’m Ready / Down The Road ApieceThe Quakers1965
Oriole discs worth picking up

Oriole on CD

Midnight Special: The Oriole Records Story, One Day Music 2 CDs, 2013

There’s a budget CD Midnight Special: The Oriole Records Story in the One Day Music series. Fifty tracks on 2 CDs at a low budget price.  It’s thoughtlessly compiled, alternating classy Oriole-American releases with home-grown covers, and the home grown stuff sounds weak in comparison. On the other hand, there’s a lot of it and you can rip it in iTunes and put it back in a sensible sequence. It throws up the reliance on American covers (which would in turn be covered on Embassy in the same studio). The One Day Music compilations of British and American labels all go up to 1962, so that everything is out of copyright … public domain. No royalties. The law was changed to extend copyright from fifty years to seventy-five years by 2012, which means 1963 on is still copyright.

The masters would now belong to Sony ( Columbia … CBS … Oriole is the ownership trail). Only 1963 and 1964 is in copyright, and CBS never showed any interest in Oriole’s catalogue. What is there that would sell now? The Oriole-American 1963 material was only licensed for a limited time … and is available from Motown.

The most interesting survivor is This is Merseybeat. The two albums are available on one CD with 24 tracks from Mastersound. Edsel did a 29 track compilation which is unavailable. I am dubious of its status, but it sounds great, as these tracks did when I was trying to fumble my way through learning the bass parts.

This Is Merseybeat , Mastersound CD. Both original albums on one

Maureen Evans on CD … click to enlarge

Maureen Evans is a sixties girl singer, and they’re always popular. There are a few CDs, mainly “non-copyright” going up to 1962, but the RPM compilation Like I Do also has later CBS singles, so must be legitimate.

There are several Clinton Ford compilations … his career continued on Piccadilly and Pye, and EMI Columbia.The CD that is around most looks like it’s a reissue of a Hallmark budget LP which had the Oriole tracks.

The Spotniks are readily available on CD with several compilations. As they went on for years afterwards, the “guaranteed Oriole” one is Out-A Space: Live in London (a mere £2.45 as I type). They continually re-made tracks as instrumental groups can. In one mid-60s incarnation, Jimmy Nichol, the unfortunate “5th Beatle” (he replaced a sick Ringo for ten dates in Australia) became a Spotnik, and left them after a gig in Mexico City.

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