Embassy Records was a UK budget record label that produced cover versions of current hit songs, which were sold exclusively in Woolworths shops at a lower price than the original
Embassy Records was the result of a contractual arrangement between Oriole Records and Woolworths, with Embassy's product being sold exclusively through the latter's stores. Between November 1954 and January 1965, Embassy released around 1,200 songs recorded by about 150 different artists and these releases were sold for half the price of a major label release of the era.
The label's releases mostly consisted of double A-side singles that were cover versions of then-current or predicted UK Top 20 hits, and it was not unusual for different artists or contrasting pop styles to appear on either side of a record. Embassy can therefore be seen as a UK equivalent of U.S. labels such as Hit and (in its early days) Bell Records.
The label's product was recorded at the Embassy Recording Studios in New Bond Street, Mayfair, and manufactured by Oriole, who also licensed the material to many foreign outlets.
The tight Embassy recording schedule required four different songs to be recorded in one three-hour session. Included in this standard three-hour session was the initial studio set-up time, before any actual songs were recorded, and a mandatory musicians' coffee break. This meant that on average there was a little over 30 minutes allowed for the recording of an individual song, which, in turn, meant that the artists who did the actual singing had to be first-rate professional singers who could enter a studio and record a song in very few takes. As a result, Embassy artists tended to be very experienced big band or session singers, who would also regularly broadcast live on BBC radio. Sometimes these musicians used their professional name when recording for Embassy, but very often they used pseudonyms. The recording sessions usually took place on a Thursday, so that the cover version discs could be rushed out into the stores by the following Monday to compete with the real thing.
As well as releasing covers of current hit singles, Embassy Records also produced EPs of trad jazz, children's songs, light classical music, and songs from musicals.
In late 1964, Embassy's parent label, Oriole, was taken over by CBS Records (Columbia Records in America). Following this purchase, the label was discontinued, with the final Embassy release of the 1960s being "Keep Searchin' (We'll Follow the Sun)" by Paul Rich and the Beatmen (b/w "The Special Years" by Burt Shane) in January 1965.
By this time, the concept of budget cover version releases of current hit songs had been imitated by other labels such as Cannon, Crossbow, Top Six, and Top Pops. CBS subsidiary Hallmark/Pickwick launched the Top of the Pops series of albums a few years after the demise of Embassy, but unlike Embassy's releases, no artists were ever identified on the records.