Recruit, Train and Motivate:
The History of the Industrial Musical
Cover of "Music to Sell Dodges Buy,"
the '64 Dodge 50th Anniv. show
Cover of "the shape of tomorrow,"
the '58 Westinghouse appliances show
By Jonathan Ward (March 2002)In 1963, the Xerox Corporation was the Cinderella story of the business world. When they introduced their weighty 914 copier in 1959, they had the ability to produce only 5 models a day, and costs were in the tens of thousands. Few thought that a bulky slab of metal like the 914 would perform well at all, much less revolutionize the copy business. Lucky for Xerox, the critics were wrong. In fact, they were way off. The 914 became known as the most successful product in history, doubling and tripling Xerox's sales figures over the next several years. In 1961, Xerox sales had reached 61 million. In 1962, they hit 104 million - far more than company president J.C. Wilson could ever have imagined. In 1963, Xerox was poised to introduce their first desktop copier - the 813. Since Wilson had flown his entire inner-circle of managers and salesmen to London the previous year to celebrate the 100 million mark, he wanted to try something different this year. Something rewarding, something that Xerox employees would remember forever.
What would he do? Well, Xerox quickly hired the Jam Handy Organization, a pioneer in the industrial film business. Jam Handy in turn hired Wilson Stone, an experienced film and Broadway composer. A cast and crew were hired, and voila! Xerox introduced Take It From Here, a musical about the company that was performed for their leading salesmen and executives at a banquet for two nights only, and then pressed in miniscule amounts as a souvenir record strictly for the attendees. The songs were big, brassy upbeat numbers following the adventures of Charlie, a good-natured rookie salesman for the company who learns why Xerox holds the key to a wonderful future. On the back cover was a note from J.C. Wilson himself. It began:To Xerox People:Yes, Xerox made a musical about their company, something that in fact had been done many times before, by all types of corporations, though few would know it today. These records had absurdly limited private pressings, and they were given to employees only, never for public consumption. This elusive and almost completely unknown genre, known as the "industrial musical" or "industrial show", is one of the strangest and complicated types of music that has existed. It's not advertising music, nor is it quite Broadway. It's propaganda, yet it's also fun. It puts the listener in an odd place, as you are privy to the intimate dreams and the visions not of say, Tony and Maria, the doomed teen hero and heroine of West Side Story - but of U.S. Steel, or General Electric, or Maremont Mufflers. Yet it's with the same fervor that these lost records resonate. The coiled feelings of hope, industry and greed, coupled with a happy Broadway bounce and a joyous corporate cheerleading squad, singing anthem after anthem to boost the coming prosperity.
This album has been prepared so that we will never forget a happy occasion of great significance to Xerox - the introduction of the 813.
A Dream of Destiny
Who is the outfit that gives you the breaks -
Long on the profits and short on mistakes -
Who's copy business is all that they claim?
Why Xerox! Xerox! Xerox's the name!
Why be the low man and spread yourself thin?
One way to go man, when you go to win -
Go with the best in the copying game -
Xerox! Xerox! Xerox's the name!
- "Xerox's the Name", from Take It From Here, Xerox, 1963
The industrial show had its humble beginnings during the post-WWII boom. Two types of industries began experimenting with the idea: the retail industry and the automobile industry. As far as show collectors know, a department store was the first to jump into the fray - Marshall Field's with Give the Lady What She Wants, a show celebrating the store's history and anniversary, produced in conjunction with a published book of the same name. Even this early, Marshall Field's started the trend of nabbing top talent to produce these gems - in this case a man named Lloyd Norlin, who would go on to pen shows for Ford, Pepsi and Hamm's Beer. And to elaborate on the scarcity of these items, only one single copy of this record seems to be in existence. Fancy, big-budgeted, yearly auto shows had been around for many years prior, and with the long-play record coming into vogue in the early '50's, the opportunity to use recording technology for purposes that were longer than a 3-minute song must have been tempting for the major players. By listening and tracking the automobile industrial shows (released largely to promote new models) produced throughout the fifties, you can see how both corporations and composers gradually worked together to not only, say, explain some delightful new features in next year's line of Oldsmobiles, but to get their troops in a selling mood. This would become a common trope in nearly all future shows. Take, for example, this song from the 1957 Ford Car Introductory Show:
Wait 'til you see how low it is -
The '57 Ford!
Bustin' with get-up-and-go, it is -
The '57 Ford!
Wait 'til you see the all-new frame
Ford is going to win you fame
Ford has done it again!
What they want in a car we'll supply -
And they'll buy, by golly, they'll buy!
From bumper to bumper, completely new -
The '57 Ford!
From top to bottom, the same is true -
The '57 Ford!
Here's the greatest new car today -
Here's the car that will lead the way -
And beat the hell out of Chevrolet!
Ford has done it again!
- "Ford Has Done It Again", Hits from the 1957 Ford Introductory Show
Or, a more earthy version for the 1959 Ford tractor show, written by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, who in a few short years would go on to write Fiddler On the Roof:
Gonna be a golden harvest in 1959!
Gonna have a lot more buyers in 1959!
With the new Ford tractors the future's lookin' fine -
Now's the time to roll your sleeves up, 'cause if you rise and shine
Gonna be a golden harvest in 1959!
- "Golden Harvest", from Music to Ford-I-Fy Your Future, 1959
By the late-fifties, these deliriously happy anthems began having a positive effect on the country's workforces - at least for the night or two that they lasted. Large companies like Chevrolet wouldn't blink an eye to literally spend millions on a gala event like an introductory show. As with Ford's '59 tractor show, budding composers would often jump at the chance of composing an industrial as the pay was outrageously good. So would budding talent. For instance, Florence Henderson starred in an Oldsmobile industrial show almost every single year in the fifties - and many of these shows were hosted at a Broadway theater. The pressing of an album to commemorate the event was relatively cheap compared to the costs of throwing the gala - perhaps the companies innately understood that the souvenir record would in many cases sit on the shelf only to be discarded at the thrift store or the dump years later, that indeed the uplifting feelings would be ephemeral, that the record would remain a "souvenir". It was the spirit of the moment that brought the workers together.
"Ideally, people would leave the show still singing the songs, reinforcing the messages the company wanted them to hear," says Steve Young, a New York City writer for the Late Show and proud owner of the largest collection of industrials in the world. "Some of the songs were more serious anthems, painting a stirring picture of why working for the company was a noble, almost sacred calling. Yes, when you work for Coke, you're doing well for yourself, but you're doing something great for America and all mankind. I've heard that this sort of song, powerfully orchestrated and performed, could bring middle-aged company men to tears." On the back cover of Ford's '64 Tractor show The New Wide World of Ford there's a quote from an attendee that says it all:
"Today was the most beautiful day of my life!"
A few men of vision saw the need
A few short years ago.
And that's the way we find today
The Xerox that we know.
(marching beat begins)
A dream of destiny
Is a dream that we made come true!
A dream for you and me
A mighty future to pursue!
And though some knowing men
Once felt it could never grow -
An eager bunch of growing men
Said we can make it go!
From continent to continent
The world has come to know
This dream of destiny is destined to GROW AND GROW!!!
- "Dream of Destiny", Take It From Here, Xerox, 1963
Unyielding corporate loyalty wasn't the only musical mainstay that came out of the fifties industrial shows. By the late-fifties, industrial shows had moved slightly beyond the auto and retail industries and had spread to other areas of American production. Standard Oil released The Big Change in 1957 and Westinghouse Appliances released a brilliant record called the shape of tomorrow: a musical introduction to 1958 Westinghouse Appliances. This record, slathered with gusto, represents the beginning of what makes some industrials truly transcend the genre into special listening: the unabashed commitment to cram every single detail about a seemingly random piece of equipment, fixture or appliance into a three-minute song - and do it with reasonable panache, spirit and honesty. This was sinister and joyous, it dares a listener today to take it seriously.
The new cold-injector sends a jet-stream of air -
To bring colder temperatures to all the foods there!
The cheese server, butter server, meat-keeper too -
Makes sure your food stays fresh, and stays in view -
And here on the front is a magnetic door!
But don't run away 'cause there's plenty more -
This is the shape of tomorrow, that we've got right here for you today!
- "Tomorrow - Today", the shape of tomorrow, Westinghouse, 1958
Far from sounding like a commercial, it's meant to educate the listener, which in this case would be a salesman. It's meant to excite him, to motivate him with facts and figures that he in turn can dole out to easily persuaded housewives and cowed husbands who don't yet realize that they need a cheese-server. The customer is lovingly seen as a wallet with a mouth that the members of the mammoth conglomerate need to pay attention to - against the well-arranged punches of a hip brass section. the shape of tomorrow is meant to bring the excitement back into owning ranges, or an icebox. It fueled the excitement of consumption in general. Indeed, the motivational forces and the instructional forces, coupled with the best talent in musical theater would lead the industrial musical into its most fruitful twenty years.
The Look of The Leader
While the 1950's were considered glory years in Broadway history, it wasn't until Broadway's success and industry success met head-on in the 1960's that industrial shows began their own peculiar vanguard. While Hello Dolly, Mame and Hair were playing to audience throngs, Singer Sewing Machines released Sing A Song of Sewing, Pepsi treated their staff to Pepsi Power, Phase 2 in 1960, Coca Cola began a string of shows that sounded like military drills, especially The Grip Of Leadership, in 1961:
Packaging and pricing - a pair of pliers?
Simple as ABC -
Pliers to get a grip on profit - profit for the business, yessiree!
Gonna squeeze the starch out of competition
With my great big pair of pliers -
Squeeze so hard he'll have nothing left
But his unrequited buyers!
- "Packaging and Pricing", The Grip of Leadership, Coca-Cola, 1961
IBM, J.C. Penney's, Dupont and GE all released multiple musicals during this period as did many smaller companies. Not all budgets were high, it just seemed like most medium to large-sized companies thought putting on an industrial show was a great idea. Some shows, like the two by GAF Floor Products, were just a piano and a few singers recorded in a hotel suite. For the larger corporations the budgets remained high, but the souvenir albums often had gatefold covers and programs. For instance, included in the Woolworth's 1965 show Mr. Woolworth Had A Notion was an 8-page booklet that listed cast biographies and the cost of each individual piece of clothing the cast was wearing - just in case you wanted to know the price of a "white mohair blend shell with a little girl collar and ruffled detail."
And the music got better. Perhaps it's because of the budgets, or perhaps it was just their tireless efforts, but some great songwriters worked in industrials during these years, gradually building a reputation as the industrial "Wrecking Crew" as it were. Michael Brown, a veteran of Broadway, had a knack with tricky wordplay in his numerous shows for Penny's, Dupont, Belk's, Holiday Magazine, Woolworth's and Singer, to name a few. Hank Beebe and Bill Heyer wrote a slew of wonderfully crafted shows with catchy compositions - Diesel Dazzle, for the Detroit Diesel Engine division of GM, The Seagram Distillers Distributors Meeting in '65, Going Great for Rambler in '64, and perhaps their crowning achievement, Got To Investigate Silicones, the 1973 show by G.E.'s Silicone Products division. Lloyd Norlin continued to write through this period, Sonny Kippe wrote two wonderful shows for Monroe Calculator and one for Royal Typewriters. Skip Redwine's four shows for York Air Conditioners quite simply, rock. These composers succeeded because they took time with their medium, even though it was clear the main reason they were in this game was the money. Not all of the material is completely straight-faced, in fact, much of it is pretty funny, even with it's underlying themes of "doing what's best for the company." Steve Young has chronicled many of these composers invisible industrial work and says "The best composers weren't cynical about it. They took pride in doing their best work all the time. Once I got past the initial hilarity of the subject matter, I realized there was a lot of fine work being done."
In it for the money as well was Hal Linden, who appeared in the 1965 New York Herald Tribune musical The Saga of the Dingbat, as well as Diesel Dazzle, as did David Hartman. Hartman also joined Loretta Swit in Listerine's 1964 show The Name of the Game. Valerie Harper made an appearance in General Electric's Go Fly A Kite, their 1966 double-album industrial written by none other than songwriting team Kander and Ebb, who would later write Cabaret and Kiss of the Spider Woman. Even electronic music pioneer Raymond Scott got into the game by composing A Man Named Brown, a musical for the 100th anniversary of the Brown-Forman Distillers Corporation.
See Part Two of Industrial Musicals
|MAIN PAGE||ARTICLES||STAFF/FAVORITE MUSIC||LINKS|