Recruit, Train and Motivate:
The History of the Industrial Musical, Pt. 2
actors onstage performing "Success and then Some," the '71 McDonalds show
By Jonathan WardTopically, the shows were variations on a number of themes, which tend to be alternately amusing and thought-provoking. For instance, Hamm's beer wanted to educate their sales staff regarding all the potential beer drinkers coming of age in 1965:
Be nice to us!
We're the growing new market!
We're the coming new market!
The Young Adults!
We're the married couples, dating couples
Who are drinking beer!
We're the single guys, the single gals,
Our group is growing every year -
Be good to us!
We're the group of the hour!
With that big buying power!
The Young Adults!
- "The Young Adults", Hamm's '65 - Bursting With Freshness
J.C. Penney's added a warning to their sales education:
Don't buy too much but buy enough -
And when you buy it, sell the stuff -
Watch the stock and cut expense -
And always use your common sense.
The buyers told you what was new -
And so you ordered quite a few -
Your total sales were only 2?
Don't blame the buyers, it was you.
Profit. There goes the profit.
And all the profit planning in the world won't bring it back to light.
No comp. You're getting no comp.
So if that merchandise is still on hand then you'll stay up tonight!
- "Penney Manager's Work Song", Penney Proud, J.C. Penney's 1962
Pretty harsh. A theme in many songs was the idea of progress and change being the only way to succeed in the competitive market. Take this example from Colgate/Palmolive's Team on the Beam record from 1962:
Think big of things you'll do next year -
Progress will not stop, it's now, it's here -
Keep ahead and moving boxes, outsmart those other foxes -
Keep building up the profit, you'll be winning when you've got it -
Think Big, Mr. Colgate, Think Big!
- "Think Big Mr. Colgate", Team on the Beam, Colgate/Palmolive, 1962
Education again came in the form of product information for the salesmen, and as with the Westinghouse extravaganza of 1958, some of the most absurd song topics grew out of that need to inform. Part of the fun in listening to these songs in particular is hearing the singer grapple with the lyrics. In 1964, G.E. needed to turn over the cold, hard facts about their new line of furnaces and air conditioners, except this time they chose a calypso beat:
Here in Alaska - Cold days, used to be my blue days
Way up north - my God, I'm turnin' blue day -
How I yearn for Trinidad
But now, they're all heavenly BTU days -
Thanks to the great GE furnace line that has everything.
And that includes:
The better than ever K-Line, with it's cast-iron heat exchanger
With heating that warms you from head to toe -
And the fine LUB-line, now it is equipped with enlarged control box
And simply amazing newer and higher air flow!
- "Furnace Calypso", Pattern For Success, G.E, 1964
Along with the countless songs that told of big profits, or the songs welcoming everyone to this year's Big Show, there were a few songs that extolled an almost cultic devotion to a particular company, as if to suggest that the company could do no wrong and in fact would never lead the worker or the customer astray. A startling example of this was Westinghouse's Sixth Future Power Forum musical of 1969, Perspectives For the 70's. It's a musical primarily about the benefits of nuclear power. Knowing today that there hasn't really been any growth in the domestic nuclear power industry since the Three Mile Island disaster, the low-grade 5th Dimension vocals are almost uncomfortable:
Make the power flower!
Make the wattage bud!
Keep the power flowerin'
It's America's life blood!
You're the one we're counting on to take us all the way -
C'mon and sock it to our sockets with your energy bouquet!
We'll put violets in the vases and pretty roses in the parks
While your filling up the outlets with a trillion kilowatts!
We'll be romping in the daisies out there on the village green
Always secure, always pure, making the high, high-voltage scene!
- "Power Flower", Perspectives For the 70's, 1969
It's easy to spot the similarities between these songs and songs of patriotism in general. In industrial musicals the promises are always kept, and the ultimate freedom is seen as the freedom to spend. Concurrently, the Soviet Union was producing happy-go-lucky, pro-Communist film musicals as seen in the recent documentary East Side Story. Both the Soviet musicals and the industrial shows of the '60's are remarkably similar in tone, as if at times all of life is one big sing-along advertisement for one large company - your country.
Adding another dimension to a complicated subject is the role of women in industrial shows. For the most part, these shows were for men - the executives, salesmen and owners. Never mind that this masculine bunch thought the Broadway musical - a decidedly melodramatic format - was the way to proceed with entertaining their men. There were a few songs written from the overworked secretary's point of view, but the most interesting examples were written for the wife of the salesman in attendance. For instance, Clark Equipment's show This Is Clarkmanship includes a woman's lament called "My VIP":
I wait here with a big pot roast
Dreaming how dinner should be...
But he'll grab a sandwich late again
So I've a dried-out roast for company.
Yes, we're those things called salesman's wives -
We gave up living when we chose our lives
But one truth stands - it will always be -
We love those men, our VIP's.
- "My VIP - Tribute to Salesmen", This is Clarkmanship, Clark Equipment, 1970
Hank Beebe and Bill Heyer's song "One Man Operation" from Diesel Dazzle isn't quite as bleak, but it portrays a woman who suggests that she gave up part of her life to a faceless, industrious worker drone... yet now, thanks to hard work and Detroit Diesel, he's a human being again. In Beebe's and Heyer's hands, the results for some reason sound kind of sweet:
Now he has two mechanics, a parts and service man -
A girl to take the calls and keep the books -
He spends weekends giving the children all he can -
And telling me how young his wife looks!
There for the longest while, I never saw him smile -
Now, his smile's what he's famous for -
Because the one man in my life, is no one man operation,
He may take two-weeks vacation, maybe four
Because my one wonderful man is no one-man operation anymore!
- "One Man Operation", Diesel Dazzle, Detroit Diesel, 1966
Things really didn't improve much by 1979, when Exxon staged Put Yourself In Their Shoes for their gas station owners. The song "An Exxon Dealer's Wife" is a barrage of demands that the dutiful wife should be performing, should Mr. Gas Station owner need:
A dealer's wife is a woman through and through -
Yes, an Exxon wife is a woman through and through!
Helpin' out my baby, 'cause I love him, I do!
I can write up a thousand customer follow-up cards
While I'm cookin' up a lunch.
And I can give up a holiday to pump some gas
When it comes down to the crunch.
And I can cheer up Harry when he comes home
And his octane is mighty low.
And I can give him the premium attention he needs
That makes a man get up and go!
What I'm sayin' is this dealer's wife is a full service island!!!
- "An Exxon Dealer's Wife", Put Yourself In Their Shoes, 1979
Then again, few would suspect America's corporations to be on the cutting edge of equal rights. Although there was, once, a somewhat perverted try. One of the most notorious and sought-after industrial shows was released by American Standard (makers of bathroom fixtures, urinals, etc.) in 1969, called The Bathrooms Are Coming. The plot concerned the mythical goddess Femma, "the epitome of all women's attitudes, reflections and desires and the leader of all women's movements", who wants to start a "bathroom revolution." She and her group declare plumbing a "feminine business" and enlist other women to help fight bathroom oppression. The results of course were the new line of fixtures by American Standard: Economy Wall Surround, Ultra-Bath, Proximatics and Spectra 70!
By the late-'70's, it's easy to detect a decline in the quality of the souvenir records. Fewer gatefold covers, fewer photos of the audience enjoying the stage show - this was just a preamble for the decline and fall of the industrial musical on record.
Cover of "The Wide New World of Ford," the '61 Ford tractor show
Finale & Exit Music
By the time the now defunct Money Magazine privately released their 10th anniversary musical One For the Money in 1981, it was pretty easy to see where things were going. The money was obviously gone. The cover was plain white with some lettering, the music was annoying if not completely forgettable and with a heavy emphasis on cheap synths. Compared to the monster shows of years past, it was lackluster. You can detect the same sort of sound in other shows of the 80's, such as the 1986 Pepsi Advertising Premiere and the 1986 Volvo show, I Am Rolling. The casts still sound like they're still trying to bring down the house, except the house left for Silicon Valley. In fact, 1986 may have been the last big year for industrials, though Steve Young has noted some cassettes of post-1986 shows. The industry trend of pressing a souvenir record, tape or CD even of a music-related corporate event seems to have vanished by 1990.
Of course, big corporate events and conventions still exist (many with song and dance numbers still!), but a number of factors contributed to the industrial musical's demise. There were technological reasons: the advent of home video allowed companies to produce cheaper corporate videos for similar effect, and today a multimedia or Powerpoint presentation would be even more common. Actor's equity fees rose, making the throwing of a big show and pressing a record more of a hassle for a company today than thirty years ago. Also, listening to or watching a Broadway musical was more of a unifying experience during the shows' heyday. It would be hard to imagine the staff of Iomega or Herbalife really relating to the messages contained in an industrial show.
In fact, as much as companies would like, people just don't have the kind of corporate loyalty they had thirty or forty years ago. To think a person will finish their working career with one company is ridiculous, although that was precisely the kind of feeling you were meant to have in 1963 after you saw the Xerox show. What ends up becoming clear is that all the corporate messages contained in the shows are, in hindsight, lies - propaganda to get you to work harder. Workers know now that companies don't last forever and they know that at a moment's notice they could be laid off with little warning. Ultimately, what would a recently laid-off worker from Ford think about when listening to the 1957 Ford Car show? Hell, what would Alaskans feel after listening to Exxon's Spirit of '76 musical? And anyone remotely familiar with the 1984 incident in Bhopal, India would feel chills listening to Union Carbide's patriotic show Direction '76. Strangely, all of these complexities seem to make the genre more interesting. That and the terrific music. It's very odd, this mix of artistic ideas and cold, business pragmatism.
Corporations have never written about it. It has never been studied. In fact, it was never meant to be listened to by the general public. Only a small handful of shows are mentioned in soundtrack guides. Several years ago, an import CD called Product Music was released though that's very difficult to find. It's only been through the dogged perseverance of show collectors, especially Steve Young, who has almost single-handedly crafted the history of the genre through his collection, that there has been any recognition at all of this incredibly rich subject.
Of course, a big thanks to Steve Young for his time.
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