In the 1950, 60s, and 70s, a subgenre of musical theater entertained thousands. It had showstoppers composed by some of the brightest talent in the business. But instead of selling out Broadway houses, these shows played to packed hotel ballrooms and convention halls. Created by and for American corporations, industrial musicals entertained sales forces and taught them about the new products on offer.
“It was to build morale and build a sense of being on a team,” explains Steve Young. “You weren’t isolated, you were a part of a greater whole that was looking out for you.” A writer for David Letterman, Young has made himself the curator of the world’s largest collection of corporate musical theater performances. “Sales Training,” a groovy number from 1972, includes specs for York air conditioner’s new line. “Once in a Lifetime” breathlessly heralds the arrival of the 1958 Ford Edsel.
Writing these musicals was no simple task and corporations spent lavishly to attract top talent. In 1966, John Kander and Fred Ebb wrote Go Fly a Kite for General Electric (in which Benjamin Franklin meets modern utility executives) — they went on to win a Tony for Cabaret. Some musicals attempted plot: in American Standard’s The Bathrooms Are Coming, from 1969, modern women beg a Greek goddess to get men to rethink the design of bathrooms. Listen to the ballad “My Bathroom” below.
“Immediately, when you think about a musical about toilets, you can’t help but laugh,” admits Young. “Then you put the record on the record player and: ‘wow, I guess a musical really can be about this stuff because here it is.’ And it’s really good!”
Steve Young is co-author of the Everything's Coming Up Profits.
“PDM (Power Distribution Management) Can Do”
from Go Fly a Kite — General Electric, 1966
By John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Walter Marks
from The Bathrooms Are Coming — American-Standard, 1969
by Sid Siegel
“An Exxon Dealer’s Wife”
from Put Yourself in Their Shoes — Exxon, 1979
by Ted Simons and John Allen