The Improbable Delights of Industrial Musicals

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Sunday, August 03, 2014

Here's an in-depth look at--and listen to--a bizarre and obscure bit of American history: Industrial Musicals. These come from the 1950s through the 1980s, a time when corporations wooed, soothed, and inspired their workforces with staged, costumed musicals featuring bouncy, razzle-dazzle songs about selling, buying, silicone, tractors, bathroom fixtures, air conditioners, or whatever was most germane. Some of these musicals were composed and performed by top Broadway talent, and resulted in "souvenir" record albums. 

Steve Young, a writer for The Late Show with David Letterman, and musician/writer/artist Sport Murphy have been marveling at and collecting Industrial Musical LPs for years, and now they've created a lavish, humorous coffee table book titled Everything's Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals. David Garland welcomes Young and Murphy to the WNYC Studio to talk about and play examples of this genre which though it may seem like an artifact from an alternate reality, or a strange hoax, is, in fact, fact.

This show first aired on November 3, 2013. Since the original broadcast, composer Michael Brown (referred to in the program) died at age 93. There's a link to his obituary below.


A rare Industrial Musical video: "The Answer," a General Electric silicones song from 1973

Comments [8]

paul kollmar from nyc

Never too later-- besides things are just warming up==}- the ultimate send-up of Industrial shows was right on Broadway in 1961---->THE PIRATE BALLET from HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS====* choreographer Hugh Lambert( who married Nancy Sinatra_)cribbed it from an industrial show of 1959*==This was dancer Donna McKechnie's very first gig as well as my cousin Ellie and Elaine Cancilla's (mrs Jerry ORbach)==...That famous Playbill Photo was hyped-up on every subway platform/nook x cranny and plackard/sign in Manhattan for over two years}--That also happened to be the inspiration for the concept of THAT GIRL 3 years later-> (Walter scharf and Earl Hagen got their catchy music theme in homage---)>Then came GOOD NEIGHBOR SAM, with Jack Lemmon and Dorothy Provine//who was the originally intended Laura Petrie>for the Dick Van Dyke show)--Along with the Hi-los as the jingle singers***->Do remember the details---!-- and it worked. -Incidentally, Bob Fosse was brought into HOW TO SUCCEED after the original contracts were met...-leaving some hush-hush--and the idea of booting an original cast member became a reality===pk

Sep. 14 2014 10:54 PM
joanne Theodorou from NYC

Ah yes! I, too, recall the Milliken show at the Waldorf in 1977? Starring the tapping Anne Miller and numerous others...what a golden time! Why did it end???? So look forward for further exploring this post. Recall lots of Broadway dancers, actors whose names never became top billing, worked these shows, a great paycheck I am sure.

Aug. 15 2014 09:46 AM
Ted from Paris

I was the creative director for the Exxon show "Put Yourself in Their Shoes," and listening to that song really made me laugh. We were very much aware of what we were doing at the time and the limits of it but we had a lot of fun along the way.

What was most interesting about that particular project was dealing with Exxon. We would go to Houston for a creative review and wait in the lobby until we were summoned to the sixth floor (I believe it was the sixth) where the top executives had offices. You could wait a day or two before you were ushered upstairs. Up there it was quiet as a monastery--hardly anyone around-- and business was conducted in hushed voices. We met only once with the big cheese who was a small, ascetic seeming man (he reminded me of Alec Guinness). He listened to our presentation looking down while holding the sides of his head with his forefingers and never once looked at us. (By the way, when you are the presenter, it is unnerving not to have eye contact which, I guess, was the point.) When we finished, he asked two astute and pointed questions, listened to our response and left the room. Scary, really.

I used to wonder about what really important decisions were made in that 6th floor suite of offices.

Aug. 05 2014 11:06 AM
Sport Murphy from Long Island

In reply to Jeffrey's comment...
We agree completely that industrials were a boon to many a performer and composer, providing a great income and invaluable experience to countless talents.

Also, the work these people did, amusingly weird as it can be (usually very consciously so), is often first-rate. The book Steve Young and I wrote takes great pains to emphasize our respect for the work and the creators.

So sure, we "howl" at the things in these show that amuse us, but it's not in a spirit of mockery. Even the lesser ones have their charms, and we think for all the humor in our approach, we are clearly proudest of the fact that we've shone a spotlight on a number of unjustly overlooked creative talents.

Aug. 04 2014 01:15 AM

I work in the world of industrials and though I have never done a full book show, I have written songs - rap lyrics for a new pharmaceutical product being a major triumph - as well as jingles and re-lyriced versions of standards. (And, yes, I have a written a legit musical produced in New York.) A couple of notes. Industrials generally pay performers more in a day than a week under the standard contract for Broadway, so it's a nice payday for actors struggling in the legit theater world. Broadway star composer Robert Jason Brown continues to work in this field, writing shows for State Farm Insurance every few years. Howl if you wish. It's a living for writers, actors and musicians trying to pursue their dreams in the terribly difficult world of show business.

Aug. 03 2014 09:16 PM
Holly flukinger

How do I get the audio version of this broadcast? I've been in advertising for close to 30 yrs. must have!!!
Pls reply!

Aug. 03 2014 08:50 PM
Jay from Brooklyn

This is interesting and hilarious! Thanks all, for putting this show together.
Can't wait to see the book.

The American Standards tunes were staples of Incorrect Music (WFMU) back in the late 90s-early 00s.

Nov. 03 2013 08:33 PM

The show is bringing back fond memories of breakfast at the Waldorf with my father watching the Milliken shows. They were fabulous full blown productions (and a morning off from school)! Thanks you!!

Nov. 03 2013 08:21 PM

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