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Night Of ‘Corporate Musicals’ Coming To Champaign

Still picture from "The Bathrooms are Coming", the 1969 American-Standard Musical.

Still picture from "The Bathrooms are Coming", the 1969 American-Standard Musical. Steve Young

Steve Young, a longtime staff writer for David Letterman, has compiled an extensive collection of recordings and short films from corporate musicals.  They weren't made for the public, but solely for executives in trade shows.  "The Lost World of Industrial Musicals" continues its tour in Champaign Friday night, with a performance at the Art Theater Co-op.

Ford's Industrial Musical Soundtrack cover

"The Music from Ford-i-fy Your Future," the 1959 Ford Tractor show, is significant because it was written by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock a few years before they wrote "Fiddler on the Roof." 

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Steve Young

"They were musicals, and they were musicals about selling insurance, or diesel engines, or lawnmowers, or ball bearings, or what have you, and I loved this, because it seemed like it was already tailor made for comedy," Young said.

Some of the compositions helped propel careers, as in the case of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, who composed the 1959 Ford Tractor musical, “Ford-i-fy Your Future”, including the song Golden Harvest, shortly before composing the score for 'Fiddler On the Roof.'  John Kander and Fred Ebb of 'Chicago' and 'Cabaret' fame composed music for a General Electric utility executive musical.

The list of clips for Friday night's show in Champaign include a short film from the 1969 American-Standard show “The Bathrooms Are Coming”, a 1965 Citgo convention film, one promoting Purina dog show, a film for Hamm's Beer put together by classic TV animators Hanna-Barbera, and a short film about General Electric silicone products.

Album for 1966 General Electric show, composed by John Kander and Fred Ebb.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Steve Young

Young says the show grew out of a comedy bit on 'Letterman' called ‘Dave’s record collection’ in which he sought out unintentionally funny old vinyl. 

"A lot of it was instructional records, and celebrities who shouldn't have been singing,'" he said.  "But I began becoming back from the thrift shops and used record stores with these mysterious souvenir record albums from company conventions, and sales meetings."

Young's collection led to co-authoring a book in 2013, "Everything's Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals."

"It's actually the name of a terrible show for a floor covering company," he said.  "But it has branched out into a bit of a cottage industry.  I come around with this 90-minute assortment of film clips, and my own commentary, introducing people to this lost world.  It will be be an evening of entertainment that will perplex, amuse, and occasionally horrify, but ultimately give people a sense that there was some mysterious other dimension to America that we did not suspect."