The Music From "Ford-I-Fy Your Future"
Years ago, when I found this record, I showed it to a friend, who marveled at the wonderful cover. Then he turned it over and his eyes widened. "Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock?!" Those names didn't mean anything to me at the time, but I've come a long way since then.
By the late 1950s the songwriting team of Bock and Harnick was starting to get noticed. They wrote the songs for the Broadway musical Fiorello!, about the former New York City mayor, which opened in November 1959. They later went on to huge success with Fiddler on the Roof. But like many Broadway strivers, they paid the bills at first by writing industrials such as this 1959 Ford Tractor & Implement Division show. The presentation via closed-circuit telecast was unusual, and Sheldon Harnick recalls another innovation: Ford planted crops months in advance that were harvested by the new tractors as part of the show.
There are only four songs on the one-sided record, but they're all pretty entertaining. "Golden Harvest" revs up the sales force.
Gonna be a golden harvest in 1959!
Gonna be a lot more buyers to sign that dotted line!
With the new Ford tractors, the future's looking fine!
Now's the time to roll your sleeves up,
So if you rise and shine,
Gonna be a golden harvest in 1959!
Turn your tractors and implements
To a bumper crop—of dollars and cents!
Strangely, the back cover description of "Golden Harvest" seems to have been written in English, translated into Chinese, and back into English: "It's rollicking type of music is exciting yet meaningful. This is a sales story—and a story of selling—told in a chanting and singing style." Also, Jerry Bock's last name is misspelled as "Brock."
Other songs include "The Answer Is Ford" and "Any Speed for Any Need," about the new Select-O-Speed transmission, and the impressive "More Power to You," featuring a spiraling-upward section listing endless farm tasks and the happy solution:
More power to you! With the Powermaster,
The Workmaster, and the Power Major too!
More power to you! You provide the tractors
That do more than any other tractors do!
Though Sheldon Harnick contributed new lyrics to some song parody industrials, Ford-i-fy was the only industrial show he did with Jerry Bock, the only one he worked on with original music, and the only one to be recorded. The clunky liner notes finally get one point across correctly: "The original music, designed to tell a product story, is a fine example of combining 'Broadway' musical talent with industry."—Steve Young
Actors 'n' Tractors
When Bock and Harnick crafted the score for 1959's Ford-i-fy Your Future, they withheld none of the pizazz that earned them a Pulitzer for their musical Fiorello! that same year. From the Select-O-Speed testimonial "Any Speed for Any Need," with its counterintuitively slow, strolling tempo, to the optimistic hoedown "Golden Harvest," Jerry and Sheldon were firing on all cylinders on this one, brief as it is.
"More Power to You" concludes the '59 Ford show's quartet of classics, a deft microsuite heralding the unprecedented efficiency and economy of Ford's Workmaster, Powermaster, and Power Major tractors.
First we're forced to confront a merciless analysis of the Sisyphean "work of the world." With "Twelve Days of Christmas" relentlessness, we're reminded of the "... mowing, towing, bailing, nailing, seeding, breeding, spreading, shredding, clipping, stripping, shaking, raking ..." that swallows up one's precious earthly time, sunrise to sunset, just before deliverance from all that ticktock torment arrives via a rollicking big swing title chorus, all customary self-laudatory claims inclusive.
As we see in other shows, especially ones dealing with humongous farm machinery, the contrast of dreary labor and glad relief, courtesy of the corporation's benevolent innovations, is something of a standard template. But isn't kvetching about such things tantamount to complaining that Road Runner is forever thwarting Wile E. Coyote? The pleasure is, of course, in the variations within.
Take, for example, the superb kick-line finale of "More Power to You":
Let's hit the sunny trail to Yuma /
Let's jump the gun on the consum-ah!
Right there's your difference between a mere tuneful contemplation on the promotion of backhoe loaders ... and the elusive realms of Art.
So, four songs, one side, no waiting: there's efficiency and economy for you. And with such jubilant inspiration at their fingertips, it's no surprise that, very soon indeed, Messrs. Bock and Harnick would no longer need to wonder about what it would be like to be biddy biddy rich, aidle-diddle-daidle-daidle men. —Sport Murphy
The Bathrooms Are Coming!
She's free, she's free
From bathroom oppression she's free!
She's free, she's free
No more bathroom hazards to see!
This one's a monster.
Most people who've had any exposure to industrial shows have heard of the 1969 American-Standard show The Bathrooms Are Coming!, which has been percolating as an underground cult favorite since the 1990s. It's a mother lode of eye-popping visuals, warped pseudo-feminism, and crazily catchy, improbable songs by Sid Siegel.
The front cover has several puzzling elements—a caveman with a toilet? a monk and gospel-themed outhouses? a hillbilly swilling moonshine?—and the back hints at the nuttiness ahead: "The story began with the introduction of a mythical Greek goddess Femma, the epitome of all women's attitudes, reflections, and desires, and the leader of all women's movements. In the play, women implore Femma to start a bathroom revolution." There's also a reference to "the Cornell research," a 1966 study by a Cornell professor that called for a rethinking of the ergonomics and design of bathrooms. The study, "The Bathroom: Criteria for Design," was sponsored by—guess who—American-Standard.
The show, including both live and film elements, was staged in Las Vegas at American-Standard's "Distributor Principals' Conferences." In addition to dazzling distributors with its new product line, American-Standard tried to suck up with a number called "The Distributors."
We deal in bathrooms, in all kinds of bathrooms,
In every way, every day,
Big ones and small ones and wide ones and tall ones,
It's like we say—they all pay.
Our shelves are all full, yes, we're ready,
The line doesn't change, but it's steady.
We're good distributors, kindly distributors, give us praise,
We carry our customers ninety days.
We may be conservative, but it pays!
Outmoded bathrooms, beware: American-Standard is on the warpath. A shyster plumber reminisces about inferior plugged-up plumbing in the sarcastic "Bring Back Those Glorious Years." A modern woman complains about her cramped, outmoded bathroom in "Look at This Tub."
Look at this tub! LOOK AT THIS TUB!
It's dangerous and certainly a hazard!
It's positively lower than substandard!
Everything here is lower class,
Why, I could slip, I could fall right on my ... nose.
Several songs convey the crucial data about the new bathtubs and showers, all aimed at women. In "Proximatics," two vocalists describe motion-sensor tub and shower controls. "Spectra 70," introducing a two-headed shower unit, has a loopy pseudo-rock sound and startling lyrics.
On your drywall, a utility shelf, its use as good as gold,
For books and kits, martinis too! A safety bar to hold!
For cigarettes, a storage shelf with lots of room to spare
For soap, shampoo, and bubble bath,
And your rubber teddy bear!
Were people really smoking and drinking in the shower in 1969?
Like many industrials, Bathrooms not only covers the product information but steps back to look at the big picture. The amazing "My Bathroom" is a tribute to a modern woman's relationship to this vital part of the house.
My bathroom, my bathroom, is a private kind of place.
Very special kind of place.
The only place where I can stay
Making faces at my face.
My bathroom, my bathroom, is much more than it may seem.
Where I wash and where I cream.
A special place where I can stay
And cream, and dream, and dream, and dream, dream.
Hypnotic, beautiful, and weird, "My Bathroom" is the cherry on top of a luscious industrial sundae. Forty-plus years later, The Bathrooms Are Coming! continues to astonish and delight. —Steve Young
Many's the industrial musical devotee who first encountered the genre through "My Bathroom," a fulsome ode to Milady's pissoir, and it's understandable; there's a built-in hardy-har-har quotient to the very idea of a sincere, impeccably rendered love song to the smallest room in the house that makes this song a mix-tape must.
Any neophyte's first impulse upon hearing it is to gasp "What were they THINKING?" but the truth is, they were thinking exactly what you are. As any delve into the industrial repertoire soon reveals, the composers and lyricists of these shows were no song poem-esque suckers, accidentally crafting musique brut with a dollar and a delusion. The best of these artists were worthy successors to Cole Porter and Dorothy Fields, slipping in as much wit and intentional satire as possible whilst ably serving the client's banal demands.
Unlike Brian Wilson and Gary Usher, who sidestepped the onanistic subtext of "In My Room" with all that humbug about "dreaming" and "scheming," Sid Siegel isn't shy about innuendo. But he keeps it just subtle enough to make you feel slightly creepy for noticing and embeds it in a soaring paean to freedom and individuality with a genuinely memorable melody. All that, performed with ravishing sincerity by an actress with fantastic pipes, results in an incontrovertible triumph. —Sport Murphy
Got to Investigate Silicones
Got to have this record.
Got to Investigate Silicones, written by Hank Beebe and Bill Heyer in 1973 for General Electric's Silicone Products Department, is one of the genre's pinnacles of wacky genius. Like The Bathrooms Are Coming!, Silicones has attracted a little notice in the outside world; choice cuts have been celebrated on odd music radio shows and websites for years. I was once privileged to attend a live performance of one of the songs at a New York City club by a group that included Sport.
No vague titles or generic boosterism here: this is a hardcore show about silicone products and their profitable industrial uses. The show, which toured nine cities, kicks off with the three-person cast acknowledging that the subject matter is tricky.
Should we talk about silicone
Like they talk about the invention of the telephone?
Should we show how releasing a tire works?
Or should we just set off some fireworks?
How can we demonstrate silicone's powers
Without going on for eight and a half hours?
Unsure of how to proceed, they make tentative stabs at different styles: operetta, tap dance, sitcom, Broadway, and finally settle on a movie. This segues into the film that was part of the show, Love Is the Answer. Songs from the film include "Silicones, Silicones."
To waterproof a parasol, to help the spray from aerosol,
Silicones! Silicones! They
Can wash your product's problems away!
They're very good at saving the day!
Clearly the audience wasn't GE employees; it was representatives of various other businesses who could benefit from silicone in its various forms: fluids, rubbers, resins, and RTV. That's "room temperature vulcanizing," you hick!
Businesses are warned to avoid that villain "False Economy."
He never thinks of how, he only thinks of now!
He only mentions pennies that you've lost!
He makes you put on blinders,
Never mentions such reminders
As down time and down-range cost!
He'll never tell you silicones now mean savings later on ...
The improbability train keeps a-rollin'. The title track is a skit and song about cops investigating silicones as the force behind a widespread protection racket—protection against cold and heat. It's unique among comedy bits for including the word dimethylpolysiloxane. "Sand" is a lovely number about the silicon building blocks of silicone products, with an elegant solo by vocalist Joy Garrett. The pièce de résistance is the nearly six-minute slab of musical information "The Answer." It's an exhaustive cataloguing of the industrial uses of various types of silicones—a binder's worth of data heroically crammed into a six-minute song so challenging that lyricist Bill Heyer has to jump in to help the overtaxed cast.
Silicones are just a must, they're also used on the lunar dust!
When man walked on the moon picking up stones,
The soles of his boots were made of silicones!
As a construction sealant it's really worth noting,
For industrial roofs, it's weatherproof coating,
It works on the tops of the big sports domes!
For sealing and for caulking in motor homes!
Insulates the transformer on your TV set,
Makes custom ski boots the best you can get,
It's the coating on your waistband to make your waistband hold!
Environmental coating to protect from hot and cold!
Even if the music were inept, this show would still be noteworthy thanks to the lyrics. But it's a Beebe-Heyer show, so the melodies are genuinely catchy and the production is crisp, with laser-sharp horns and a crackerjack rhythm section. Got to Investigate Silicones is a dizzying example of industrial awesomeness: so nutty that it must have been invented by comedy writers, yet it's for real, and better than you could have expected. —Steve Young
Excerpted from Everything's Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals by Steve Young and Sport Murphy, published in November 2013 by Blast Books, Inc. Copyright 2013 by Steve Young and Sport Murphy. All rights reserved.