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5 Industrial Musicals

June 8, 2015

Plenty of weird concepts make it to the Broadway stage, and maybe win some Tony Awards. Some musicals never make it to the Great White Way, because they were performed at corporate meetings and conferences in the 1960s to rile up salesmen to sell more of the company’s wares.

The Bathrooms Are Coming!
(American Standard, 1969)

The Bathrooms Are Coming by American StandardThe show begins with a group of women asking the Greek goddess Femma, “the epitome of all women’s attitudes and desires” (and not a real member of the Greek pantheon), for a “bathroom revolution.” Who can deliver a revolution for the bathroom, which the show says is a woman’s “private place, a very special kind of place”? American Standard, of course. One scene features a sleazy plumber lamenting how the company’s new products are so good it’s putting him out of business. In another, a woman sings about how dangerous her old tub was. (“It’s dangerous and certainly a hazard. / It’s positively lower than substandard.”) The highlight: “Spectra 70,” a song about the bathtub of the future—it has a shower with two heads and plenty of shelves “for books and kits, martinis, too, / a safety bar to hold, / for cigarettes, a storage shelf with lots of room to spare.” Drinking martinis and smoking cigarettes in the shower? Hey, it was the 1960s.

Penney Proud (J.C. Penney, 1962)

The department store chain was celebrating its 60th anniversary in 1962, so for its annual sales conference it hired nightclub performer Michael Brown to write a musical that told the company’s history in song. Highlights: “Opening Day at the Golden Rule,” depicting the day James Cash Penney began working at the Wyoming dry-goods store that he eventually bought out; and “May I Have Your Penney Charge Card?” (Sample lyrics: “May I have your Penney Charge Card? Though it’s small, it’s such a large card. For a hat, a zipper, or chemise, may I have your Penney Charge Card, please?”)

The Golden Value Line of the ’60s (G.E., 1960)

GETwenty-two songs are almost all sung from the point of view of one of GE’s appliances, or an inanimate object praising one of GE’s appliances. Example: a GE Disposall boasts of how quiet it is, and a piece of china (singing in a “Chinese accent”) praises a GE dishwasher. Even Satan gets a number, singing about how “when it gets hot as Hades and lovely ladies look like chicken fricassee.” Everything’s going great for Satan until the arrival of his sworn enemy—a GE air conditioner.

Go Go Bio (DuPont, 1966)

Millions of Americans had space fever in the mid-1960s, and DuPont cashed in on it with a space-themed sales convention. This musical was the centerpiece. NBC news anchor Chet Huntley was paid a hefty sum to record a fake newscast about the “Bio 1” rocket heading into space, which leads into songs sung by astronauts, mission control…and actual DuPont executives. Was this all to demonstrate DuPont’s high-tech role in sending a man into space? No. DuPont made weed killer, and as one song notes, “There’ll be crabgrass on the moon!”

Uncle John's Canoramic Bathroom Reader

Read more in Uncle John’s Canoramic Bathroom Reader.


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