The last notes of the overture fade away. The audience waits expectantly. Finally, show time! The cast dances onto the stage as the big brassy orchestra launches into the opening number, and soon the captivated audience is tapping its toes to rollicking show tunes such as "Packaging and Pricing"?, "That Big Bottling Plant up in the Sky"? and "Keep Things Jumping at the Point of Sale"?
Yes, these were real show tunes, but they weren't for Broadway audiences to hear. They were featured in some of the amazingly elaborate "industrial musicals" created for Coca-Cola sales meetings and conventions.
Packaging and pricing is the answer!
It's the bottler's surest aid... absolutely!
Packaging and pricing, packaging and pricing!
The best tool of our trade!
Starting in the 1950's, American corporations turned to musical theater to motivate and educate salesmen, managers, dealers, and other insiders gathered at company events. Sure, there always have been speeches, and there always will be, but a custom-crafted musical was a powerful way to fire up the team. Catchy songs, inside jokes, snappy choreography and a story that acknowledged the problems but also the satisfactions of the job all added up to real Broadway excitement.
My kind of bottling plant I hope I live to see!
And don't have to wait till the pearly gate opens up for me!
When there'll be ol' St. Peter with my franchise and a key,
Sayin' "Here's where all good bottlers go! It's heavenly!"
Just about every industry got onboard with industrial musicals: automobiles, petroleum, insurance, electric utilities, appliances, business machines, tractors, retail stores, and on and on. As you might expect, not all of them were good. It's not easy to write a truly entertaining musical about the ups and downs of selling roller bearings or shirts.
Yet, many of these shows were surprisingly great. Big corporations had the money to spend on top-flight talent. A-list writers and performers constantly crossed back and forth between the bright, public world of Broadway and the shadowy world of industrials.
Say you've got a good location, everything's okay,
Til one day without a warning, competition comes your way!
Aren't you glad you built up service, checked on their supply,
Picked the perfect combination that they want to buy?
And that takes understanding, understanding,
In the market Coke supplies!
Once you have that understanding,
You will prove that you can move every bit of merchandise!
Though thousands of industrial musicals were staged during the "golden age" of the '50's to the '80's, most were not preserved. But a small minority live on through rare souvenir record albums, which were given out to show attendees.
Here are a few outstanding Coke convention musicals which were preserved on vinyl records:
"The Grip of Leadership" from 1961 was the 75th anniversary extravaganza staged for Coca-Cola bottlers, with music and lyrics by Wilson Stone. An impressive show with an orchestra that really cooks, and lyrics full of Coke-themed patriotism and business strategy.
"A Step Ahead" was the 1966 convention show, with musics and lyrics again by Wilson Stone. Another knockout show with a hot orchestra and strong cast, with songs about the challenges and triumphs of the boots-on-the-ground guys, the route salesmen.
Coke's 1979 San Francisco convention show was titled "The Great Get Together." Writers Hal Hackady and Larry Grossman penned a batch of tunes celebrating Coke's heritage and, in the country-flavored "That Big Bottling Plant Up In The Sky," even predicted a busy but trouble-free afterlife for bottlers.
There were surely other Coke musicals that never made it to a souvenir recording (the 1986 100th anniversary show was apparently a doozy), but enough have survived to let collectors and enthusiasts know that Coke's industrial musicals were "The Real Thing"!
Steve Young is a comedy writer who's written for David Letterman's "Late Night" and "Late Show" programs, "The Simpsons," and other programs. He is the co-author of "Everything's Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals," published by Blast Books. Visit industrialmusicals.com for more information. A documentary film, "The Industrial Musicals Movie," executive produced by David Letterman, is currently in production. Learn more at industrialmusicalsmovie.com.
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