Top 5 Musicals Produced By the Oil Industry

Ah, the oil industry. While most people are resigned to the knowledge that large petroleum manufacturers are at least partly to blame when it comes to destroying Third World infrastructures, propping up meritless dictators, or encouraging blind consumerism in the face of an environmentally poisoned and diseased future ? the question I often ask is 'What about the music'?

And while they are fiendishly scarce, the oil industry, like many other bastions of capitalism, indeed produced a number of privately pressed, in-house motivational musicals, and several squeaked out on LP (for employees only, of course). They're known as industrial shows: lavish stage productions that serve to entertain, educate, and encourage employees to do their job with gusto.

1. The Esso '68 Extra

You are the most important man, Sir
You are the man who's got to answer
When opportunity knocks at your own Esso Station!

- Esso '68 Extra

This unassuming little 7" from the UK is basically the anthem for the 1968 Esso oil dealer convention show. While it could easily be mistaken for an advertising campaign or jingle record, in fact it's a rollicking, go-get-'em number specifically designed to boost the morale of Esso's dealers: a message from the big men to the little men. Michael Sammes, who, along with his singers, was sort of Britain's answer to Ray Conniff or Percy Faith, wrote the music. The lyrics were written by a man named Herb Kanzell, who was an industrial show mainstay, having written the music for one of the greatest in the genre: Westinghouse's the shape of tomorrow, their 1958 appliance introduction show, which is a soaring musical love-letter to ranges and iceboxes.

Esso began its life in 1888 as the startlingly named Anglo-American Oil Company, an affiliate of Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company. In 1911, the Supreme Court ordered Standard Oil, a massive monolith, to dissolve into 33 different companies. One of the 33, Standard Oil New Jersey, bought Anglo-American, which changed its name to Esso in 1951 (Esso being a phonetic pronunciation of their parent company's initials - S.O., get it?). It's now part of the Exxon-Mobil Corporation.

2. The Spirit of '76 - Exxon

Reasonable government guidelines, now that?s okay
We don?t mind if the government has its fair say
But too much control, now that just gets in the way
Of Efficiency!

- "Efficiency", from The Spirit of ?76, Exxon

America's bicentennial was a natural, if predictable theme for corporations when they started penning their industrial shows to premiere that year. There was Union Carbide?s stunningly boring Direction '76 and Tupperware's painful Star Spangled Jubilee, but Exxon's 1976 show was different. The music and lyrics were written by Claibe Richardson, a talented musical theatre composer (The Grass Harp, 1971), and the book was written by Ed Nayor, another industrial show veteran, who had co-written fun shows for Listerine, the New York Herald Tribune, and many others. A massive undertaking, The Spirit of '76 was also choreographed by Tony Award-winning Donald Saddler (No, No, Nanette) and starred popular TV character actors Carol Swarbrick and Stanley Grover. What they produced is an insane, hysterical paean to oil-mania in which every tune sounds like a show-stopping finale. Other fine numbers besides the eyebrow-raising Efficiency are The Customer is Everything, Up Came Oil! and Dealer's Heaven.
Exxon, by the way, also has its roots in the Standard Oil monopoly. Standard Oil New Jersey (also known as Jersey Standard), the company that purchased Anglo American, changed its name to Exxon Corporation in 1972. And, again, in 1999 Exxon merged with Mobil forming Exxon-Mobil Corporation.

3. Run For the Money - Gulf Oil of Canada, 1969

It's gotta look good to sell good, it's just gotta be dressed for success
With the kind of look and fabulous shows that'll make it tough for a guy to say no
The competition is rough boy, it's gotta make a buyer say "Yes"
For the folks won?t fall for your TBA if your display is looking a mess!

- "You Gotta Look Good", Run for the Money, Gulf Oil of Canada, 1969

TBA, you ask? In the oil industry, that stands for Tires, Batteries and Accessories - the sundries you might pick up at any gas station, and this EP of the 1969 Gulf Oil of Canada show was specifically produced for their gas station owners. Like the '68 Esso show it also contains a swoony anthem to their salesmen, in this case titled The Most Important Person. Unfortunately, they didn?t think much of their composer(s), as they?re not credited on the record. However, it was someone who knew how to bounce between Broadway-esque melodies and punchy, late-60s vocal pop. Late-60s industrial music is littered with self-congratulatory songs about said company's hipness - hell, Ford even had their own in-house rock band called The Going Thing and produced songs like Ford Is Turned On, just as one corporate example. In Run For the Money, Gulf has a pop-psych group that sounds like The Love Generation sing Gulf Is Happening and Signs of the Times, and the result is quite pleasing. What isn't pleasing is the lame introduction to the show by Canadian comedians Wayne & Shuster.

Gulf Oil (named for the Gulf of Mexico) started in Texas in 1901, and blossomed throughout the world until 1984 when it was purchased by the Chevron Corporation, at the time one of the biggest corporate mergers in history.

4. Put Yourself in Their Shoes - Exxon, 1979

Oh we've been cryin' uncle, since Uncle Sam arrived
And we know what's going to happen if he will stay
This station will turn out to be a governmental agency if Uncle doesn't go away!

- "Uncle Sam", Put Yourself in Their Shoes, Exxon, 1979

Here comes Exxon again! This is really a wonderful show on so many levels. It revolves around an age-old industrial theme: an unhappy salesman (Harry, in this show) who just doesn't have what it takes, receives cheerleading from his peers and reappears a new, proud, strong Exxon dealer at the end of the program. The standout cut may be the ridiculously sexist track An Exxon Dealers Wife, which heaps a dump-truck full of wifely duties onto the dealer?s spouse (presumably in the audience), to make sure her hubby stays fully committed to Exxon?s bottom line. One wonders what a dealer's wife in the audience might feel if her husband's employer demanded that she pump gas on a holiday, but these shows aren't known for their subtlety. There are several other winning tracks: Major Surgery (sung by a rival, independent dealer), Fugue For Dealers, and The Best In the Business to name a few.

Ted Simons wrote the music for this gem, with lyrics by John Allen. The cast included a number of stage and screen regulars including Chuck Cooper, a Tony Award winner for his performance in The Life, in 1996.

5. The Big Change - Standard Oil, 1957

The newest gasoline in the industry, upping octane to an all time high!
We expect more from Standard now we've got it - the best that money can buy.
You've seen the wonderful products we'll sell you, and here?s what the company will tell you
Through television, radio and point-of-sale, newspapers, billboards, we're going to unveil-
The Big Change!

- 'Finale', The Big Change, Standard Oil, 1957

At least in this small, niche world of industrial show composing, things were more innocent in the 50s during America's post-War boom. In The Big Change, Standard Oil's show produced at their annual manager conference, many of the songs are sung from the customer's point of view, expressing firm desires and sung with at least some respect and camaraderie. Later shows in general seem to view customers as little more than a necessary nuisance. The Big Change's composer was Lloyd Norlin, who, although uncredited on many records, had a productive career in industrials, composing shows for Pepsi, Hamm's Beer and Ford, among others.

John D. Rockefeller started Standard Oil in 1870. It grew exponentially, violating anti-trust laws and circumventing so many previously enacted state anti-monopoly laws that finally the government began stepping in. In 1890, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act was passed mainly to curb Standard. When broken up into 33 companies by the Supreme Court in 1911, the ownership stayed the same, although the companies have shifted and congealed continuously, right up to today. Mobil, Esso, Sohio, Amoco, Chevron, Conoco, Marathon, Sunoco and Sinclair all have roots in Standard Oil.

One wonders how many oil musicals were performed annually, and if any more exist in their entirety, as they are brilliant in their own way. It seems plausible and perhaps even certain that dealers, managers, gas station owners and the company brass were entertained and yes, even moved, by dozens of these shows for the oil industry, year after year, until the musical theatre aspect of the industrial show began to seriously wane in the late 1980s.