Remember "Dave's Record Collection"? On NBC's old David Letterman show, there was a segment where Dave would share hilariously improbably album covers with the audience, then play a snatch of music which might just sing the praises of kitchen appliances, power steering, or some other bafflingly mundane domestic convenience.
Well, those tunes and covers weren't made up. A lot of them came from so-called "industrials" -- custom composed musicals designed to motivate a company's sales force and/or celebrate the achievements of their product or sales team. Occasionally, these "industrials" consisted of new lyrics superimposed onto existing popular tunes of their day. But, more often, they were newly composed pieces crafted by talented writers trying to break into show business.
Sometimes these songs were just sung by select employees at annual meetings and conferences. Sometimes they were full-on shows, with sets, plots, and casts of professional actors and musicians. And, once the shows were mounted (usually just for one night only), companies sometimes went through the trouble of pressing up albums of these songs.
When Steve Young joined the Letterman writing staff, he inherited the office used by the former writer for "Dave's Record Collection," and thus took on the responsibility. This kickstarted his fascination with industrials, which seemed to peak in the '50s and '60s...he searched out records tirelessly, tracked down actors and writers who contributed to them, and found it to be a thriving subculture that has thus far escaped the notice of all but a few collectors.
This book could have taken two forms...a detailed, text-heavy history of industrials as a whole and select shows in detail would have been fun, although maybe not the most engaging thing to thumb through. Young and co-writer Sport Murphy have instead a wonderful, oversized, full-color coffee-table book filled to the brim with album covers, cast shots, and bite-size nuggets of well-researched info about some of their very favorite projects.
They are discerning curators; for instance, if a show has a great cover but is otherwise underwhelming, they just focus on that. If a show's content is especially rich, they excerpt choice lyrics and expound more about the production. These guys have done their homework, and the result is a delightful tome that is fun for both a quick glance or a detailed perusal. And, if you want to hear this stuff (and it's fantastic), they've set up a website at www.industrialmusicals.com with lots of choice audio.