Songs Of The Day 9/6: 3 From Coca-Cola Convention Records, 1961-1971

There’s nothing like a good industrial record from the ‘50s or ‘60s to get a fleeting glimpse at how American know-how and innovation screwed up the psyches of men in blazers and the women who loved them. These records, intended to boost morale and motivation in the middling ranks of large corporations, wrestled the power of music away from the beatniks and the delinquents and put it squarely in the hands of artistes who knew what to do with it: marketing divisions.

Just about a year ago I presented one such recording from an old album put out by the Woolworth’s department store chain, who now only exist in scratchy vocal recordings of Glenn Miller’s “A String of Pearls.” About nine years ago three complete industrial albums put out by the Coca-Cola Company were featured on 365 Days, one of the greatest archival efforts in the history of the internet, now permanently hosted at wfmu.org. The three records came from three different Coca-Cola “conferences” between 1961 and 1971. The albums usually culled from live musical productions staged in the convention hall for all levels of Coca-Cola management, and were given out to conference-goers as a souvenir. No, really, you shouldn’t have.

The three albums I pulled today’s songs from represented very different societal priorities within the ten years they covered. Well, more accurately, the last one in 1971 is a complete mind-screw that dealt with the not-going-away-ness of rock and roll and its permanent middle finger directed squarely at The Man, who Coca-Cola resembled at least in size. That was before they leveled the playing field with the community-building anthem “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” making them the first company to successfully market whatever abstract principles the Woodstock Generation were fumbling around with. But not so long before that, it was mechanical sternness and three-martini lunches and gold watches for the lot of them.

The first is from 1961, The Grip of Leadership. From the title alone you can get a sense of the tremendous pressure Coca-Cola was exerting on its executive branches via these marketing projects, the sort of tight screws they were turning to improve performance at all levels of the manufacturing and sales level. That kind of buttoned-up strictness was not at all uncommon. “Hot Seat” takes a survey of just how intensely the soda game turns respectable middle managers into terrified alcoholic shells of the men they once were.

A Step Ahead was a little more of the same in 1966. “I’m a Tiger” discusses the duality of man in the context of Henry and Mary, a typical all-American married couple struggling with the demands of home and commerce. This is also a good appropriation of the consummately outdated stock character of the henpecking housewife, needling her husband to do common housework chores our generation simply subcontracts out to gullible college students. The plot point is that, away from the unforgiving arena of project-based masculinity in the home, Henry is a warring beast when it comes to the carbonated soda business. It’s like The Pajama Game with fangs.

And then the hippies ruined everything. In 1971 Coca-Cola threw out the playbook completely with People Power, which embraced the wild new music of the New Society as tentatively as they could get away with in Atlanta. People-powered by the “Southwest Freeway Rock Band” — who sound more like a Blood, Sweat & Tears cover band from the Midwest who spent one Sunday afternoon trying to write their own songs — People Power abandons its predecessors’ breakdown of Coca-Cola’s inner workings and goes straight for the feels. There are no marketing directives to be found anywhere in People Power, but there are plenty of interludes to freedom, nostalgia, the Aquarian Conspiracy and moving away from your parents. “Fly,” as 365 Days notes, has a freak-out guitar solo that’s worth the price of admission, which in this case is absolutely nothing. Nice work, Don Draper. Nice work.

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