I just learned about the strange history of Exxon-sponsored showtunes

The other day, I retweeted a post from my own band about a collaborative playlist of songs about conspiracy theories. It seemed like a fun promotional exercise, ya know?

A friend of mine responded with something much more surprising: the revelation that Exxon Corporation released an album of showtunes in 1976. I certainly knew that the oil industry pumped money into all kinds of strange avenues of propaganda, but this was not something I had ever heard about or expected. Even more bizarre is that they weren't the only oil company to get into the musical business, either.

There's not a lot of information available about these musicals, but the best I found came from a Tiny Mixtapes blog:

Produced to entertain, inform, and mildly indoctrinate employees at the 1976 Exxon Convention, The Spirit of Achievement is something of a pro-corporate conservative manifesto set to music. As you can guess, it's not a project steeped in subtlety. Tracks like "America's Way" gives a full-throated endorsement of laissez-faire economics with lines like "America's way, the free enterprise way / that's what got us here today." Backed by a triumphant slice of sunshine pop, the Singers deliver these hummable slogans with a straight-forward sincerity. It's the same constructed wholesomeness you find in that group of crazy kids who, just five years earlier, stood atop a hill and declared their intention to buy the world a Coke.

The rest of the album follows much the same formula, matching up Exxon's political agenda to show tune-quality cuts that sound hokey and dated even by mid-70s standards. The message ricochets between unobjectionable and vague soundbites (the freedom to use, the choice to choose/ that's what got us where we are today), to unvarnished policy arguments. On the bubbly hit "Efficiency" the Singers really spell it out:

Reasonable government guidelines, well that's okay
We don't mind if the government has its say
But too much control, well that just gets in the way
Of Efficiency!

There's a short, low-quality clip of "Efficiency" on YouTube; you can hear a better quality version of "Up Came Oil" above, or on Amazon. WFMU has another tune called "America's Way" that you can listen to as well, if that's a thing you would choose to subject your ears to.

1976: Exxon Singers – "America's Way" [Peter T. / Tiny Mixtapes]

The Happy Listener's Guide to Mind Control [WFMU]

Inside the bizarre world of industrial show tunes (Paywalled) [Dan Mitchell / Fortune]