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Praise The Machine
August 29, 2014 8:27 AM   Subscribe

IBM's 1939 Corperate Song Book.
posted by The Whelk (35 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

I love how everything back in the day had a song! My public elementary school had what basically amounted to a fight song that dated back to the 20s and was unearthed when I was there in the early 90s.
posted by threeants at 8:31 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]

from this point forward i will refer to this company as "the IBM".
posted by rude.boy at 8:35 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]

posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 8:37 AM on August 29 [3 favorites]

posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:38 AM on August 29 [2 favorites]

Tom Watson eats the sun and drinks the skies
And they both go with him when he dies
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 8:42 AM on August 29


Spell it one way once and Safari's autocorrect changes it every time.
posted by The Whelk at 8:43 AM on August 29

You must kiss the data.
posted by mullacc at 8:45 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]

At least back then, companies like IBM rewarded loyalty from their employees with loyalty to them. If you got a job there, you could expect to retire there.
posted by octothorpe at 8:49 AM on August 29 [4 favorites]

We are The I.B.M., so pity us.
Our apps are crap, our gear is hideous.
So we will smoke, and drink, and fool around
We are the nerds of I.B.M.

With apologies to Harold Ramis, et al.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:52 AM on August 29 [2 favorites]

This is really fascinating. It coopts a major thread in North American culture of that time, where workers made songs about their workplaces, their struggles and their heros (usually the leaders of their unions, like Joe Hill and others) using song melodies from popular tunes of the day but making their own words. Some friends of mine collected more than 30 such songs from the mining, logging and ranching tradition of a small town in British Columbia which you can read about here. (Disclaimer: I wrote the introduction for those notes)

In all kinds of places workers did this, and then in the early 20th century along comes the corporate world, fashioning a common value set and a kind of lockstep devotion to the company (and it must be said, away from the union). It's like a rap battle between competing political factions.

Thanks so much for this link. I know there are other corporate song books out there too. It illuminates just how powerful the tradition of song is, that a company would produce these anthmes in response to the organizing potential of unions. Imgaine what the actual workers were singing! Imagine the parodies of THESE tunes!
posted by salishsea at 8:54 AM on August 29 [11 favorites]

Still waiting for Lotus Notes: The Opera
posted by schmod at 9:09 AM on August 29 [2 favorites]

In all kinds of places workers did this, and then in the early 20th century along comes the corporate world, fashioning a common value set and a kind of lockstep devotion to the company (and it must be said, away from the union). It's like a rap battle between competing political factions.

I'm not sure of the historical validity of that claim of "cooptation," though. C19th and C20th culture featured group singalongs a lot more readily in all walks of life and to express all kinds of "solidarity." I don't think it's so much the bosses sitting around and thinking "hey, those union guys have songs, so WE should have songs too" as a culture in which songs seemed a natural way to express collective identity. If you go through university and high school yearbooks of the time you'll find not just "school songs" but songs made up for "the class of '33" and so forth. The workers at IBM would have been used to singing songs to express a sense of group belonging and identity before they joined the company and would not necessarily have identified that as a hallmark of unionist activity.

I think the reason we do tend to make that association is that the folk-song revival of the 50s and 60s revived a lot of those old union songs and there was no comparable revival of non-lefty songs from that era at the time.
posted by yoink at 9:16 AM on August 29 [7 favorites]

Pater machina
posted by blue_beetle at 9:36 AM on August 29 [2 favorites]

It's all very Bioshock, to me -- the forced jollity, the rictus grins and mandatory songbooks, the praise for the Great Machine. I'm permanently on the fence about Snowpiercer, but it's about as close to Bioshock: The Motion Picture as I ever expect to get, and one of the faux-Gilded-Age notes that I think it hit really well was the "school" sing-a-long.
posted by Shepherd at 9:50 AM on August 29

(To the tune of "The Jolly Drayhorse")

We hail thee, MetaFilter,
Thy Mefites ever true!
We devote our devotion
To the Green, the Gray, and Blue!
We honor dear Mathowie
(And the moderators too)
Hail thee, Metafilter,
The Green, the Gray, the Blue!
posted by Iridic at 10:12 AM on August 29 [7 favorites]

First response:

Jesus Fucking Christ

Second response:

This actually gave me hope that maybe in 75 years the everyday crap that exists in corporate culture now will seem like a relic of a weird time.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:15 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]

yoink, thanks for that brilliant point about folk song revivalism.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 10:18 AM on August 29

Ernst and Young had this jaunty gospel-inspired number less than fifteen years ago. Nothing from the '30s could ever be as cringeworthy.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:20 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]

My favorite part of this songbook is that there are songs to individual managers and office employees. I wonder if that was a perk of the job, like "we're prepared to offer you a salary of 100K a year, a company car, your own secretary, and we'll make all our workers sing songs in your honor."
posted by JDHarper at 10:30 AM on August 29 [3 favorites]

yoink...yes that is a really good point.

The purpose of these songs, whether union or corporate or class songs or songs sung fullthroated from the terraces and stands of sporting arenas is to create belonging. So in that sense, in a way I trust the intentions of the unsanctioned and unknown song makers, rather than those whose works were published in official printings....

I would DEARLY love to know about the parodies though that clever IBM workers must have made up to mock some of these songs, especially the ones extolling the virtues of the executives.

And as a gift, and a propos of this particular link, here is Stan Rogers telling it like it is for everyone hauling data on Xerox line:

The White Collar Holler

Well, I rise up every morning at a quarter to eight
Some woman who's my wife tells me not to be late
I kiss the kids goodbye, I can't remember their names
And week after week, it's always the same

CHORUS: And it's Ho, boys, can't you code it, and program it right
Nothing ever happens in the life of mine
I'm hauling up the data on the Xerox line

Then it's code in the data, give the keyboard a punch
Then cross-correlate and break for some lunch
Correlate, tabulate, process and screen
Program, printout, regress to the mean


Then it's home again, eat again, watch some TV
Make love to my woman at ten-fifty-three
I dream the same dream when I'm sleeping at night
I'm soaring over hills like an eagle in flight


Someday I'm gonna give up all the buttons and things
I'll punch that time clock till it can't ring
Burn up my necktie and set myself free
Cause no'one's gonna fold, bend or mutilate me

posted by salishsea at 10:52 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]

What, no audio?
I commented on the previous thread, so I'll just say here that as much as I'd hate to be forced to sing this stuff weekly, it would be fun to get a band together once and a while to sing at work. Beats going to a performance review.
posted by MtDewd at 11:06 AM on August 29

You'd rather go to a performance revue?
posted by howfar at 11:23 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]

Vittorio Giannini: IBM Symphony (1937)
posted by in278s at 11:40 AM on August 29

Still waiting for Lotus Notes: The Opera

It''s called Goddamitwhyisthissoslowrung.
posted by pjern at 11:41 AM on August 29

Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut is filled with lyrics of corporate / dystopian team-building songs that I believe he wrote as a parody of those that were popular in his days as a PR manager at General Electric in Schenectady, New York, in the late 40s. It is the creepiest part of the book.
posted by How the runs scored at 12:03 PM on August 29 [3 favorites]

Not to be outdone by KPMG's "Vision of Global Strategy"

Anyway yes, this is goofy from our perspective, but it was published during the dawn of the popular recording. Most people working at IBM at this time grew up in an era where everyone made their own music - so a songbook wouldn't have been that unusual a thing to receive.

If it had been today, where nobody produces any sort of art themselves and are used to passively consuming it, they would've, say, posted a slick corporate video to YouTube.
posted by xthlc at 12:05 PM on August 29 [1 favorite]

I know Jesus was the Prince of Peace, but he should come back and smack every single person involved in that Ernst & Young video.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 12:16 PM on August 29

I swear there's a Cheap Seats episode about corporate challenges, which were as 80s as big glasses and shoulder pads. If they'd ever get the thing out on DVD...

Trying to think what the current corporate song. Something dirge-like and anxiety-inducing.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:20 PM on August 29

I knew someone who worked for IBM (outside the US) in the 1980s. They were amazingly into the whole "team building" and "company spirit" thing. They would fly their employees to all kinds of exotic locales where they would engage in complex team-building exercises and learn all about the IBM way and the IBM spirit and the IBM this and that. It did all sound vaguely cult-like, although the person I knew took it, to my eyes, strangely seriously.
posted by yoink at 12:37 PM on August 29

Does anyone have links to any Japanese corporate songs? They seemed to have taken this corporate song and spirit thing and turned it to eleventy billion.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:51 PM on August 29

Ever Onward, IBM
posted by pjern at 6:32 PM on August 29

Ha! We had one of these from when my mother worked for Big Blue back in '49. Good times, she said, and I'm willing to believe her.
posted by BWA at 6:36 PM on August 29

When I worked at Prudential Insurance (the U.S. Prudential, known to us as Mother Pru) in the 90s I once attended some sort of team building meeting at which various prudential songs were song. I remember our division manager dressed in a cow costume singing "Prudential is the place for me" to the tune of the Green Acres song.
posted by Area Man at 7:38 PM on August 29

This actually gave me hope that maybe in 75 years the everyday crap that exists in corporate culture now will seem like a relic of a weird time.

This is nothing compared to the many mid-century corporate / industrial musicals, which are only now starting to get some retrospective attention. Sadly, no one from the IBM Orchestra appears to have tried their hand at writing one.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:48 PM on August 29 [1 favorite]

He doesn't like that "Mister", he likes good old Otto Braitmayer!
posted by Spatch at 8:58 PM on August 29

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