Learning Day: Songs of the IBM 🌭

Do you believe? Not in jokes like heaven or love. Don’t say yourself, democracy, or the human spirit. I need believers in T.J. Watson Sr., blessed president of IBM, and the miracles he lets us waste.

Preferably believers with perfect pitch.

As ants in Watson’s world, you own Songs of The IBM in hardcover. I hope. You’re expected to manage these details. It’s cold off the company campus, and a layabout might find their family home locked. Not that you’re at risk, as a loyal Watsonite. Take a minute.

You’re looking for a family heirloom. Other company towns simply called themselves families, without a Good Book for Sunday meetings. Watson, as always, had more vision. One performed daily by a real orchestra. In 1937, the perfected Songs of The IBM set the tone for an era of peace.

You heard the eye.

While you get yourself in order: remember that Watson made IBM the USA’s three greatest letters. These lyrics celebrate him, his success, his products, and his favorite vassals. Watson was also a Columbia trustee, putting margins before those judgy kids with books. A lasting tradition reflected by Watson Hall and limping minors.

Now, let’s warm-up with a secular tune: the National Anthem.

Songs of the IBM devotees—like you—know this isn’t a non-sequitur. The national anthem’s the second IBM hymn, right after “America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee).” These two imperial theme songs are, to outside eyes, the sanest pages present. They ease readers from worldly concerns (nations, fireworks, overwrought Super Bowl covers) to matters of the soul. Meaning IBM.

Stand and sing. Yes, in your apartment. On the sidewalk. Sing through your check-up, testimony, or honeymoon. Did you expect salvation without sacrifice? Have you learned nothing from Walter F. Titus, Vice-President in Charge of Manufacturing?

Sing again. Vice-divinity deserves full volume. In fact, lock eyes with the closest witness. Especially if they’re outside the company. Let your fiery stare, hot breath, and vice grip show your conviction. A gaze that says “this is the first of a hundred IBM song parodies.”

“Yankee Doodle Boy” had a fun melody, but lacked that extra something lyrically: Walter Franklin Titus. Like all IBM VPs, he’s efficient, good-natured, and deathless. And listening now. Walter’s wight has some questions about getting stuck with “Yankee Doodle Boy,” and rhyming “You can bet” with “intellect.” We don’t have answers ninety years later, so placate him with harmony.

When the white-and-blue star rises and replaces the sun, Walter will hold the reins of man. And Watson will hold the reins of Walter.

Continue singing. In his first, fleshy life, Watson discovered a power unmatched until Dr. Demento started taking guests. “Auld Lang Syne” had a nice life celebrating new beginnings. Now it has a perfect unlife celebrating titans of industry. A voice in your soul may be screaming. It’s just trying to harmonize.

One wonders what labor activists were on about. Imagine serenading Watson with home-spun lyrics about Watson. If only brands could teach the whole world to sing. Then instead of The Communist Manifesto, we’d have Songs of The IBM in German. A dream. Until freedom is ubiquitous and mandatory, you’ll have to keep singing.

I hear you, and I agree: one song about Watson is nothing. We need five.

Now that’s a club of personality. New hires may be confused. Trends in buying love have changed. While today’s moguls build genital-shaped spacecraft, Watson had an artist’s soul. Marrying popstars isn’t as satisfying as rewriting their work.

Six. We really needed six.

Keep. Singing. “Yankee Doodle” fans may notice some repetition. But note that while V.P. Titus humbly tweaks the show tune, the president rebrands the original, uncut nursery rhyme. The difference? Everything.

Then think. Not about slant rhyme, or meter. Not the hideous scream of your brain placing the last letter in “Think” outside of the bar. But about innovation. Taking IBM from the Mom and Pop shop you love, to the One World Family. We need thoughts. Both yours–your ideas will be processed and renamed after mass–and Watson’s. Handsome, piercing eyed, silver-haired Watson.

Some less productive thoughts might drip in. Life before IBM. A theoretical life after IBM. Thoughts with no IBM content at all. I trust you to keep V.P. Titus in mind, and use a little executive discretion. Company property’s for work, and that includes your mind. Deprogramming is vandalism.

Feel left out? Don’t fret: Songs of the IBM covers the entire family. There are dozens of songs about non-presidents, and even a few non-executives. For example:

You can’t stop singing. It’s a moving spin on “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” Admittedly, the tone’s aged a bit. A nameless fear crawls from the base of the spine to one’s skull. That’s the barrier holding five-percenters back. I don’t mean hoteps.

The Go-Getters Club/Hundred Percent Club was Watson’s key sales innovation, and laid the foundation for modern powder addictions. While IBM at large is a family, the Hundred Percent Club’s was a bit like a cult. Here’s a letter quota-meeting sales ants received in 1925:

This leak’s from IBM’s oldest foe: IBM’s official history page. It’s an honor, in the right context. Go-getters enjoyed pilgrimages to Atlantic City, and non-Go-getters enjoyed unemployment. This approach to sales caught on, and is now called “sales.” Thanks to IBM, one week in sales produces an elite Cylon.

If you’re not into history, try this riff on “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”

Or this take on “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”

Then there’s alternate lyrics for “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”

Or “Sweet Adeline.”

Yes, my liege.

Singing keeps the lights on. To keep readers sharp, Song of The IBM edits “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” Again.

In broken work families, a railroad spiritual sounds like a scream. And five railroad spirituals sound like five screams. But Watsonites serve with joy. IBM wit shines through the lyrics, where Joseph’s daily tasks are his hobby. We share this comedy style with another innovator: Korea. The one closer to Santa.

Hymns aren’t just for management. There are songs for the nameless horde as well. Take this collective tribute to IBM workers abroad:

Sing with aggression. A little militaristic, but it’s 1937. Any decent gambler’s betting on conflict. I’m not planting anything. Focus on making “manned by loyal forces in field and office” flow.

Later, 82 songs in, IBM’s women get to shine:

Sing, with relief. An insane cult orders you to smile: a family celebrates the smiles you’ve already given, and will give in the future. You might have trouble singing along, since searching the tune leads back to Songs of The IBM. Just let the spirit move you.

It’s a generous spirit. Even salesmen outside the Go-Getters Club are still technically human:

Do you know why the caged bird sings? If it stops, it’s fucking fired. The Ninety-Percent Club’s lucky to live indoors. Along with Watsonites that “misplace” Songs of The IBM.

There’s no such thing as a wasted skill. Before Songs of The IBM, it’s hard to imagine music theory’s role in an IBM career. With Singing in the Rain in the picture, we know that you didn’t make it past manager without at least a year of community theater. You got stuck on the railroad, like that smiling washout Walter Niles. While counter-tenors joined the executive fast-track.

Of course, music theory’s only part of the formula. It also paid to know German, for reasons Watsonites need not dwell on.

I’d listen, if I were you. But if you must pry: the thirties offered a colorful range of customers, with advanced computational needs. IBM made an eager splash abroad:

Singen macht frei. This is an original track, just for Watsonites. IBM cardinals heard pleas for something, anything that wasn’t “I’ve Been Working On the Railroad.” An anthem that could take sales all the way to France. Or east of France. Or the disputed area between. Money’s money, and life is whatever. Per journalist and spoilsport Edwin Black, Watson’s 1933 trip forged bonds that transcended warfare.

By now, you should feel your heart swell. Or at least some kind of intense, heart-oriented sensation. Music does that.

But you know how government clients are. A new contract’s tough, especially when the buyer’s a bit uptight. Luckily, “Watson Business Machines” had more anthems for international expansion. At all costs. United, The Go-Getters Club sang past sanctions:

Sing, with pride. Some principles falter. Some faiths are weak. IBM, in history’s spotlight, stood firm for profit. And butchered 100 songs to celebrate. Idolators claim that selling this makes you complicit in that. But keep music in your heart, and you can make quota. Now get out there and sell.

Of course, singing isn’t for everyone. Maybe motion’s more your thing.

This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme: OrneryWeevil, whose name is sung to the of “I’ve Been Working On The Railroad” and whose presence is to be met with supplication and wailing. No, more wailing.