Written by Meredith Willson
Performed by Robert Preston
In the late 50s and early 60s, the US was in the middle of the Cold War panic, afraid that the Soviets would bury us. And when JFK became president, one of the big concerns was that American youth were not getting enough exercise. To combat this, “Chicken Fat” was created.
The song was written by Meredith Willson, then riding high with the success of The Music Man. It seems to be his idea to write a song that could be used in gym classes to promote exercising. He wrote the song, and, in the same sessions where they recorded the soundtrack for the movie of The Music Man, they took time to get Robert Preston, star of the show, to record the song.
The result was a catchy tune that was fun to exercise to and included exercises to be done while the music played.*
I remember our gym teacher playing it, and it was a lot of fun to have a song to do our exercises to. Part of the appeal was that the concept was so unusual: you didn’t do exercises in school to music.
The song was released as a public service. No one took any money or royalties, and the record company paid for the session and recording and distributed million of copies to gym classes around the country.
It’s a most a forgotten novelty these days, but there are many people my age who can remember doing sit-ups at Professor Harold Hill cheered you on.
*The exercises were devised by Bud Wilkerson, who, at the time, was arguable the best regarded college football coach in the US.