I don't know if I'd call this a remarkable song or piece of history. You may even know about it. I didn't, but it was brought to my attention a few years ago.
In the early 1960s, as part of his fitness effort, President Kennedy wanted grade schools to implement a daily fitness regimen. As a result, Meredith Willson (who wrote The Music Man) was hired to write a piece of music that could be used for exercising. And to record the song, Willson brought in his Music Man star, Robert Preston.
The resultant song, "Chicken Fat," was played at hundreds, if not thousands of schools across the country on a daily basis, while the program lasted.
All reasonably interesting as a bit of music, theater and presidential history. But what's remarkable about this is the song itself.
It's not a "great song," by any stretch of the imagination. But it's not intended to be. It's just supposed to be something that kids would be able to exercise to. And on that end, it's enthralling. However, and this is an important part, you have to listen to it all the way through, even though it's about six minutes long. It just grows and grows and grows, and eventually becomes something almost mesmerizing. (When I sent an email of this to my father, he started playing it, when my mother heard it in the background of the house and was so fascinated, she had to come in and hear what it was. And once there couldn't leave. It just builds remarkably.) It's sort of like if you listened to the first few bars of Ravel's "Bolero," and thought "What's the big deal?" But by the end, as it's built almost out of wild control, you get it.
But that's not the only reason "Chicken Fat" is remarkable.
The other reason is that -- because this is Meredith Willson and Robert Preston together, and because it's him singing to kids, and because the song is totally rhythm-based and driving -- it's as if this is the Legendary Missing Song from The Music Man. You can see Harold Hill singing this to the kids of River City. And getting them so excited to stay in shape -- perhaps because you have to be in shape to march with a band, or just to get them all working together, or just about any reason, because it's what Harold Hill does.
One last thing. I've told people that anyone who wants to get into acting should be required to listen to this. Because it shows how an actor can take the most absolutely, utterly, gut-wrenchingly silly piece of material (and make no mistake, this is), and by believing in it, committing totally to it, 100%, and not letting up for one single second, turn that silliness into something rich and wonderful.
Robert Preston doesn't let up even a hiccup on this silliness for over six minutes. He puts his all into everything -- absolutely everything -- every second of the way. Just dives in and throws every-freaking-thing he has into it. And in the end, this insanely silly exercise song becomes something remarkable.
I find myself putting this on every once in a while, just to hear a few seconds...and I can't turn it off until it's over, 6-1/2 minutes later. And it's just the silliest thing...that in the end is just amazing.
So, with all that said, here is "Chicken Fat." Have your speakers on when you click -- and make sure you have 6-1/2 minutes to listen -- and that you listen for 6-1/2 minutes. Who knows? Maybe you'll even make some that
"Chicken fat, go." --
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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