Saturday Single No. 104

Originally posted December 13, 2008

When I wrote about school carnivals last week – in connection with my post of Grab Bag No. 1 – I was pleased, as always, to receive a few comments. Regular reader and commenter Yah Shure recalled the school carnivals he’d attended as a young ’un at Glen Lake Elementary School in Hopkins, a small city just west of Minneapolis. And mtscott53, who I think might have been a first-time commenter, recalled the carnivals at the same elementary school as well.

As both are approximately the same age, I imagine the two knew each other back at Glen Lake, which is kind of cool. But there was another intersection in the two readers’ comments, one that spurred memories in me. In the post, I’d offered mp3s of a 45 by the Kingston Trio that had been recorded as a promotional record for the National Foundation, the home of the March of Dimes. Issued on the Capitol Custom label, the record had no catalog number, and I mistakenly identified the matrix numbers as the catalog numbers.

Yah Shure pointed that out – I welcomed his feedback, as I always do when lost in the thickets of multiple versions, odd numbering strategies and more – and added, “Capitol Custom did not always assign release numbers. On your Kingston Trio record, the printed numbers are simply the matrix numbers, hence the different numbers listed for each side. If you remember Robert Preston’s ‘Chicken Fat’ from 1962, that Capitol Custom 7-inch, 33 1/3 RPM record did have its own release number (CF-1000) and was distributed for many years by the U.S. Jaycees. And, yeah, we had to exercise to it every single day at Glen Lake.”

In his (or, possibly, her) later comment, mtscott53, as well as recalling the carnivals, noted, “I . . .exercised [to] the chicken fat every day as well. I believe that was a Kennedy thing. . . . [W]ay back then someone had the foresight to be concerned about childhood obesity. Ah what memories.”

Both comments triggered memories for me: standing in lines and columns in the gym at Lincoln Elementary School and waiting as a teacher – I think “Chicken Fat” came to Lincoln during the 1962-63 school year, when I was in fourth grade, so it would have been Mrs. Mayer – cued the record on one of those old four-speed turntables with the huge speakers. And yeah, for we Lincolnites, “Chicken Fat” was an every-day thing, too.

In its online piece titled “JFK in History: The Federal Government Takes on Physical Fitness,” the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum notes:

“Possibly the oddest contribution to the [Kennedy administration’s physical fitness] effort was the “Chicken Fat Song.” Written by Meredith Willson, creator of The Music Man, and sung with enthusiasm by Robert Preston, the actor most responsible for that musical’s success, the “Chicken Fat Song” was produced in a three-minute, radio-friendly version and a six-minute version to accompany schoolchildren during Council-approved workout routines.

“The song didn’t get much airplay, but for tens of thousands of children doing sit-ups in school gyms around the country, the cajoling choruse of ‘go, you chicken fat, go!’ became ingrained in their memory. Today sites on the World Wide Web still nostalgically recall the song, and a new version, with expanded exercise routines, has recently been released.”

I couldn’t find a date on the web page where I found that statement, so I had no idea what “recently” meant. I talked to my sister, who is the principal of an elementary school in the Twin Cities, and she said she’d not heard of any school using a new version of “Chicken Fat.” Casting about the ’Net, I did learn that WFMU’s Beware of the Blog posted in early 2007 an Eighties version of the song performed by Lynn Roberts, so that must be the “new” version referred to on the JFK Library page.

In any case, I would think that the general rule of remakes and cover versions applies to “Chicken Fat” as it does to most other records: With very few exceptions, seek out the original. So I went looking, and I found a copy of the full six-minute-plus original recording online. I’ve converted it to an mp3, so here’s Robert Preston and “Chicken Fat,” today’s Saturday Single.

(Video inserted November 5, 2013.)

Robert Preston – “Chicken Fat” [Capitol Custom CF-1000, 1962]

Shortly after finishing this post, I got a note from Yah Shure:

“I’ve asked Santa to bring you a scanner for Christmas, but in the meantime, here’s a scan of the original Chicken Fat record and its sleeve.  I’m also sending you a better-sounding (and smaller-sized file) rip of the school version from the pictured copy of the record.  The one you found and posted sounds several generations removed from the original record.  Mrs. Mayer probably would have given her approval.”

So here’s the new download file:

Robert Preston – “Chicken Fat” [Capitol Custom CF-1000, 1962]


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