President John F. Kennedy commissioned Broadway composer Meredith Willson, who wrote music for The Music Man and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, to write an anthem that would inspire school children across the United States to whip themselves into shape as part of the President's Council on Physical Fitness. What followed was "Chicken Fat," also known as "The Youth Fitness Song," that would become a fixture in gym classes throughout the '60s and '70s. It was performed by actor Robert Preston, who originated the role of Harold Hill in the 1957 musical The Music Man and reprised the part for the 1962 film adaptation.
While the radio version of the song only clocked in at 2 minutes and 12 seconds, the school version was over 6 minutes and packaged with floor exercises designed to "give that chicken fat back to the chicken."
This song became a novelty hit and a nostalgic reminder of gym classes gone by for baby boomers.
This song was resurrected in 2014 as part of the new Apple iPhone 5s campaign to tout the smartphone's usefulness for physical fitness endeavors. The TV commercial shows runners, swimmers, and scale steppers gearing up to the words "touch down every morning ... not just now and then" and going full force with "Go you, chicken fat, go away!" while the handy gadget marks their progress - with a touch of good-old-fashioned fat shaming: "Nuts to the flabby guys!" At least it sounds jolly.
For whatever reason, Apple doesn't want us to know the singer of the 2014 version of the song. It's not Robert Preston, and it's not Bernie Knee, the jingle writer who supposedly sang it in 2000 - even though he died in 1994. New York Times advertising columnist Stuart Elliott implores "anyone who recognizes the voice, please stop exercising long enough to clue the rest of us in."
Robert Preston recorded the 1962 version with the Bernie Green Orchestra during the same sessions for The Music Man film soundtrack.