Ponderings by Doug

In the early 1960s, the Kennedy administration decided that we children were all fat and flabby. They had a plan to deal with the issue. There was no long study. The food police were not sent to schools to approve mom’s sack lunches. They actually came up with something fun and useful.

Bud Wilkinson, who was the football coach at the University of Oklahoma, was asked to develop a short exercise program for children. In a short time, he produced a basic exercise program for elementary aged children.

In 1962, Robert Preston was filming Meredith Willson’s The Music Man. The Kennedy administration asked Meredith Willson to write a song to go with Bud Wilkinson’s exercise program for children. Since Robert Preston was working with Willson on the film, they asked him to sing the exercise song. The six-minute version of the song was distributed to schools. There was a shorter version sent to radio stations in hopes the song would catch on. It did for a while.

I once did a program on this song for our senior citizens. The program was actually about chicken in Southern culture. Ask any church member of the importance of fried chicken at a pot luck luncheon. My presentation was in January of that year. I worked all through December on my chicken program.

Rather than humming Christmas carols, I hummed the Chicken Fat song most of December. During the research, I played the YouTube version of the song often. It had nothing to do with the University of Evansville President and cheerleaders demonstrating the exercises on the video. I actually alternated between Robert Preston not really singing 76 Trombones and the Chicken Fat song. Robert Preston’s singing rates right up there with Rex Harrisons’. The Chicken Fat song is stuck in my head now as is 76 Trombones.

Have you ever had a song stuck in your head?

An “earworm” is a song that repeats…and repeats…in the brain. It’s most likely to be a song with simple lyrics and a melody that you’ve heard many times.

Songs with lyrics are the most frequent tormentors, making up 74 percent of those reported. Another 15 percent were commercial jingles, and 11 percent were instrumentals.

In 2003 University of Cincinnati professor James Kellaris released a paper on earworms. He interviewed 559 students and found that 98 percent had experienced the phenomenon.

Dr. Kellaris, by the way, is credited with popularizing the term “earworm,” from the German word, ohrworm. However, the German word actually refers to something different: an overnight hit song that appears suddenly and quickly becomes popular.

Other words suggested for this phenomenon include serious submissions such as “involuntary musical imagery,” “obsessive musical thought,” “musical meme,” or “stuck song syndrome,” as well as some less serious ones “humsickness” or “repentitunitus.”

Most people have their own idiosyncratic list of songs that get stuck in their head. In that 2003 study, the professor’s personal list of top 10 earworm songs included two jingles (Chili’s “Baby Back Ribs” and Kit-Kat’s “Gimme a Break”) and one instrumental (the Mission: Impossible theme.) With the advent an popularity of Tic Tok, earworms have exploded.

I was thinking about church earworms. Why don’t we all sing, “Jesus Loves Me.” Let’s all sing it together now! 

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