The Goldcoast Singers: Plastic Jesus (1962)

The origin stories of Plastic Jesus™ are murky - full of myth and legend. He was the brain-child of Ed Rush and George Cromarty in 1957. But Rush has given two accounts of the conception of Plastic Jesus.™ 

According to one story, the song was inspired by a radio program out of Del Rio, Texas, in the mid-1950s. It was run by a dentist and religious fanatic who "sold the most outrageous stuff imaginable, all with magical healing properties.

One particular broadcast contained the line "...leaning on the arms of Jesus, wrapped in the bosom of the Lord..."

Goldcoast Singers

Another account traces the song back to an African-American camp meeting song with the lyrics, "I don't care if it rains or freezes, leaning on the arms of my Jesus." It was the theme of a religious radio program out of Baton Rouge in the 1940s. Whatever the case, Rush and Cromarty recorded it as The Goldcoast Singers on the comedy album "Here They Are! The Goldcoast Singers" in 1962. It was an ad spoofed on a fake spiritual broadcast with only two verses and no chorus.

Ernie Marrs

Ernie Marrs recorded a version in 1965. Marrs developed it into a more complete song and apparently took credit for it. A non-canonical source of the Gospel of Plastic Jesus™, folk music magazine Sing Out! (Vol. 14, # 2, pg 40), lists him as the author. However, the canonical American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) and the song's publisher, EMI Music Publishing, correctly credit Ed Rush and George Cromarty.

Paul Newman

Eddie Marr's version of Plastic Jesus™ was made famous in 1967 by the American prison movie Cool Hand Luke. The orchestral background music of Plastic Jesus™, composed by Lalo Schifrin,  plays throughout the film. 

Paul Newman's character sings Plastic Jesus™ in prison after hearing about his mother's death. The scene was initially scheduled for the beginning of the shoot, but Newman insisted on learning to play the guitar. Director Stuart Rosenberg delayed the shooting for a few weeks. When they tried it, the playing was unsatisfactory. The scene was bumped until the next-to-last day of production. 

On that occasion, Newman and Rosenberg had a shouting match after Newman couldn't get it. Newman tried again in what George Kennedy remembered as a "tense, electrically charged, quiet" place. When he finished, Rosenberg called "Print." Newman insisted he could do better. "Nobody could do it better," Rosenberg replied.

Billy Idol

Over the years, the gospel tradition of Plastic Jesus™ has grown. Verses have been added. Some versions refer to Mary, Joseph, the Apostles, or the Devil. 

In 2005, Billy Idol released a version of 
Plastic Jesus™  for his album Devil's Playground. It was his first studio album in over a decade and his first new studio song since 2001. All the songs were written or co-written by Idol, except Plastic Jesus.™


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