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"Plastic Jesus" is an American folk song written by Ed Rush and George Cromarty in 1957. They recorded it as a humorous ad spoof in 1962 as The Goldcoast Singers on World Pacific Records' Here They Are! The Goldcoast Singers (wp-1806).
The authorship of the song has historically been incorrectly attributed to Ernie Marrs. Rush and Cromarty are listed as the authors by ASCAP and by the song's publisher, EMI Music Publishing. Ernie Marrs is sometimes credited as the songwriter because of the folk music magazine Sing Out! (Volume 14, issue number 2, page 40) crediting a version of the lyrics and music to him.
Ed Rush has stated that the inspiration for the song came from a religious radio station from Del Rio, Texas in the mid-1950s. The station was allegedly run by a dentist and religious fanatic who "sold the most outrageous stuff imaginable, all with magical healing properties." One summer broadcast in particular contained the line "...leaning on the arms of Jesus, wrapped in the bosom of the Lord..."
Ernie Marrs, along with the "Marrs Family" (friends Kay Cothran and Bud Foote) recorded a version of "Plastic Jesus" in 1965 that was featured in the motion picture Cool Hand Luke (1967). In the film, Paul Newman also sings the song while playing a banjo in a distinctly melancholy scene after his character learns of his mother's death. However, since the film is presumably set in the late 1940s, including this song was often considered as an anachronism error.
The Levellers on their Fifteen Years EP, Jack Johnson at some of his gigs and on some bootlegs, Cowpunk band Assjack on their album "Plastic Jesus", and Rocky Votolato on his album A Brief History. The song is also a prominent fixture on the set list of Austin, TX based psychobilly band The Flametrick Subs, in which in the middle of the song they interject a cover of the Todd Snider song, Beer Run. It was featured two Flametrick Subs releases Undead at the Black Cat Lounge and Something in Japanese. Roland Van Campenhout, a Flemish blues singer, covered the song "Plastic Jezus" in 1999 on his album "Waltz".
A version of the song was used as the introduction to the "Billy Sol Hargis" skits on the Imus In The Morning radio program for many years.
Over the years, the folk tradition of this song has grown.
Folksinger Joe Bethancourt has parodies of Plastic Jesus on his website, including Plastic Vishnu, Plastic Cthulhu and an ecumenical version containing verses referencing several religions (Buddhism, Judaism, etc.).