Tuesday, February 1

Where Did The Plastic Jesus Song Come From?

Plastic Jesus Song Lyrics
I don't care if it rains or freezes
As long as I've got my Plastic Jesus,
Riding on the dashboard of my car
Through my trials And tribulations and my travels through the nation
With my plastic Jesus I'll go far
Riding down the thoroughfare with a nose up in the air
A wreck may be ahead but he don't mind
Trouble coming he don't see, he just keeps his eye on me
And any other thing that lies behind
With my plastic Jesus goodbye and I'll go far I said with my plastic Jesus
Sitting on the dashboard of my car
When I'm in a traffic jam, he don't care if I say damn, I can let all my curses roll
'Cos  plastic Jesus' doesn't hear 'cos he has a plastic ear
The man who invented plastic saved my soul
With my plastic Jesus goodbye and I'll go far I said with my plastic Jesus
Sitting on the dashboard of my car
An if I weave around at night policemen think I'm very tight
They never find my bottle though they ask
'Cos plastic Jesus shelters me for his head comes off you see
He's hollow and I use him like a flask
Whoa Whoa Whoa Save me
I don't care if it's dark or scary
Long as I got magnetic Mary, riding on the dashboard of my car
I feel that I'm protected amply, I've got the love of the whole damn family
Ridin' on the dashboard of my car
With my plastic Jesus I said goodbye And I'll go far, I said with my plastic Jesus
I said sittin' on the dashboard of my car
When I'm goin' fornicatin' I've got my ceramic Satan
Sittin' on the dashboard of my car
Women know I'm on the level, thanks to the wide-eyed stoneware devil
Sneerin' from the dashboard of my car

There are several copies of this old song and in this one the artist has been recognized as Paul Newman. The track was apparently pulled from the movie Cool Hand Luke. It is the part where his mother died and he's grieving by singing this song. The words are different and I can't tell which song (and words) were original. It's just a matter of which one you like.


The original version of "Plastic Jesus" was an actual radio advertisement in the1940s and 50s for a company that made plastic dashboard statuettes of Jesus and offered them for sale in various states including Texas and West Virginia. This parody is generally attributed to Atlanta songwriter Ernie Marrs, who wrote a number of topical songs that were recorded by Pete Seeger.

Seeger had actually planned to record "Plastic Jesus," but changed his mind after it had already been advertised on a Folkways album. He wrote, possibly in "The Incompleat Folksinger," that he liked the song a lot because it showed how people accept plastic or illusion over substance but he said he decided not to sing the song any more because he thought the reason he enjoyed it might have something to do with his Protestant upbringing, and did not want to offend any Roman Catholics.

However this satirical song was around before Marrs adapted (and copyrighted) it. It was actually written by two West Coast musicians, Ed Rush and George Cromarty, who were members of the Goldcoast Singers. Ed Rush traced the song back to an African-American camp-meeting song with lyrics "I don't care if it rains or freezes, leaning on the arms of my Jesus," which was the theme song of a religious radio program broadcast from Baton Rouge in the 1940s. The parody lyrics are based on this line.

Here is how Ed Rush describes it: "As bored teenagers in Fresno, California in the late 50's my friends and I used to sit around on hot summer nights playing with a radio to find distant stations. A favorite was (as I dimly recall) a station with the call letters (maybe) XERB, from Del Rio, Texas. The transmitter was just over the Rio Grande, in Mexico, so that they could engage in some questionable transactions that the FCC might not have approved of. They peddled all sorts of tacky quasi-religious stuff, including plastic statues of Jesus, Mary, etc. These were guaranteed to protect the buyer, especially if he sent cash.”

This song was heavily debated when it was printed in "Sing Out" and again when it was printed in Broadside, with angry subscribers asking how they could publish something so blasphemous, canceling subscriptions and claiming they would never read the magazine again. Gordon Friesen of "Sing Out" defended the song against charges of being sacrilegious: "'Where does the sacrilege lie really, with the song, or those greedy for profits, who debase the Savior by producing and peddling these cheap little trinkets in his image?'"

It's a funny song with a lot of history which is always interesting to me. It became quite a popular little song at a time when cars had metal dash boards and the statures had magnets on the base to stick on the dash. Ah, the good ole’ days.
I remember going over to my Uncle Joe's (they were Catholic) and I always used to play with those statues in the dark. They fascinated me! Tee hee!
 photo Animated-DancingJesus.gif  Keep On Bloggin’!

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