I recently burned a CD of gospel legend Sister Winona Carr for a co-worker. To show his gratitude, he made me a customized disk of spiritual, religious-themed songs. I deeply appreciated the gesture, and all of the time and thought that he put into creating it. However, one cut in particular has left me perplexed since the first spin: “Shadrach” by Brook Benton.
My friend tells me that it was a hit in the early ’60s. In my mind, that begs a question: Why?
To help me understand what exactly was going on, I looked up Shadrach in the Bible. His story sounds straight-forward enough: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego go to Babylon where King Nebuchadnezzar demands that everyone bow down before a golden idol.
They refuse, so the king throws them into a furnace and cranks the heat. The Almighty is nonplussed by such a development, and sends an angel down to cool the flames. When Shadrach and his cohorts walk out of the fire unharmed, Nebuchadnezzar drops down to his knees, praising God. A very simple and effective tale, to be sure, but does it really scream “hit single”?
I posed this quandary to my friend, and he said that it’s an old spiritual. From what planet, might I ask? Musically, it sounds like it was borne out of some strange alternate reality where, in the control booth, Phil Spector is forcing Joe Meek into a headlock, while Electric Light Orchestra rehearses the chorale from “Mr. Blue Sky” in the accompanying studio.
Stranger still is Benton’s delivery. Nothing quite prepared me for what sounds like he’s failing a screen test for the part of Gandalf the Grey: “Heat on coal and red-hot briiiimmmmstone!” Has Brook been in the cough syrup again?
All in all, it’s just a little too freaky for me. If it’s all the same to everyone, I’ll think I’ll stick to Sister Winona’s “Dragnet for Jesus.” Amen.