Spirit in the Sky – Norman Greenbaum – 1970

In 1970 Norman Greenbaum’s, Spirit in the Sky sold two million copies, spent fifteen weeks on the US singles chart and is at #333 of Rolling Stone magazine’s top 500 songs of all time.

another one hit wonder?

Yep, another one hit wonder… there were a lot of them in the 70s. I guess there have been a lot in every decade.

But he was only just a one hit wonder because he almost had another hit. In 1968, under the name Dr. West’s Medicine Show and Junk Band, he recorded a song named, The Eggplant That Ate Chicago which, I’m told was a hit but I can’t say as how I recall it at all – fortunately!


Although the song might have seemed to have Christian roots, Norman was and is a Jew. He wrote this song after hearing a Gospel singer on the tele. He thought, “I could do that,” and so, in just 15 minutes he wrote Spirit in the Sky.

The inspiration for the song, however, is not religion but cowboys! Norman was, apparently, a bit of a western movie fan. When asked what the catalyst to writing Spirit in the Sky was, he answered:

If you ask me what I based “Spirit In The Sky” on… What did we grow up watching? …Westerns! These mean and nasty varmints get shot and they wanted to die with their boots on. So to me that was spiritual, they wanted to die with their boots on.

The song itself was simple, when you’re writing a song you keep it simple of course. It wasn’t like a Christian song of praise it was just a simple song. I had to use Christianity because I had to use something. But more important it wasn’t the Jesus part, it was the spirit in the sky. Funny enough… I wanted to die with my boots on.

In 1972 Norman released an album, with Ry Cooder, named Petaluma. It didn’t do too good and so he left the music scene and worked his dairy farm. In the mid-80s he returned to show business as a manager and promoter.

spirit in the sky fax

  • Spirit in the Sky was written and released very late in 1969.
  • Spirit in the Sky peaked at # 3 on the US singles chart in April 1970. It stayed in the top 100 for 15 weeks and sold two million copies. It reached #1 in the UK, Canada and Australia.
  • Spirit in the Sky was the title track on the first of Norman’s four albums.
  • In 1970 John Lennon gave an interview to Rolling Stone magazine in which he was very critical of many of the artists of the time such as Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney. He did, however, admit to liking Spirit in the Sky because it was plain and simple rock.
  • Spirit in the Sky has featured in a number of movies and television series including: House, My Name Is Earl, Saving Grace, Contact, Apollo 13, Remember the Titans, Ocean’s Eleven, Wayne’s World 2, The Longest Yard, Knocked Up, Forrest Gump, Evan Almighty, and Sunshine Cleaning.
  • Spirit in the Sky was ranked at #85 in VH1’s 100 Greatest One-hit Wonders.
  • Spirit in the Sky has been covered by DC Talk and Bauhaus. UK Pop Idol runner up Gareth Gates recorded Spirit In The Sky with The Kumars as the official Comic Relief charity single for 2003. It hit #1 on the UK singles chart.
  • spirit in the sky lyrics

spirit in the sky – norman greenbaum – 1970 – video

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4 Responses to Spirit in the Sky – Norman Greenbaum – 1970

  1. Chris says:

    What about the ‘Doctor and the Medics’ cover version?Reached no. 1 in the UK in 1986.

  2. Greg.K. says:

    Doctor and the Medics? I’ll check it out – thanks.

  3. doc says:

    If a “Christian” wrote a similar song about Jews, it wouldn’t fly, now would it ……the account as to how he wrote it is whitewash nonsense.

    • Greg.K. says:

      thanks for the comment – it’s interesting that, as time goes by, the origins of songs evolve to something that may or may not approach the truth – classic example = American Pie.
      Whether the account is “whitewash nonsense” or not, I don’t know.
      What I do know is, Spirit in the Sky is one of the most recognisable songs of the 70s.
      Thanks again for your comment.

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