Spirit In The Sky

May 7, 2024

This month I’m focusing on One Hit Wonders of the 70s.

Today our song is:  Spirit In The Sky

Wikipedia tells us this about the song:

"Spirit in the Sky" makes several religious references to Jesus, although Greenbaum himself is Jewish. In a 2006 interview with The New York Times, Greenbaum told a reporter he was inspired to write the song after watching Porter Wagoner singing a gospel song on TV. Greenbaum said: "I thought, 'Yeah, I could do that,' knowing nothing about gospel music, so I sat down and wrote my own gospel song. It came easy. I wrote the words in 15 minutes." Greenbaum had previously been a member of psychedelic jug band Dr. West's Medicine Show and Junk Band. When they split up he won a solo contract with producer Erik Jacobsen for Reprise Records. Jacobsen had previously worked with the Lovin' Spoonful.

Greenbaum first arranged the song for acoustic jug band, then he tried a folk version, and then a Delta blues style, but none of these were satisfactory. Under Jacobsen's direction, the song started to gel at Coast Recorders studio on Bush Street in San Francisco, with Jacobsen's chosen session players Russell DaShiell on guitar, Doug Killmer from the band Crowfoot on bass, and drummer Norman Mayell from the band Sopwith Camel. Greenbaum used a Fender Telecaster guitar with a fuzz-tone circuit built into the body to generate the song's characteristic guitar sound. Jacobsen finally brought in the Stovall Sisters (Joyce, Lillian and Netta) from Oakland to support the song with gospel hand percussion and vocal stylings, joined by additional singers.

The resulting sound was an "oddly good and compelling" combination of boogie rock, blues, gospel and hard rock music, with loud drums, distorted electric guitar, clapping hands, and tambourines. Because of the song's length and lyrics, the record company was initially reluctant to issue it, but it was finally released as a single after two other singles from the album had poor sales. "Spirit in the Sky" became a worldwide hit, and was for a time the best-selling single for the Reprise label. In his famous 1970 Lennon Remembers interview for Rolling Stone, John Lennon stated that he liked the song. Later albums and singles by Greenbaum were not embraced by the market. By the 1980s, Greenbaum had abandoned his music career and was working as a sous-chef and restaurant kitchen manager.

The song was reworked by Doctor and the Medics in June 1986, achieving chart success in the UK. This cover version was heard in the 1987 film Maid to Order, catalyzing renewed media interest in the original song. The original version is heard in the films Miami Blues (1990), Wayne's World 2 (1993), Apollo 13 (1995), Remember the Titans (2000), Ocean's Eleven (2001), The Sandlot 2 (2005), Katie and Orbie, Suicide Squad, and The Founder (2016). Kellogg's cereal tapped the song for a television advertisement in 1997, and it was the highlight of a lengthy television commercial for Nike shoes in 2005. Greenbaum reflected about the song in 2011, saying, "It sounds as fresh today as when it was recorded. I've gotten letters from funeral directors telling me that it's their second-most-requested song to play at memorial services, next to 'Danny Boy'."



  1. I didn't know ow the back story. I hope he is getting enough residuals from this song. This always seemed to be a perfect hippie song on acid.


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