The Surprising Norman Greenbaum Hit, ‘Spirit in the Sky’

Share This:

norman-greenbaum-spirit-in-sky-1243548Here’s a song that easily falls into a variety of categories. One-Hit Wonder? Check. Unlikely Chart Hit? Check. Timeless Classic? Check.

In 1969, Norman Greenbaum had left Dr. West’s Medicine Show and Junk Band, a psychedelic band with limited success. Greenbaum, raised as an Orthodox Jew, was moved by watching Porter Wagoner perform a gospel number on TV. “I thought, ‘Yeah, I could do that,’ knowing nothing about gospel music,” he told the New York Times in 2006. “So I sat down and wrote my own gospel song. It came easy. I wrote the words in 15 minutes.”

When it was released that December, music industry trade magazine Record World wrote: “Here’s a talented new singer-songwriter who has much progressive appeal. Good side.”

The song was blocked from reaching the top by a Beatles classic

The unlikely lyrics – I’ve got a friend in Jesus – combined with the distinctive fuzz guitar sound, was a winning combination and it vaulted “Spirit In The Sky” to #3 on the Hot 100 on April 18, 1970. More importantly for Greenbaum, its truly unique sound has led to its being used in numerous movies and TV commercials for top brands, earning the artist a sizable annuity.

Related: The song is on our list of 11 surprising radio hits of the ’70s

Greenbaum, born on November 20, 1942, lives in Santa Rosa, Calif. He made headlines in March 2015 when a vehicle he was driving struck and killed a motorcyclist. In an undated post on his website (with the great URL) he writes: “I am home, finally, and starting the next phase of my rehabilitation. I want to thank everyone for their prayers and well wishes, very much appreciated. I know that it helped pull me through. I shall be posting updates when possible. God bless, Norman.”

If you’re a new Best Classic Bands reader, we’d be grateful if you would Like our Facebook page and/or bookmark our Home page.

Watch what’s considered to be the “original” video

The song has been featured prominently in such hit films as Remember the Titans, Guardians of the Galaxy and more. It’s also been used in TV spots for brands like Nike and American Express.

Watch Greenbaum celebrate his 75th birthday in 2017 with a performance

Greenbaum’s recordings are available here.

Best Classic Bands Staff

1 Comment so far

Jump into a conversation
  1. BobD
    #1 BobD 19 April, 2023, 10:38

    ” The unlikely lyrics – I’ve got a friend in Jesus – ”
    Not so unlikely in 1969 and the early 70’s . We didnt have the internet so people werent in perpetual rage . It was a record with a good groove . If they are old enough ask your parents about My Sweet Lord , Jesus Christ Superstar , Oh Happy Day , Put Your Hand In The Hand or whatever that was called and alot more huge hits . Larry Norman launched ” Christian Rock ” with the help of Capital Records , not a tiny unheard of label . Jesus Christ Superstar made Andrew Lloyd Weber a household name . I probably havent been inside a church since 1965 , and that was only because my Mom made me go to try it out to make up my own mind ( we did that before the internet ) about religion , but i had every record i named . Oh , and I’m pretty sure the motorcyclist struck and almost killed Larry Norman . T Boned the door he was sitting at .

    Reply this comment

Your data will be safe!Your e-mail address will not be published. Also other data will not be shared with third person.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.