This week Jim Adams has prompted us with Bird, Fly, Sky and Wing for the Song Lyric Sunday challenge. I have chosen Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum. Considering it was written and recorded in 1969, I think it still sounds great today. Turn the volume up high, it’s even better!
“Spirit in the Sky” makes several religious references to Jesus, although Greenbaum 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’ Spoonfuland the song was included on Greenbaum’s first solo album.
The resulting sound was an “oddly compelling” combination of gospel and hard rock music, with loud drums, distorted electric guitar, clapping hands, and tambourines. The production team brought in the Stovall Sisters, an Oakland-based gospel trio, to sing backing vocals. Because of the song’s length and lyrics, the record company was initially reluctant to issue it, but 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 at the time the best-selling single ever for the Reprise label.
About the song, Greenbaum has been quoted as 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’.”
Greenbaum’s version appears in a 2019 TV commercial for Budweiser.
Spirit in the Sky Norman Greenbaum
When I die and they lay me to rest Gonna go to the place that's the best When I lay me down to die Goin' up to the spirit in the sky Goin' up to the spirit in the sky That's where I'm gonna go when I die When I die and they lay me to rest Gonna go to the place that's the best
Prepare yourself you know it's a must Gotta have a friend in Jesus So you know that when you die He's gonna recommend you To the spirit in the sky Gonna recommend you To the spirit in the sky That's where you're gonna go when you die When you die and they lay you to rest You're gonna go to the place that's the best
Never been a sinner I never sinned I got a friend in Jesus So you know that when I die He's gonna set me up with The spirit in the sky Oh set me up with the spirit in the sky That's where I'm gonna go when I die When I die and they lay me to rest I'm gonna go to the place that's the best Go to the place that's the best