Spirit in the Sky

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For a deity whose portfolio includes or is limited to the sky, see Spirit of the sky.
"Spirit in the Sky"
Single by Norman Greenbaum
from the album Spirit in the Sky
Released 1969
Format 7"
Recorded 1969
Genre Psychedelic rock,[1] gospel[2]
Length 3:57
Label Reprise 0885
Reprise RS20885 (UK)
Writer(s) Norman Greenbaum
Producer(s) Erik Jacobsen
Music sample

"Spirit in the Sky" is a song written and originally recorded[3] by Norman Greenbaum and released in late 1969. The single sold two million copies in 1969–70 and reached number three in the U.S. Billboard chart (April 18, 1970) where it listed for 15 weeks in the Top 100. It also climbed to number one on the UK, Australian and Canadian charts in 1970. Rolling Stone ranked "Spirit in the Sky" #333 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The song was featured on the 1969 album of the same name. Cover versions by Doctor and the Medics and Gareth Gates have also made the number 1 spot in the UK.

Original version by Norman Greenbaum[edit]

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, who had previously worked successfully with The Lovin' Spoonful. He was inspired to write the song after watching Porter Wagoner on TV singing a gospel song. Greenbaum later 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."[3]

"Spirit in the Sky" contains lyrics about the afterlife, making several references to Jesus, although Greenbaum himself is Jewish (in a VH1 episode about famous one-hit wonders, Alice Cooper said that he was surprised to hear someone with a Jewish-sounding last name performing a song that seemed to be about Jesus). Greenbaum recorded his first solo album with Jacobsen for Reprise Records. The song's arrangement came together in the studio in San Francisco where lead guitarist Russell DaShiell, bass player Doug Killmer from the band Crowfoot and drummer Norman Mayell worked with Greenbaum. According to one source[3] and to DaShiell, Greenbaum used a Fender Telecaster with a fuzz box built into the body to generate the song's characteristic guitar sound. Moreover, DaShiell[4] explained how he created the song's distinctive "beeping" fills:

"I actually played the lead guitar parts on Spirit, using a 61-62 SG Les Paul, a 68 Marshall Plexi 100w half stack and a home-made overdrive box in front of the Marshall. Regarding the 'beep beeps' as I call them, when the producer asked me to play some fills in between the verses, as a joke I said how about something spacey like this and I did the pickup switch/string bending thing. I saw him stand up in the control booth and he said "that's it! let's record that!" so we did. (There was no slide involved, just my fingers, and I used the bridge humbucker and the pickup switch). The fuzz part is Norman with a built-in overdrive circuit built into his Tele pickguard."
"I've been asked a lot over the years how I did the 'beep beep' guitar parts on Spirit, so for any guitar players out there who would like to learn how, try the following: Using a 2-pickup Gibson, set the neck pickup volume to zero, bridge pickup volume to max, with the pickup switch in the middle position (with Gibson wiring this gives you silence in the middle position). Do a string bend, picking the B & E strings together with one hit, just ahead of the beat, then use the pickup switch to kick in the bridge pickup in triplets (6 per bar) as you let the B string bend down two frets."
"I mainly used two positions on Spirit, which is in the key of A. For the low position, fret a stationary C note (8th fret) on the E string while bending the B string up to an A note for your starting-position, then pick the two strings together once while the guitar is silent and work the pickup switch as you let the A note bend downwards to a G. For the high position, do the same thing at the 15th fret holding a stationary high G note on the E string while bending down from E to D on the B string."
"I must give credit to Jimi Hendrix as my inspiration for this technique (as well as for the double-string riffs I did at the beginning of the Spirit solo tail section). I saw him perform live in a small club in Madison, Wisconsin and loved the way he used his Strat pickup switch to create staccato feedback on songs like Voodoo Child. The difference is, on a Gibson you can start from silence and create the on/off effect, which worked well with the downward string bending thing I did on Spirit."

The resulting sound was an innovative and compelling combination of gospel and psychedelic 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 its unusual lyrics and style, 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.[citation needed]

Of the song, Greenbaum observed: "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'.".[5]

Cultural impact[edit]

During John Lennon's scathing 1970 Rolling Stone "Beatles break-up" interview with Jann S. Wenner, while highly critical of the recent work of many of his peers, including Bob Dylan and ex-band mate Paul McCartney, Lennon professed to liking the then-current radio single, "Spirit in the Sky," stating that he "always liked simple rock and nothing else."[6]

The song has been featured in the video game Rock Band 2 and many films including Guardians of the Galaxy. "Spirit in the Sky" was ranked #85 in VH1's 100 Greatest One-hit Wonders. It was included on the list of songs deemed 'questionable' by Clear Channel following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The song is used to introduce the starting lineup of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for home games at Angel Stadium.

The song is played at the end of the comedy This is the End, during the scene when Seth and Jay enter heaven.

In the Ron Howard movie Apollo 13, the Fred Haise character opened the TV broadcast to earth from the Odyssey Command Module with "Spirit in the Sky" instead of the planned theme from 2001 A Space Odyssey.

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1969-1970) Peak
position
Australia (Kent Music Report)[7] 1
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[8] 4
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[9] 2
Canadian RPM Top Singles[10] 1
Germany (Media Control Charts)[11] 1
Irish Singles Chart[12] 1
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[13] 4
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[14] 3
Norway (VG-lista)[15] 2
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[16] 4
UK (Official Charts Company)[17] 1
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[18] 3

Cover versions and samples[edit]

"Spirit in the Sky"
Single by Doctor and the Medics
from the album Laughing at the Pieces
B-side Laughing at the Pieces
Released 1986
Format 7"
Recorded 1986
Genre Neo-psychedelia,[19] new wave[20]
Length 3:28
Doctor and the Medics singles chronology
"Spirit in the Sky"
(1986)
"Burn"
(1986)

Bauhaus covered "Spirit In the Sky" on their 1983 single "Sanity Assassin".[21] In 1986 the group Doctor and the Medics reached #1 in the UK singles chart with their version of the song, while the same year punk band Fuzzbox released their own less successful version. A humorous version of the song recorded to raise money for the charity Comic Relief by The Kumars with Gareth Gates also reached #1 in 2003 becoming the third version of this song to top the UK singles chart.

Christian band Stellar Kart covered the song on their 2010 album, Everything Is Different Now.[22] In 1991, The Kentucky Headhunters covered "Spirit In the Sky" on their album, Electric Barnyard.[23] The song was covered by DC Talk for Jesus: Music from & Inspired by the Epic Mini Series soundtrack and was released as a B side with LeAnn Rimes' song "I Need You".[24][25]

Goldfrapp sampled the song for their single "Ooh La La".[26]

Doctor & the Medics version[edit]

Chart (1986) Peak
position
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[27] 1
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[28] 29
Canadian RPM Top Singles[29] 1
Germany (Media Control Charts)[30] 9
Irish Singles Chart[31] 1
Italy (FIMI)[32] 6
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[33] 2
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[34] 16
UK (Official Charts Company)[35] 1
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[36] 69
U.S. Billboard Hot Dance Club Play[36] 27

Gareth Gates (with the Kumars) version[edit]

"Spirit in the Sky"
Single by Gareth Gates with The Kumars
from the album Go Your Own Way
B-side Dance Again
Will You Wait for Me?
Released March 14, 2003
Format CD Single
Recorded 2003
Genre Pop rock
Length 3:29
Label Sony BMG/RCA
Producer(s) Steve Mac
Gareth Gates with The Kumars singles chronology
"What My Heart Wants to Say"
(2002)
"Spirit in the Sky"
(2003)
"Sunshine"
(2003)

"Spirit in the Sky" served as the first single from Pop Idol runner-up Gareth Gates' second studio album, Go Your Own Way. The single was released on March 14, 2003, and was the official Comic Relief charity single for 2003. The song features guest vocals from The Kumars. The song peaked at number one on the UK Singles Chart, becoming Gates' fourth number one single.

Chart (2003) Peak
position
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[37] 10
Belgium (Ultratip Flanders)[38] 1
Belgium (Ultratip Wallonia)[39] 9
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[40] 33
Germany (Media Control Charts)[41] 13
Irish Singles Chart[42] 2
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[43] 14
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[44] 11
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[45] 30
UK (Official Charts Company)[46] 1

Tracklisting[edit]

UK CD1
  1. "Spirit in the Sky" – 3:29
  2. "Dance Again" – 4:06
  3. "Spirit in the Sky" (Gareth Only Version) – 3:25
  4. "Spirit in the Sky" (Video) – 4:00
UK CD2
  1. "Spirit in the Sky" – 3:29
  2. "Will You Wait for Me?" – 4:13
  3. "Interview With Gareth" – 5:00
UK DVD
  1. "Spirit in the Sky" (Video) – 4:00
  2. "Dance Again" (Video) – 4:06
  3. "Spirit in the Sky" (Making of the Video) – 3:25
Preceded by
"All Kinds of Everything" by Dana
UK number-one single (Norman Greenbaum version)
May 2, 1970 (2 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Back Home" by England national football team
Preceded by
"The Chicken Song" by Spitting Image
UK number-one single (Doctor & The Medics version)
June 3, 1986
Succeeded by
"The Edge of Heaven" by Wham!
Preceded by
"Beautiful" by Christina Aguilera
UK number-one single (Gareth Gates & The Kumars version)
March 16, 2003 - March 29, 2003
Succeeded by
"Make Luv" by Room 5 featuring Oliver Cheatham

References[edit]

  1. ^ Jermy Leeuwis. "Jason Mraz – Spirit In The Sky". MusicRemedy. Retrieved 24 June 2013.  "Jason Mraz's new song is a bluesy, gospel-influenced version of Norman Greenbaum's 1970 psychedelic rock anthem 'Spirit in the Sky.'"
  2. ^ Richie Unterberger. "Spirit in the Sky on Allmusic". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 24 June 2013.  "The handclaps and riffs (...) simmered down a little to allow Greenbaum to sing a tune which really did sound like a genuine gospel song" "The gospel feel was amplified by creditably wailing backup female singers"
  3. ^ a b c McNichol, Tom (December 24, 2006). "A ‘Spirit' From the '60s That Won't Die". The New York Times. Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  4. ^ Spiritguitar.com
  5. ^ "Christian Order - Read - Editorials - February 2011". Christianorder.com. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  6. ^ Jann S. Wenner (Jan 21, 1971), The Rolling Stone Interview: John Lennon, Part I, Rolling Stone 
  7. ^ "Australia n°1 Hits - 70's". Worldcharts.co.uk. Retrieved 10 June 2013. 
  8. ^ "Norman Greenbaum – Spirit In The Sky – Austriancharts.at" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  9. ^ "Ultratop.be – Norman Greenbaum – Spirit In The Sky" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  10. ^ "Spirit in the sky in Canadian Singles Chart". Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  11. ^ "Norman Greenbaum – Spirit In The Sky". Officialcharts.de. GfK Entertainment.
  12. ^ "Spirit in the sky in Irish Chart". IRMA. Retrieved 1 June 2013.  Only one result when searching "Norman Greenbaum"
  13. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Norman Greenbaum search results" (in Dutch) Dutch Top 40.
  14. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – Norman Greenbaum – Spirit In The Sky" (in Dutch). Single Top 100.
  15. ^ "Norwegiancharts.com – Norman Greenbaum – Spirit In The Sky". VG-lista.
  16. ^ "Norman Greenbaum – Spirit In The Sky – swisscharts.com". Swiss Singles Chart.
  17. ^ "1970 Top 40 Official UK Singles Archive - 2nd May 1970". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  18. ^ "Spirit in the Sky awards on Allmusic". Allmusic. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  19. ^ Ted Mills. "Laughing at the Pieces review on Allmusic". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 24 June 2013. 
  20. ^ Michael Sutton. "Doctor & the Medics biography on Allmusic". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 24 June 2013.  "new wave remake of Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky""
  21. ^ "Bauhaus's Spirit in the Sky cover of Norman Greenbaum's Spirit in the Sky". WhoSampled.com. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  22. ^ Jared Johnson. "Everything Is Different Now review on Allmusic". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  23. ^ Brian Mansfield. "Electric Barnyard review on Allmusic". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  24. ^ "Jesus: Music From & Inspired by the Epic Mini Series: Patrick Williams, Various Artists: Music". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2011-09-27. 
  25. ^ "I Need You / Spirit in the Sky: Leann Rimes, Dc Talk: Music". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2011-09-27. 
  26. ^ "Goldfrapp's Ooh La La sample of Norman Greenbaum's Spirit in the Sky". WhoSampled.com. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  27. ^ "Doctor & The Medics – Spirit In The Sky – Austriancharts.at" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  28. ^ "Ultratop.be – Doctor & The Medics – Spirit In The Sky" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  29. ^ "Spirit in the sky in Canadian Singles Chart". Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  30. ^ "Doctor & The Medics – Spirit In The Sky". Officialcharts.de. GfK Entertainment.
  31. ^ "Spirit in the sky in Irish Chart". IRMA. Retrieved 1 June 2013.  2nd result when searching "Doctor and the Medics"
  32. ^ "The best-selling singles of 1986 in Italy". HitParadeItalia (it). Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
    48. Spirit in the sky - Doctor and the Medics [#6]
  33. ^ "Charts.org.nz – Doctor & The Medics – Spirit In The Sky". Top 40 Singles.
  34. ^ "Swedishcharts.com – Doctor & The Medics – Spirit In The Sky". Singles Top 60.
  35. ^ "1986 Top 40 Official UK Singles Archive - 7th June 1986". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  36. ^ a b "Doctor & the Medics awards on Allmusic". Allmusic. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  37. ^ "Gareth Gates with the Kumars – Spirit In The Sky – Austriancharts.at" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  38. ^ "Ultratop.be – Gareth Gates with the Kumars – Spirit In The Sky" (in Dutch). Ultratip.
  39. ^ "Ultratop.be – Gareth Gates with the Kumars – Spirit In The Sky" (in French). Ultratip.
  40. ^ "Ultratop.be – Gareth Gates with the Kumars – Spirit In The Sky" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  41. ^ "Gareth Gates with the Kumars – Spirit In The Sky". Officialcharts.de. GfK Entertainment.
  42. ^ "Spirit in the sky in Irish Chart". IRMA. Retrieved 1 June 2013.  2nd result when searching "Gareth Gates featuring the Kumars"
  43. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Gareth Gates with the Kumars search results" (in Dutch) Dutch Top 40.
  44. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – Gareth Gates with the Kumars – Spirit In The Sky" (in Dutch). Single Top 100.
  45. ^ "Gareth Gates with the Kumars – Spirit In The Sky – swisscharts.com". Swiss Singles Chart.
  46. ^ "2003 Top 40 Official UK Singles Archive - 22nd March 2003". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 

External links[edit]