Norman Greenbaum

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Norman Greenbaum
Birth nameNorman Joel Greenbaum
Born (1942-11-20) November 20, 1942 (age 80)
Malden, Massachusetts, U.S.
InstrumentsVocals, guitar
Years active1965–present
Victoria Sue Bodnar
(m. 1969; div. 1973)
(2 children)

Norman Joel Greenbaum (born November 20, 1942) is an American singer-songwriter. He is primarily known for his 1969 song "Spirit in the Sky".

Early life[edit]

Greenbaum was born in Malden, Massachusetts. He was raised in an Orthodox Jewish household and attended Hebrew school at Congregation Beth Israel.[1] His initial interest in music was sparked by Southern blues music and the folk music that was popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He performed with various bands in high school and studied music at Boston University for two years. In college he performed at local coffeehouses but eventually dropped out and moved to Los Angeles in 1965.[2]


In the late 1960s Norman Greenbaum was the leader and composer for Dr. West's Medicine Show and Junk Band, which recorded the novelty hit "The Eggplant That Ate Chicago".[3] The group's psychedelic approach was too eccentric for mainstream show business; the group's name suggested a novelty or comedy act incorporating music.

Greenbaum went solo as a folk artist and submitted an original song, "Spirit in the Sky", to Reprise Records. His demonstration recording was a simple folk rendition, with Greenbaum accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. Reprise handed Greenbaum to staff producer Erik Jacobsen, who radically rearranged the song for a new recording session. The updated version now had pulsing electric guitar, gospel-styled backup singers, and an insistent rhythm accompanying Greenbaum, whose vocal was now double-tracked. Reprise released the record in late 1969, and it skyrocketed to #1 in almost all worldwide markets. It sold two million copies in 1969 and 1970,[4] and received a gold disc from the RIAA. It has subsequently been used in many films, advertisements, and television shows.[4]

Although "Spirit in the Sky" has a clear Christian theme, Greenbaum was and remains an observant Jew.[2][1] Greenbaum says he was inspired to write the song after watching country singers singing a song on television. In an interview Greenbaum stated that Western movies were the real inspiration for "Spirit in the Sky":[5]

Norman Greenbaum: 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.

Ray Shasho: So that was the trigger that got you to write the song?

Norman Greenbaum: Yes. 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.

All of the accoutrements added to "Spirit in the Sky" in the recording studio made it impossible for Greenbaum to replicate the recording in live performances. His televised appearance on Dick Clark's American Bandstand compelled the singer to synchronize his performance to a playback of the hit record.

Though Norman Greenbaum is generally regarded as a one-hit wonder,[2][1] he actually had two hits: the upbeat "Canned Ham" followed in 1970, and the record reached number 46 on the American charts and number 26 in the Canadian charts.

Personal life[edit]

Greenbaum has been a long-time resident of Santa Rosa, California.[2] He was critically injured when a car, in which he was a passenger, made a left turn in the path of a motorcycle on Occidental Road on March 28, 2015, killing the motorcyclist and injuring the motorcycle passenger.[6] Greenbaum has since gone back to performing.[7]



With Dr. West's Medicine Show and Junk Band[edit]

  • The Eggplant That Ate Chicago (1967)
  • Norman Greenbaum with Dr. West's Medicine Show and Junk Band (1969, compilation)
  • Euphoria: The Best of Dr. West's Medicine Show and Junk Band (1998, compilation


  • Spirit in the Sky (1969)
  • Back Home Again (1970)
  • Petaluma (1972)
  • Spirit in the Sky: The Best of Norman Greenbaum (1995, compilation)
  • Spirit in the Sky: The Best of Norman Greenbaum (1997, compilation)
  • Spirit in the Sky: The Definitive Anthology (2003, compilation)


Year Single Chart positions Certifications
1966 "The Eggplant That Ate Chicago"
(with Dr. West's Medicine Show and Junk Band)
1967 "Gondoliers, Shakespeares, Overseers, Playboys and Bums"
(with Dr. West's Medicine Show and Junk Band)
"You Can Fly"
(with Dr. West's Medicine Show and Junk Band)
1968 "Bullets la Verne" / "Jigsaw"
(with Dr. West's Medicine Show and Junk Band)
"School for Sweet Talk"
(as Dr. Norman Greenbaum)
1969 "Marcy"
"Spirit in the Sky" 1 1 1 1 1 3 1 3
1970 "Canned Ham" 51 26 46
"I.J. Foxx"
"Lucille Got Stealed"
(France-only release)
1971 "California Earthquake" 93
"Twentieth Century Fox"
(Dr. West's Medicine Show and Junk Band)
1972 "Petaluma" (promo)
1974 "Nancy Whiskey"
(Dr. West's Medicine Show and Junk Band) (UK-only release)
"—" denotes releases that did not chart or were not released in that territory.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Benarde, Scott R. (2003). Stars of David: Rock'n'roll's Jewish Stories. University Press of New England. pp. 186–187. ISBN 978-1-58465-303-5.
  2. ^ a b c d McNichol, Tom (December 24, 2006). "A 'Spirit' From the '60s That Won't Die". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2000). Top Pop Singles 1955–1999. Menomonee Falls, WI: Record Research Inc. p. 183. ISBN 0-89820-139-X.
  4. ^ a b Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 280. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  5. ^ Shasho, Ray (December 23, 2011). "Exclusive: Norman Greenbaum reveals the true origin of 'Spirit In The Sky'". Classic Rock Music Reporter. Retrieved October 17, 2018.
  6. ^ "Crash west of Santa Rosa kills motorcyclist; singer Norman Greenbaum hospitalized". The Press Democrat. March 28, 2015.
  7. ^ Freedman, Richard (December 21, 2016). "December 22 Vallejo A&E Source: Greenbaum keeps finding the 'Spirit in the Sky'". Vallejo Times Herald.
  8. ^ Grant. "Every AMR Top 100 Single in 1970". Retrieved September 18, 2020.
  9. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 130. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  10. ^ " – ULTRATOP BELGIAN CHARTS". Retrieved September 18, 2020.
  11. ^ Canada, Library and Archives (July 17, 2013). "Image : RPM Weekly". Retrieved September 18, 2020.
  12. ^ Canada, Library and Archives (July 17, 2013). "Image : RPM Weekly". Retrieved September 18, 2020.
  13. ^ "Offizielle Deutsche Charts – Offizielle Deutsche Charts". Retrieved September 18, 2020.
  14. ^ Jaclyn Ward. "The Irish Charts – All there is to know". Fireball Media Group. Archived from the original on July 21, 2011. Retrieved September 18, 2020.
  15. ^ "Dutch Charts –". Retrieved September 18, 2020.
  16. ^ "NORMAN GREENBAUM | full Official Chart History | Official Charts Company". Retrieved September 18, 2020.
  17. ^ "Dr. West's Medicine Show and Junk Band". Billboard. Retrieved September 18, 2020.
  18. ^ "Norman Greenbaum". Billboard. Retrieved September 18, 2020.
  19. ^ "Norman Greenbaum – Spirit in the Sky". Retrieved April 5, 2022.

External links[edit]