Spirit in the Sky

Single infobox |
Name = Spirit in the Sky

Artist = Norman Greenbaum
from Album =
B-side =
Released = 1969
Format = 7"
Recorded = 1969
Genre = Rock
Length = 3:57
Label = Reprise Records
Producer = Erik Jacobsen
Chart position = 3 Billboard
1 UK
Last single =
This single =
Next single =
Single infobox |
Name = Spirit in the Sky

Artist = Doctor and the Medics
from Album = Laughing at the Pieces
B-side = Laughing at the Pieces
Released = 1986
Format = 7"
Recorded = 1986
Genre = Rock
Length =
Label =
Producer =
Chart position = *#1 (UK Singles Chart)
Last single =
This single = "Spirit in the Sky" (1986)
Next single = "Waterloo" (1986)
"Spirit in the Sky" is a song written by Norman Greenbaum and released in 1969. The single sold 2 million copies in 1969 and 1970 and got to number 3 in the U.S. Billboard chart, as well as number 1 on the UK, Australian and Canadian charts in 1970. 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

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." [ [http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/24/fashion/24norman.html/partner/rssnyt/?_r=1&oref=slogin A ‘Spirit’ From the ’60s That Won’t Die - New York Times ] ]

"Spirit in the Sky" contains lyrics about the afterlife, making several references to Jesus. However, Greenbaum, who identifies himself as Jewish, stated that he had no particular religious intentions with the song. [ [http://www.jewhoo.com/editor/profiles/normangreenbaum.html Jewhoo! - Biographies ] ] He simply wanted to reach a bigger market. In fact, the line "Never been a sinner, I never sinned" runs counter to the Christian concept of sin. (Though, it is consistent with some interpretations of the Doctrine of Justification) The song's guitar riff was inspired by John Lee Hooker's influential "Boogie Chillen."

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 and drummer Norman Mayall worked with Greenbaum. According to one source [ [http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/24/fashion/24norman.html/partner/rssnyt/?_r=1&oref=slogin A ‘Spirit’ From the ’60s That Won’t Die - New York Times ] ] , Greenbaum himself used a Fender Telecaster with a fuzz box built into the body to generate the song's characteristic guitar sound. However, elsewhere guitarist Russell DaShiell [ [http://www.spiritguitar.com spiritguitar.com ] ] explained how the tone was created: :"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." [ [http://line6.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic&f=3&t=012727 Line 6 Error Page ] ]

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 were 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.

Cultural impact

During John Lennon's famously scathing 1970 Rolling Stone "Beatles break-up" interview (Jann S. Wenner), while highly critical of the recent work of many of his peers, including Bob Dylan and ex-bandmate 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."

Rolling Stone ranked "Spirit in the Sky" #333 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Of the song, Greenbaum once said, in an interview: 'It sounds as fresh today as when it was recorded'. [http://www.jewhoo.com/editor/profiles/normangreenbaum.html] "Spirit in the Sky" was also ranked #85 in VH1's 100 Greatest One-hit Wonders.

"Spirit in the Sky" is a precursor to the sound of early-70s British glam rock pioneers in numerous respects. It features:
- high-pitched backing vocals similar to those in almost all hit singles by T. Rex or Sweet;
- a prominent shuffle rhythm with handclaps and a double emphasis in the third bar, exactly like that used in Gary Glitter's later worldwide hit "Rock and Roll, Parts One and Two";
- the use of nascent synthesizer technology more for its novelty/effects value than its musicality, as heard later in Roxy Music's "Virginia Plain" and Chicory Tip's "Son of My Father".
- Alvin Stardust's first single "My Coo-Ca-Choo" even uses the chord pattern of "Spirit in the Sky": each song can be sung along with the other quite easily.

The song has been featured in many movies, including "Superstar", "Saving Grace", "Contact", "Michael" (trailer only), "Apollo 13", "Remember the Titans", "Ocean's Eleven", "Jesus Camp", "Wayne's World 2", "The Sandlot 2", "The Longest Yard", "Knocked Up", "Miami Blues", "Universal Soldier II: Brothers In Arms", "The Wolves of Kromer", "The Huntress", "Forrest Gump", "Evan Almighty", "December Boys", "Angel Baby (1995 film)", and "When I Die"

Recently, Nike, Inc. used the song in a commercial featuring Deion Sanders, Matt Leinart, Steve Young, and LaDainian Tomlinson among others.

"Spirit in the Sky" is featured at the end of a 30 second commercial featuring Gatorade Tiger. Tiger Woods appears in the commercial.

It is used on several commercials for the Tigua Indian casino and gaming center.

It was included on the list of songs deemed inappropriate by Clear Channel following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

"Spirit in the Sky" is played at Los Angeles of Anaheim Angels home games as the starting lineups are announced.

"Spirit in the Sky" was also used at the beginning of in the episode "Brother's Keeper."

In November 2007, the song was featured at the end of the House episode " Games"

In 2008 "Spirit in the Sky" was featured in the SoapNet series MVP. It also featured in an episode of "My Name Is Earl", at the end credits of The Channel Four Broadcast of "Jesus Camp", and featured in Rock Band 2.

Other versions of "Spirit in the Sky"

Many artists have released cover versions of the song. Some of the recordings even went on to repeat the same feat as the original, by reaching the number one spot in the UK, as well as other countries.

* Top of the Poppers covered the song in 1970. Their version can be found on their album The Best of Top of the Pops '70
* 1970s Manchester band The Cheetahs covered the song on their album.
* The Stovall Sisters included their own interpretation on The Stovall Sisters (Reprise 6446)
* The Citizen Band covered the song in 1980.
* In 1970, the band Soul Brothers covered the song
* In 1986, Doctor and the Medics released a version which went to number 1 in 32 countries, including the UK.
* Also covered in 1986 by UK all-girl indie band FUZZBOX (short for "We've Got A Fuzzbox And We're Gonna Use It)
* In 1991, the song was recorded by country rock group Kentucky HeadHunters on their album "Electric Barnyard".
* In 1998, a successful recording of the song was released by Travis Allen White.
* In 2000, the song was covered by the Christian rock group dc Talk, for the CBS mini-series entitled "Jesus: The Epic Miniseries".
* In 2003, a version was released by pop-singer Gareth Gates and The Kumars, in aid of the charity Comic Relief. It reached number 1 in the UK charts for two weeks.
* In 2005, song was released on the album "Atom Bomb" by the Blind Boys of Alabama.
* In 2005, the song's repetitive bassline was appropriated by British electronic artist Goldfrapp in their single "Ooh La La".
* The song was also covered by Henry Lee Summer on his live album.
* The song was also covered by German artist Nina Hagen, and covered by Bauhaus
* The song was played at the funeral of Hunter S. Thompson as his ashes were blasted out of a Gonzo cannon into the night air above Woody Creek.
* The song was also covered by the Howard Stern band, The Losers.
* The song was also covered by the joy Riders.
* In 2006, the song was covered by Tom Cochrane on his album No Stranger.
* In 2006, Elton John did a version in his album "16 Legendary Covers from 1969/70, as Sung by Elton John"
* In 2007, The Havingas did a version in their up-and-coming CD "Girl of My Dreams". [ [http://www.thehavingas.com thehavingas.com ] ]
* In July 2007, Jim Davidson used this song as his encore for a series of gigs in Dubai
* A cover of the song by Plumb appears on the Evan Almighty soundtrack.
* Also, a remix was made by Emjay and the Atari Babes called "Stimulate"


External links

* [http://www.spiritinthesky.com/ Norman Greenbaum]
* [http://www.spiritguitar.com Russell DaShiell]

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