Norman Greenbaum

Spirit in the Sky

Song Review by

"Spirit in the Sky" was one of the biggest hits of 1970, peaking at #3 in the charts and staying in the Top Forty for 14 weeks. It's also one of the songs most likely to be cited when "one-hit wonders" are discussed, though Norman Greenbaum did have a few other low-charting singles, both as a solo singer and a member of Dr. West's Medicine Show and Junk Band. There were few other singles of the time that boasted such an arresting opening hook: a searing, ominous distorted guitar riff that pulsed up and down like a cardiograph, backed by unearthly descending electronic glissandos and revival-meeting handclaps. The handclaps and riffs remained in force throughout the vocal verses, but simmered down a little to allow Greenbaum to sing a tune which really did sound like a genuine gospel song, albeit one with more pop hooks than what you'd find in the gospel repertoire. The gospel feel was amplified by creditably wailing backup female singers, cementing the impression of a revival meeting somehow colliding with both psychedelia and the AM Top Forty. And Greenbaum's lyrics, for all the melody and arrangement's commerciality, didn't sound contrived: they really did sound spiritual in their celebratory anticipation of going to a spirit in the sky to rest after death. In fact there was some anxiety on the part of Reprise Records as to whether a record with such religious-centered lyrics would be too controversial to be a hit single, a fear that was amply disproved. John Lennon even cited it as one of his current faves when he was interviewed by Rolling Stone in the early 1970s. To subsequent generations, unfortunately, it might be most familiar through its use in a television commercial. As a lamentable coda to that business, Greenbaum once said about the American Express commercial in which the song was used, "It gave me a lot more faith in American Express; but they still won't give me a card. They gave me money for using it, but not the Gold Card."

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Spirit in the Sky 1969 Varèse Sarabande 4:03
More Party Classics 1987
Various Artists
Warner Bros. 3:54
Sounds of the Seventies: 1970 1989
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 4:02
Super Hits of the '70s: Have a Nice Day, Vol. 2 1990
Various Artists
Rhino 3:57
Baby Boomer Classics: Mellow Seventies 1990
Various Artists
JCI Associated Labels 3:58
'70s Smash Hits, Vol. 2 1993
Various Artists
Rhino 4:03
Wayne's World 2 [Music from the Motion Picture] 1993
Original Soundtrack
Reprise 3:59
Billboard Top Rock 'n' Roll Hits: 1968-1972 1993
Various Artists
Rhino 4:01
Dick Clark's All-Time Hits, Vol. 4 1994
Various Artists
Original Sound Entertainment 4:01
Ultimate Party Album 1994
Various Artists
Import
Music from the Motion Picture: The War 1994
Various Artists
MCA 0:00
Apollo 13 [Music from the Motion Picture] 1995 MCA 3:50
No Image 1995
Various Artists
Varèse Sarabande
WARW: All Rock Classics, Vol. 2 1995
Various Artists
Varese 4:01
The Best of Norman Greenbaum: Spirit in the Sky 1995 Varèse Vintage / Varèse Sarabande 4:02
Garage Band Rock 1995
Various Artists
Laserlight / Delta Distribution 4:00
Rock On 1970 1996
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Madacy 4:03
Only Rock 'N Roll 1970-1974: #1 Radio Hits 1996
Various Artists
Essex 4:02
25 Years of Number 1 Hits, Vol. 1 (1970-1971) 1996
Various Artists
Connoisseur
Michael [Original Soundtrack] 1996
Various Artists
Revolution / Warner Bros. 3:59
Angel Baby [Original Soundtrack] 1997
Original Soundtrack
Milan 3:59
Amen Hymns & Spirituals 1997
Various Artists
GNP / Crescendo 4:01
Rock On: 1970-1974 1997
Various Artists
Madacy 4:00
70's Radio Hits, Vol. 1-4 1997
Various Artists
Rhino Flashback 4:03
Mellow 70's [Coyote] 1997
Various Artists
Coyote Records 4:00
Essential Hits Collection 1998
Various Artists
Crimson Productions 3:58
God, Love and Rock & Roll 1998
Various Artists
Varèse Vintage / Varese 4:02
Number Ones: The 70's 1998
Various Artists
Simitar Distribution 4:01
Have a Nice Decade: The 70s Pop Culture Box 1998
Various Artists
Rhino 4:02
No. 1 Classic Pop Album 1998
Various Artists
Polygram 4:00
Rock On: From 1970 to 1979 1998
Various Artists
Madacy 4:00
Where Were You When the Fun Stopped? 1999 EMI Music Distribution 4:00
40 Hits: 1970-1974 1999
Various Artists
Millennium Hits (Netherlands) 4:00
Soundtrack Jams, Vol. 2 1999
Various Artists
Delta Distribution 4:02
Superstar [Original Soundtrack] 1999
Original Soundtrack
Jellybean 3:59
Rockin' 70's, Vol. 3 1999
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Madacy 4:01
No Image 1999
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 4:00
Soundtrack Jams 2000
Various Artists
Delta Distribution 4:02
City Rocks: Boston 2000
Various Artists
Cityrocks 4:01
The Woodstock Generation: Wonderful World Beautiful People 2001
Various Artists
Woodstock Records 3:59
Spirit in the Sky: Best of Norman Greenbaum 2001 Repertoire 3:59
Saving Grace [Original Soundtrack] 2001
Original Soundtrack
WEA International 3:56
Instant Party: 70's Rockadelic 2001
Various Artists
Rhino 3:58
Capital Gold Legends 2001
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:56
One Hit Wonders: Hard Two Get Hits [Box Set] 2001
Various Artists
One Hit 4:00
70's [Import] 2001
Various Artists
Repertoire 3:57
The Ultimate Hits of the 70's 2001
Various Artists
Collectables 4:00
Flower Power Generation: Let's Go to San Francisco 2001
Various Artists
Simply The Best (Netherlands) 3:59
No Image 2001
Various Artists
GSC 4:04
Jukebox Hits of the '70s [Collectables] 2002
Various Artists
Collectables 4:46
40 Years of Jukebox Hits: The 50's, 60's, 70's & 80's 2002
Various Artists
Collectables 4:00
Casey Kasem Presents: America's Top Ten - The 70's Singer/Songwriters 2002
Various Artists
Top Sail Productions 4:01
Friends Reunited: 42 Classroom Classics from the 80's 2003
Various Artists
Universal International 3:56
The Event 2003
Original Soundtrack
Varèse Sarabande 4:01
Guitar Rock: Smokin' 60's 2003
Various Artists
Rhino Flashback 4:02
Spirit in the Sky: The Definitive Anthology 2003 Smith & Co. Sound & Vision 4:01
I Love 2 Party 2004 2004
Various Artists
Virgin 3:56
Good Morning Vietnam: A Soundtrack for a Generation 2004
Various Artists
Crimson Productions 3:57
Then: Totally Oldies - Classic Rock 2005
Various Artists
Varèse Vintage / Varèse Sarabande 4:04
Very Best of 70's Radio Classics 2006
Various Artists
Madacy 4:03
Ultimate 16: Lite FM Rock 70s 2006
Various Artists
Madacy 4:00
Best of the 70s [Madacy] 2006
Various Artists
Madacy 4:00
40 Legendarische Hits Uit: 40 Jaar Top 40 [DVD] 2006
Various Artists
Universal Distribution
The Seventies: Heavy Guitar Boogie 2007
Various Artists
American Beat Records 4:00
Legends Informercial Set 2007
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 4:03
Get Ready, Here Come the '70s 2007
Various Artists
Shout! Factory 4:00
No Image 2007
Various Artists
EMI
Made in the 70's 2008
Various Artists
ZYX Music 3:57
The Psychedelic Sound of the '60s Movement 2008
Various Artists
Rolling Stone 4:01
Sunshine Cleaning [Soundtrack] 2009 Lakeshore Records
The Pop Years: 1970-1971 2009
Various Artists
Crimson Productions 3:56
Top of the Pops: One Hit Wonders 2009
Various Artists
EMI / EMI Gold 4:00
Original Hits: Number 1's 2009
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:57
The Pop Years: The 70s 2010
Various Artists
Crimson Productions 3:56
Jackie: The Party Album 2010
Various Artists
EMI / EMI Music Distribution 3:56
Greatest Ever! Pop: The Definitive Collection 2011
Various Artists
Greatest Ever 4:00
The Latest & Greatest Party Hits [2011] 2011
Various Artists
USM Media 3:59
Greatest Ever! Chartbusters 2012
Various Artists
Greatest Ever 4:00
Latest & Greatest Pop Hits [2012] 2012
Various Artists
USM Media 4:00
This Is the End 2013
Original Soundtrack
RCA 3:59
Greatest Ever! Bubblegum Pop: The Definitive Collection 2013
Various Artists
Greatest Ever 4:00
The Ultimate Collection: Party Classics 2013
Various Artists
Ultimate Collection 3:58
100 Hits: Driving Rock [2013] 2013
Various Artists
Ultimate Collection / Union Square Music 4:00
Latest & Greatest No. 1s 2014
Various Artists
Union Square Music 3:58
The Ultimate Collection: Driving Songs 2014
Various Artists
Union Square Music / Universal 3:59
Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix, Vol. 1 2014
Various Artists
Hollywood 4:03
Guardians of the Galaxy [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] 2014 Hollywood 4:03
Suicide Squad: The Album 2016
Original Soundtrack
Atlantic 0:00
'60s Summer of Love [UMOD]
Various Artists
UMOD / Universal 4:00
No Image
Various Artists
Discovery Records
Good Morning, Vietnam
Various Artists
Disky
No Image
Various Artists
Warner Bros.
Massive Hits!: Number 1s
Various Artists
EMI 3:57
Party Rock: Listen To The Music
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 4:02
Road Trip
Various Artists
Rhino 4:01
Road Trip: 60 Essential Driving Songs
Various Artists
Union Square Music 3:59
The Ultimate Collection: Number 1s
Various Artists
Union Square Music 3:59
Time Life Presents the 60s
Various Artists
Time Life 4:02