Oct 06

NORMAN GREENBAUM – “Spirit In The Sky”

FT + Popular41 comments • 7,912 views

#285, 2nd May 1970

Apparently much loved by the British public in whatever form it makes the charts, but this is a case where the original is best. Later versions play the song as a knees-up, but Greenbaum goes deeper and finds the spiritual connection between revival meeting and happening, the hypnotic link between hippy happy-clappy and glam stomp.

A lot of the record’s power comes from its distinctive sound – fuzz guitar snarling and purring all through the song, like a spirit voice Greenbaum’s raised up for accompaniment. The real voices accompanying him are barely less spectral, their final notes – “in the skyyy”; “when I diiiie” – hanging spookily in the fuzz along with the rattlesnake brushes and echoing stabs of lead guitar. Jesus figures heavily in the song, but only as a useful connection who knows the world beyond better than you do: Greenbaum was not a Christian, and this is not Christian rock.



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  1. 31
    vinylscot on 13 Jun 2008 #

    DJP, I’ll admit I had to look it up, but yes it is!

  2. 32
    Waldo on 4 Sep 2009 #

    The first time I heard this was when it had already hit number one and was being played at the top of TOTP to accompany the chart rundown. As the intro wound into the vocal, I was sure that I was hearing another version of “On The Road Again”. As soon as Norman opened with “When I die and they lay me to rest”, I knew I wasn’t. I think this is a remarkable record and am prevented from revealing just how annoyed I was that it was covered by inferior forces many years later by the presence of a large rabbit. The guitar exit is its crowning glory and the record was just impossible to follow up. To compound the oddity of the whole thing, flip the record over and you get Norman singing cheerily about milking a cow…well, milking some kind of female anyhoo.

  3. 33
    grimley on 28 Sep 2009 #

    who remembers the weird dancing with fingers in your belt hooks. Just me then

  4. 34
    lee on 20 Feb 2010 #

    I recreated the main guitar sound of “spirit in the sky”” perfectly.
    You need a tube amp w/ a “”tube rectifier” most tube amps these days dont have them. I do, I have a harmony 303a, one power tube, pre amp tube, and one “rectifier tube”. The recti is a must for crazy “real” sounds, like iron butterfly, indeggadda deveda or whatever.
    I tuned my anp volume down, and turned my boss turbo overdive dist, tone, and “level” all the way up. And its sounds exactly like “spirit”.
    All the knobs up all the way on the boss, and only the bridge pickeup on my strat. Perfect. The speaker buzzes and rattles, carzy just like the song. I want to try it w/ a fuzz, like sovetech bigg muff. Now all I need is a reverb, my amp dont have it.

  5. 35
    lee on 20 Feb 2010 #

    If you want a real, awsome amp, go vintage. Moder tube amps and trasistors dont have a “rectifier tube”. Mine does. I have a friends who doesnt listen to me and only uses a small transister and a metal zone. He sounds he same 24-7. And electro harmonix pedal sound harsh on his crappy amp. On mine they are amazing. They are analog. On a vintage amp they sound real, 3-d, alive and real. Unlike transisters and most pedals out there. Go vintage, get tube “rectifier”. Get analog pedals. Big muff, small clone-so on.

  6. 36
    lee on 20 Feb 2010 #

    I have domensions of sound, unlike his, flat, thin, lame, crappy one sound. Digital and transistors suck. Go tube and analog. Modern tube can suck to. Its easy to find an old tube amp, harmony is cheap and built the same and big brand names.

  7. 37
    hectorthebat on 11 Jun 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010)
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Pause & Play (USA) – Songs Inducted into a Time Capsule, One Track at Each Week
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004) 333
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Updated 2010) 341
    Stylus (USA) – Seconds: One Song Essay Every Week
    Q (UK) – The 1010 Songs You Must Own (2004)
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    Zig Zag (UK) – Gillett & Frith’s Hot 100 Singles (1975)
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  8. 38
    Patrick Mexico on 22 Sep 2014 #

    This song does have Godlike powers – its beat is part of a Fall Out Boy song (I Don’t Care) that’s actually listenable! Boom tish plonk waheyyy sorry for existing.

  9. 39
    lonepilgrim on 25 Oct 2017 #

    I only have vague (quite possibly no) memories of this at the time – it’s a song that just creeps almost into focus every now and then. It’s had a new lease of life recently on the first Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack where its cosmic shuffle fits in perfectly. It’s a strange record – precisely arranged, yet also sounding like a hippie jam (musical, not conserve). ‘Never been a sinner, I’ve never sinned’ is more unorthodox than ‘Jesus died for someone’s sins, but not mine’ but with none of the self-conscious provocation of Patti’s lyrics. Despite the fuzzy Rock guitar there’s little dynamism just a stoned sense of inevitability. Groovy

  10. 40
    Gareth Parker on 29 Apr 2021 #

    I think this is a glorious tune. I love this odd mixture of psychedelic rock, glam stomp and hippified gospel! A fuzzed out masterpiece. 8/10.

  11. 41
    jack burton on 24 May 2021 #

    A number of Christian rock bands have covered the song…

    Here is one of the best…


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