Sunday, March 3, 2013

"Spirit In the Sky" - Norman Greenbaum (1969)

Norman Greenbaum was a Jewish kid studying at Boston University when he began to play music. After leaving the cold environs of Boston he went to California, where he formed a few bands on his own before penning this classic rock song. If it’s religious in nature, that’s because it was intentional on Mr. Greenbaum’s part. He figured a religious song would sell; and moreover; Jesus would sell better than God. It also fits better. Sing it once or twice substituting God for Jesus. It doesn’t work. He wrote the music over a period of months, and then the lyrics came all at once.

The song was inspired by Porter Wagoner’s song about a country preacher. Previous to writing this timeless song, Mr. Greenbaum had a minor hit with “The Jugband”, which was based out of San Francisco and played psychedelic music on empty liquor jugs, which had formerly been the basis of so-called “hillbilly” music.  You can find that recording on You tube. It was called "The Eggplant That Ate Chicago.” That band split in 1968 over gastronomic differences. It is rarely played anywhere.

By contrast the hit “Spirit In the Sky” has been featured in movies such as “Contact”, “Wayne's World II”, and the blockbuster “Apollo 11” as being the song played in the background during the news sequences. Astronaut Jim Lovell, who was there, has stated that in reality the song was “Aquarius” by The Fifth Dimension. The song has also shown up recently on American Express Commercials.

The song’s meaning? Mr. Greenbaum summed it up in an interview this way; "It appeals to one's inner self and the need for redemption, plus, heck, who wants to go to hell?

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