“Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum (1969)
In 1968 he had a hit with “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago” with his band ‘Dr. West’s Medicine Show and Junk Band”. I don’t remember it.
Born in Wisconsin and raised in a Jewish family, Greenbaum watched a lot of western movies and from those he got the idea for ‘Spirit in the Sky”. It was not really a Christian song according to Greenbaum. It has become one of the staples of the hippie generation and still sounds good – the sound was cutting edge at the time – a key example of ‘psychedelic” music for sure.
The 1949 the Gene Autry movie entitled “Riders in the Sky” became a huge song for Gene as well. It was originally written by Stan Jones in 1948. It got recorded by many artists and became ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky” for Johnny Cash in 1979. There had been the instrumental “Apache” by the “Shadows” which was widely known and hugely popular in 1966. There was “Riders on the Storm” done by the Doors which was western influenced quite possibly by Gram Parsons of the Flying Burrito Brothers who I am sure crossed paths with Jim Morrison. Robbie Krieger says it was influenced by “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend”.
What is slightly puzzling is why Greenbaum does make reference to having a friend named “Jesus” who is going to recommend you to the spirit in the sky. That is not part of Judaism. What gives Norman? You said it wasn’t a Christian song. That is not the whole story...
“Spirit in the Sky” sold some 2 million copies in 1969-70 and was a world-wide hit. It has been used in countless movies and is #333 of the ‘Rolling Stone’ top 500 songs of all time. It has been covered many, many times. One of my favorite covers of it was done by Dr. and the Medics in the ‘80’s.
In 1972 Greenbaum did an album with Ry Cooder called ‘Petaluma’ that did not do very well. He went back to the farm and has been a dairy farmer ever since. A rich farmer mind you!