Let’s just clear one thing up - Norman Greenbaum wasn’t a farmer. Music lore has it that the man who topped the charts in today in 1970 took time off from ploughing or sheepshearing to knock off “Spirit in The Sky”. However the reality was that Mrs Greenbaum reared goats while Norman was gigging or in the studio. They divorced soon after – and she kept the farm….
US singer-songwriter Norman Greenbaum was top of the tops in the UK with “Spirit in the Sky”. Performing in a Los Angeles-based band named Dr. West’s Medicine Show during the mid 1960s, they had a minor hit with the single, “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago” before they imploded.
Coming up with the music for “Spirit..” very quickly by recasting an old blues riff, the lyrics took rather longer and were written in both LA and San Francisco. Despite the religious overtones of the song, Greenbaum took his inspiration from the country and gospel radio rather espousing any christian beliefs of his own.
The result caught the imagination on both sides of the Atlantic – and would later be covered by Doctor & The Medics and Gareth Gates; although Norman can hardly be held responsible for those….
Various follow up singles were recorded but flopped and after being dropped by Warners, Norman struggled to find another label - his stated intention not to present them with “Spirit….” part II working against him.
Bowing to the inevitable, Norman ceased performing and recording and lived off the royalties from Spirit, which continues to appear regularly on film soundtracks and TV commercials (wisely he insisted on payment in cash, not stock, for his ENRON appearance…) As he recently said himself, “I get enough royalties from sitting on my ass…”
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And here’s some footage of Norman in action: