Norman Greenbaum (born , 1942, Malden, Massachusetts, United States) is a singer-songwriter. He studied music at Boston University. Greenbaum is best known for his song "Spirit in the Sky", which sold two million copies across 1969 and 1970. This disc sold over one million by May 1970 alone, and received a gold disc awarded by the R.I.A.A.. The song, with its combination of 'heavy' guitar, hand-clapping, and spiritual lyrics, has been used in many films, advertisements, and television shows.
Greenbaum is regarded by some as a one-hit wonder; however, several of his records placed prominently in the charts. In 1968, under the name Dr. West's Medicine Show and Junk Band, he recorded the novelty hit "The Eggplant That Ate Chicago". Warner Bros. Records released "Spirit in the Sky" to tremendous response in 1970; a December 1970 survey of the top 100 songs of the decade, hosted by radio personality Robert W. Morgan, listed "Spirit in the Sky" at #7. Greenbaum returned to the charts in June 1970 with the upbeat "Canned Ham," which reached #46 in the United States and #26 in Canada. Later follow-ups like "Skyline" failed to match his first two Warner hits. His last charted single in America was "California Earthquake", which reached #93 in 1971. Greenbaum used Crossfire as a backing band in 1973 and 1974, which included Mitchell Froom and Gary Pihl.
One of his very few national television appearances was on Dick Clark's American Bandstand in 1970, lip-synching to "Spirit in the Sky." The low-key Norman Greenbaum never cared for keeping the high profile required by show business; shortly thereafter, using some of the proceeds from "Spirit in the Sky," Greenbaum bought a farm in Petaluma, California. His second Warner album, Back Home Again, features a photo of the singer on the farm.
"Spirit in the Sky" remakes
Another group, Doctor and the Medics, became a one-hit wonder of sorts with their version of "Spirit in the Sky" in 1986 (they had a minor hit with the follow-up "Burn", and a hit album "Laughing at the Pieces"). Also in 1986, an all-girl punk band called Fuzzbox had a hit with the song. British television stars The Kumars also became one-hit wonders in the UK, when they and Gareth Gates reached #1 with the same song in 2003. "Spirit in the Sky" is featured on the video game Rock Band 2.
Interestingly, although "Spirit in the Sky" is considered by many to be a Jesus rock song with a heavily Christian theme, Greenbaum was and still is a practicing Jew. He was inspired to write the song after observing country singers Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner singing a religious song on television.
Norman Greenbaum today
Norman Greenbaum still lives in Petaluma, California. He no longer performs in public, but continues to promote concerts and lives off the royalties from his songs.