Did You Know the Guy Who Wrote “Spirit in the Sky” Was Actually Jewish?

Believe it or not, the guy who wrote “Spirit in the Sky” was actually Jewish: here’s the story of that song. Norman Greenbaum says he had a traditional Jewish upbringing by his mostly Orthodox parents. He grew up in Massachusetts in a town called Malden where he went to a Hebrew school and was even bar mizvahed.

He says his early musical influences were somewhat bizarre; he was into delta blues, jug band, and folk music. He even sang and played a guitar in coffeehouses while going to college at Boston University before moving to LA in 1965 where he formed Dr. West’s Medicine Show and Junk Band, which was a type of jug band with a psychedelic overture. The members of the band, wearing face paint, played instruments such as an automobile fender, kazoo, whiskey jug, and washboard while colored lights washed over them.

The band broke up after having only one modest hit and Greenbaum decided to try his hand as electric guitar instead. One night, while watching TV, he happened to come across Porter Wagoner, who at the time was a country gospel king. Wagoner was singing an emotional song about redemption and forgiveness, which urged Greenbaum to pick up the notepad and pen. He thought he could write something like that himself and within fifteen minutes, the words to “Spirit in the Sky” were written.

The song ended up becoming his most popular song released, climbing to the number three spot on the Billboard pop chart and going to to sell over two million copies altogether. It was his first, and last, Top Forty hit.

However, Greenbaum has managed to make a living off that one hit song. Because of the song’s old-timey gospel sound and awesome guitar riffs, the song has become more and more popular in recent years as the ultimate song to add to movie and TV commercial soundtracks. In fact, at last count, the song has been featured in thirty-two movies as well as over a dozen TV ads. In addition, the song has appeared on more than fifty CD compilations and more than a dozen TV shows. Furthermore, the song has generated too many covers to count, two of which were hits of their own.

“Spirit in the Sky” has essentially become the never-dying song, but instead has become a never-ending rite of passage for more than two generations of rock and roll fans. As for Greenbaum, he is still making money off of the famous lines, even though he signed his publishing rights away. As the song’s original performer, he still receives royalties whenever the song is used in a movie or TV ad.

Greenbaum says of the song, that it didn’t make him rich, but that it has provided him with a comfortable living and that he doesn’t have to work. I guess if you’re going to be a one-hit wonder, this is the best case scenario, producing a song that keeps on being played for multiple decades, allowing the writer to continue collecting on it.

Greenbaum says he is content to be the official curator of this most famous song. His small apartment is embellished with his shining gold record on the wall. In addition, he also runs a website called spiritinthesky.com on which he posts stories and photos about himself while selling CDs, mousepads, coasters, hats, and T-shirts with the song’s title adorning them. He also still retains thousands of devoted fans who still look at him as the ultimate song writer.


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