“Spirit In The Sky” Composer Has A Friend In Jesus, Not To Mention A Good Royalty Rate

Dec 26th, 2006 // 2 Comments

norm.jpgThis weekend’s New York Times featured a profile of “Spirit In The Sky” writer Norman Greenbaum, who’s been living off the success of his 1969 gospel-rock hit for nearly 35 years. Greenbaum fell on some hard times in the ’80s–who among us has not done time as a Northern Californian line cook? –but now he receives at least $10,000 every time the song appears in a movie, despite the fact that no one’s entirely sure what the main verse is about:

Oddly, the tune that’s turned out to be Mr. Greenbaum’s salvation is in part a shout out to Jesus, written and performed by a nice Jewish boy from Massachusetts. As one verse of “Spirit in the Sky” proclaims:

Never been a sinner, I never sinned

I got a friend in Jesus

So you know that when I die

He’s gonna set me up with

The spirit in the sky

Mr. Greenbaum claimed that he has received thousands of e-mail messages and letters about that verse. “A lot of them say, ‘We’re all sinners, we were born sinners, how dare you,’ ” he said. “O.K., so what do I know? ‘Sanford and Son’ was written by Jews and what did they know about being black?”

Ah yes, the time-tested practice of throwing to Sanford and Son wo answer a theological quibble–we do the same thing whenever someone brings up the Iraq War, except we try to dodge it with Mr. Belvedere references. And on a side note: We realize the Times often just puts stories wherever they want, but how is this a “Sunday Styles” story? Are Grateful Dead jeans and hippie slippies back in fashion?

A ‘Spirit’ From the ’60s That Won’t Die [NY Times]


  1. Jeanne Wolf's Hollywood

    Howard Stern had Norman on a year or two ago (for no other specific reason that out of great love for his hit song), back when he was on terrestrial radio and is basically saying the same things here. They explored the meaning of the lyrics as well. I didn’t read the weekend Times piece, but apparently that song is featured in tons of movies that try and harken that nostalgic late 60′s feel. Howard Stern’s band covered that song too. Stern will no doubt complain about this story when he’s back on air- for those who heard it live on Howard, this profile sounds a bit like a retread.

  2. brasstax

    The most inappropriate use of this song ever? Last summer’s Kennedy Space Center/Cape Canaveral tourism radio ads here in Florida. Come see the Space Shuttle! Come see some Saturn V rockets! All scored (instrumentally of course) by a song with lyrics everyone knows: “When I lay me down to die / Goin’ up to the spirit in the sky.”

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