Song Lyric Sunday – Norman Greenbaum

I always look forward to Sunday when Jim issues his prompt/challenge for the week. This week is no different. This week his instructions are to use the words Best / Better / Good / Great as inspiration.

The first song that came to mind was Norman Greenbaum’s 1969 hit “Spirit in the Sky” because of the familiar line in the chorus: Gonna go to the place that’s the best.

I LOVE this song and I was not alone in that sentiment. The single went gold and occupied the #3 seat on Billboard’s Hot 100 for 15 weeks and was rated the #22 song of the year for 1970. It also reached #1 on the UK , Australian, and Canadian charts in 1970. Rolling Stone rated the song as #333 in the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

You may think it odd that a Jewish songwriter would write a song about Jesus. According to Greenbaum in a January 2020 interview with Rolling Stone  (the entire interview is interesting and well worth reading), he said he is a writer and “writers make things up.” He tells about the origin of the idea for the song in the interview:

“In the meantime, I had come across a greeting card that said “Spirit in the Sky.” And it was American Indians sitting in front of a tipi, with the fire going and being spiritual towards what they had deemed God, which was a spirit in the sky. I think it was the Hopi. So I went, “That’s kind of interesting.” These two had nothing to do with each other. I just put it in the back of my head.

Then I happened to be watching Porter Wagoner. He had a TV show, and he did a religious song halfway through the show. One particular day, he did a song about a miner that was up in the hills, digging for gold. He hadn’t been to church [or] prayed for, like, years and years. And for some reason, he decided it was time to go back. So he took his viola, came all the way back into town, and when he got to the church, there was a note on the door that said, “The pastor’s on vacation.”

Then I started thinking about the Hopi Indians, the pastor’s on vacation, and as a kid watching cowboy shows and hearing that the bad guys — when they were dying from a shootout — always wanted to be buried with their shoes on. All this is starting to connect. I said to myself, “Well, I’ve never written a religious song. I’ve written some oddball songs, but some serious song, I can do that.” I just sat down, and it all came together.”

The lyrics came fast – in about fifteen minutes, but the music took some time.

This song seems to regain momentum with new generations perhaps due to the fact the song has been featured in 30 commercials and 60 films. Quite impressive! Greenbaum also says it is the second most requested song at funerals.

For me, I love the rock-n-roll sound that celebrates the lyrics. The Fender Telecaster was equipped with a battery-operated fuzz device inside the guitar which makes the sound easily recognizable. No foot pedals or techno-magic for that sound.

He took some flak for the line “Never been a sinner. I never sinned” from some religious factions — I suppose because we are all sinners.

The background singers featured on this song were The Stovall Sisters from Oakland, CA (although born in Kentucky and raised in Indiana until 1950). They were very successful studio singers and professional touring backup singers for a number of well-known artists.

The song was covered by a number of well-known groups/artists. Doctor and the Medics released their version in 1986 and reached #1 on the UK Charts. I have included a video for their version below. I rather like it as well, but Norman Greenbaum’s is by far my preferred version.



Spirit in the Sky
Lyrics from

When I die and they lay me to rest
Gonna go to the place that’s the best
When I lay me down to die
Goin’ up to the spirit in the sky
Goin’ up to the spirit in the sky
That’s where I’m gonna go when I die
When I die and they lay me to rest
Gonna go to the place that’s the best

Prepare yourself you know it’s a must
Gotta have a friend in Jesus
So you know that when you die
He’s gonna recommend you
To the spirit in the sky
Gonna recommend you
To the spirit in the sky
That’s where you’re gonna go when you die
When you die and they lay you to rest
You’re gonna go to the place that’s the best

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
Oh set me up with the spirit in the sky
That’s where I’m gonna go when I die
When I die and they lay me to rest
I’m gonna go to the place that’s the best
Go to the place that’s the best

Why not join in on this Sunday blogging ritual. Pop over to Jim Adams blog to check out the rules and read some of the great musical posts.

47 thoughts on “Song Lyric Sunday – Norman Greenbaum”

  1. Oh! Yes great song, love this one great memories, the year before I got married. Such a brilliant sound and the original is my version of choice, loved reading the background too 💜

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I well-remember what a huge hit this song was in Britain. It never seemed to be off the radio, or out of the charts. As a result, I soon came to loathe it! But I still remember every single word.
    Best wishes, Pete

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is one of those songs I cannot imagine ever tiring of. The song that I detest now is “Get Back” by The Beatles, so I understand the sentiment.


  3. This song was on the radio every day back in 1969 when I first started developing an interest in music. I always liked it and it was good to hear again today. Thanks for sharing this Maggie.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is one of my favorite songs from my youth, and every time I hear it today, it takes me back. I still love it to this day, it is timeless. Why take issue with the line about sinners, it’s a fictional story, he’s not saying HE never sinned. People are so crazy. 🤣

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, Kim, people seem to have a need to find fault with people and these days take offense to everything. The song still stands so it must have been a light criticism.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I was reintroduced to this song when “Guardians of the Galaxies” came out. Absolutely LOVE. I remember my brother having this on 8 track. Oldie but a goodie.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, we have one of those all in one things with turntable, CD, & cassette, and also has radio. I still have all my 45s from when I was a teen, plus a lot of LP records. We get them out once in awhile to listen.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. 8th grade was a blur for me. I am not sure how old you are, but I thought it might have been later. I am not good with dates and timeframes. Regardless, it is a great song.


  6. I never knew the back story for this song, so I am glad you provided it. I haven’t heard this at a funeral, though I did hear Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” once at one.

    Liked by 1 person

I appreciate those who read and I enjoy your thoughtful comments.

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