Song written by Norman Greenbaum.
Norman Greenbaum version
Greenbaum had previously been a member of psychedelic jug band Dr. West's Medicine Show and Junk Band. When they split up he won a solo contract with producer Erik Jacobsen, who had previously worked successfully with The Lovin' Spoonful. He was inspired to write the song after watching Porter Wagoner on TV singing a gospel song. Greenbaum thought he could write such a song, and did it within 15 minutes.
'Spirit in the Sky' contains lyrics about the afterlife, making several references to Jesus, although Greenbaum himself is Jewish. Greenbaum recorded his first solo album with Jacobsen for Reprise Records. The song's arrangement came together in the studio in San Francisco. The result was an innovative and compelling combination of gospel and psychedelic rock music, with loud drums, distorted electric guitar, clapping hands, and tambourines. The production team brought in the Stovall Sisters, an Oakland-based gospel trio, to sing backing vocals. Because of its unusual lyrics and style, the record company was initially reluctant to issue it, but was finally released as the album's third single after two other singles had poor sales. 'Spirit in the sky' became a worldwide hit, and was at the time the best-selling single ever for the Reprise label.
Doctor and the Medics version
Another notable version of 'Spirit in the Sky' was released in the UK in 1986. The psychedelic rock band Doctor and the Medics released their version of the song, which won them a number 1 hit in the UK, equalling the original's chart peak in that country. It remained the band's biggest hit.
Kim Wilde version
'Spirit in the sky' was performed live during the Snapshots & Greatest Hits Tour in 2012 only.