Norman Greenbaum – Spirit In The Sky

Modern liberal democracies tend to separate the Church and the state, making religion mostly part of private life. This can be because the role of the state is to be an impartial arbiter between different interests in society – the state shouldn’t appear beholden to a particular religion. And because government in representing all citizens, shouldn’t take sides, especially in pluralist societies with more than one faith. The separation of Church and state can also be about trying to keep the government away from messing with religion; perhaps this is part of what American founder Thomas Jefferson meant:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State-1802 letter to Danbury Baptist Association.

While today, contemporary Christian music is its own massive industry, back in 1969, there was still an informal separation between the music industry and songs of worship. Reprise Records had qualms about releasing such a religious song as Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky. Would a tune looking forward to death to reach heaven be too controversial for radio?

It became a massive hit for this one-hit wonder artist, combining the psychedelic with gospel music. The artist also later allowed the tune to be used for an American Express commercial. Hopefully, that was not contradicting the teachings of Jesus not to love money too much.

Spirit in the Sky became a #1 again in 1986 (in the UK), with another band of one-hit wonders, the cartoonish Doctor and the Medics:


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