Spirit in the Sky bittersweet
Robin Scott, the musician behind the peppy Pop Muzik – signature line, “New York, London, Paris, Munich, everyone’s talking ’bout pop muzik!” – offers a reflective assessment over the phone from his home south of London. “It’s a commercial success that has somehow eclipsed everything else that I’ve been doing,” he says. “It sticks in people’s minds, it’s a memory that goes down historically. To me it was a pop record, and that’s what it was meant to be.” By his count, the song reached No. 1 in 14 countries.
As the copyright holder, Scott, 61, notes, “I did quite well out of it. ... It still generates income, which is great, and it makes it possible for me to explore other areas musically.”
He’s also an artist and a glider pilot, and recently bought a place in France where he is building a recording studio. Not a bad way to live. Yet for him the song remains “a two-edged sword: People want to see a formula played out again and again, and that wasn’t my interest.”
Same dilemma for Greenbaum, now 65 and retired in Northern California. (Living not far, incidentally, from the guy who got famous for Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.) Spirit in the Sky hit No. 1 in “practically every country in the world,” Greenbaum says proudly, but its legacy is bittersweet.
“That song was so powerful it became evident it was the only thing I could ever do,” he says. “At clubs we’d play that song for over a half-hour. And then they’d want an encore of the same song!
“I couldn’t break away from this. I’d get (creative) mind block. I thought, ‘I don’t know if I can keep banging my head against the wall.’ So for me, it was best that I stop and do something else for awhile.”
He became a chef for a number of years. He kept goats as a hobby. But the song – whose lyrics he wrote in 15 minutes – would not die. It ended up in 46 movies. It’s in the recent Tiger Woods “moon shot” Gatorade commercial. The hits keep coming: “I get knocked down, but I get up again.”
“And I scream from the top of my lungs: What’s goin’ on?” “Won’t you take me to Funkytown?” A huge hit can have other consequences besides inflicting there-arevoices-in-my-head miseries upon hu- man beings in the middle of the night. The Singing Nun, who appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, had donated the song’s royalties to her order before she left it, but the Belgian tax man caught up with her years later. Officials insisted she pay a whopping tax bill.
Press reports quoted a suicide note she and her lover left before they died from barbiturate overdoses: “Now we go to God. He alone can save us from financial disaster.”
The Nebraska duo of Denny Zager and Rick Evans split after In the Year 2525 rocketed around the world in the same summer that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.
An article in the Omaha World-Herald in 1996 reported that the two hadn’t spoken in a decade. It also described them as “an odd couple from the moment they started playing together”: Evidently Zager was more of a folkie and family man, and Evans a partying hippie type.
Another possible reason for the estrangement: The song’s publishing rights were held by Evans, who relocated to New Mexico and lived off the royalties. Zager, still in Nebraska, sells and modifies guitars. (Neither could be reached for comment.)