Although Norman Greenbaum could probably be described as a classic one-hit wonder, his story is still an interesting one. After all, even though he’s best known for his big hit, 1970’s “Spirit In The Sky,” his first charted song was the oddly-named “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago,” and he later spent some time as a dairy farmer. How’s that for diversity?
Greenbaum was born and raised in the Boston area, and was attending Boston University in the early 1960s when he began to find some success appearing in area clubs. Relocating to the Los Angeles area, he joined the psychedelic music scene, forming a faux-folk group called Dr. West’s Medicine Show and Junk Band. The band’s one charted song — the eggplant one we previously mentioned — managed to climb into the top 100 in 1966, but the group soon disbanded.
Over the next few years, Greenbaum scuffled around in various musical roles before finally putting together a solo album titled Spirit In The Sky. The songs on the album — all composed by Greenbaum — were an odd mixture of styles, and included everything from “Canned Ham” to “Milk Cow” (foreshadowing his later interest), but it was the title song that ended up hitting the charts in a big way.
Greenbaum used some of his proceeds from the success of “Spirit In The Sky” to get into the dairy farming business, but the laid-back performer continued to pursue musical success for a while too. His 1972 album, Petaluma (video below), named after the town near his dairy farm, met with limited success — but it did feature some good guitar work from a young Ry Cooder.
As for Greenbaum, he focused on his farm for a while but eventually made some forays back into music, not only as a performer but also in the managing and promoting side of the business. He currently continues to attend to both interests — music and dairy farming. No word on whether he also grows eggplant.