Over the holidays, I happened across a New York Times article about famous one-hit wonder, Norman Greenbaum. Classic Rockers know him well as the guy who wrote and sang "Spirit In The Sky" in 1969 - and then was never heard from again.
While Norman doesn't have his own English castle, or even a Malibu beach home from "Spirit" royalties, the song has now been used in 32 films, and more than a dozen TV spots, not to mention countless compilation albums and CDs. You may remember hearing an extended version of the song on that recent Nike spot (a :90), featuring nostalgic football scenes with coaches like Don Shula and Jimmy Johnson.
Rock critic extraordinaire, Gary Graff, points to the song's architecture as a reason for its ongoing success: "It's got a great, infectious, hand-clapper, head-nodder of a beat that hooks you into the song in the first bar and holds you there. The instrumental tone is such that you know what the song is from the first note, and the melody is just as infectious and easy to sing along to. It's basically Songcraft 101 - see "Gloria," "Louie, Louie," et al.
Greenbaum agrees and points to that famous guitar sound: "That fuzz tone, you can't get it out of your head."
But after all this time, how does Greenbaum explain how a 35 year-old song like "Spirit" still retains any relevance? As he says,"It still sounds good. It sounds perfect."
In a microcosm, the longevity of a song like "Spirit In The Sky" says a lot about the resilience of the Classic Rock format in general. While a classic one-hit wonder (see Lee Michaels, Blues Image, etc.) can live forever on these radio stations, it's important to realize that most of the collective library of Classic Rock doesn't sound dated today. Like a great Brando film or an old episode of "MASH," it can be enjoyed today by young and old. That defines a classic, and it's fascinating that so few are being made today.