571. ‘Spirit in the Sky’, by Doctor & The Medics

Given the way the charts have been going over the past few months, I’m ready to write this next #1 off as another gimmicky novelty…

Spirit in the Sky, by Doctor & The Medics (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 1st June – 22nd June 1986

From Cliff and the Young Ones, past Falco and The Chicken Song, to this: a mid-eighties take on Norman Greenbaum’s classic 1970 number one (obligatory link to my original post here…) The beefy guitars that open on that famous riff are very welcome – it’s been a good long while since we’ve had proper guitars at #1.

It’s a faithful cover, all the notes are there in the right order. Even the trippy effects between the lines and the riffs are recreated. It’s fine. It’s a great song, and if you stick to the script you’ll end up with a reasonably good cover. But as the song develops, and after repeated listens, you start to wonder why they bothered…

It plods along with the feel of a knock-off karaoke version, especially when the tacky, synthy organ comes in. You can hear it in the background from around midway through, sounding like the one used in the ‘Chuckle Brothers’ theme (sorry, very niche reference for non-British readers…) It’s the version of ‘Spirit in the Sky’ that you’d use in a TV series if you couldn’t afford to pay for the original. Meanwhile, in my post on the original I remember questioning whether Greenbaum was singing this as a religious song. Here, the lyrics pass you by. They’re sung so unremarkably that you don’t really notice them.

It is, as you may have gathered from the preceding paragraphs, not a patch on the proto-glam, acid-fried original. And, yet again, this record backs up my bias against eighties production: it just sounds so much better when ‘real’ instruments are used… By this point my 1980s fixation is very much ‘old man shouts at cloud’ territory, but I can’t help it.

One of the main reasons why I approached this record as a novelty is because the band singing it are called Doctor & The Medics. It just screams ‘aren’t we zany!’ They had been around since 1981, formed in London by The Doctor (AKA Clive Jackson). From the look of the band – big hair and Kiss-style make-up – I want to like them. This is possibly the closest we’ll get to an ‘80s glam rock chart-topper (a genre that’s a definite guilty pleasure of mine). The video also has a goth-glam feel to it, with pale women in floaty white dresses popping their heads out of windows.

The Medics were primarily a covers band, but sadly their subsequent versions of ‘Waterloo’ (featuring Roy Wood) and ‘Burning Love’ didn’t set the charts alight. They remain on the verge of being one-hit wonders, and continue to perform with only The Doctor as an original member. Their sole Top 20 hit isn’t a novelty, then, I can confirm. But neither is it anything more than okay… Meanwhile, ‘Spirit in the Sky’ has one more appearance at #1 to come. And if you thought I was down on this version, well…

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11 thoughts on “571. ‘Spirit in the Sky’, by Doctor & The Medics

  1. It’s not terrible, musically. It’s a decent reproduction. The video, tho…that dude looks like he is doing, what you would call a “piss-take”, on Dead or Alive. At least, that is what it appears to be to me.

    I can remember the original on the radio. I was about four years old.

  2. Thet were a good natured pastiche of things hippy glam and goth, and great fun on Top Of The Pops – especially the goth Morticia Addams/ Siouxsie clones. But it was always a weaker chirpy version of a monster classic. It could have been worse though. The runner up in a tv singing show or maybe even the cast of a loveable sitcom might have had a go at it….😱

  3. I do like the guitar! It’s just not up to the original but at least they tried…I don’t mind being the one shouting “Get off my lawn!”… it IS better with real instruments.

  4. Ho hum…Doctor and the Medics didn’t destroy it, but they did a good enough imitation of the song for those who couldn’t remember or didn’t know the superior Norman Greenbaum version. I was 15 when the latter graced the airwaves and the charts in 1970 – and unlike Clive Jackson, Norman never troubled the UK Top 50/75/100 again but not for want of trying. This is likeable enough, and alongside ‘Chicken Song’ and ‘Living Doll 86’ it is a classic by comparison…but you can see why the band’s time in the spotlight was brief, even if they managed to get Roy Wood, Lemmy, Captain Sensible and Katie Boyle in the same gloriously OTT video of ‘Waterloo’ later that year..

  5. Pingback: 580. ‘The Final Countdown’, by Europe | The UK Number Ones Blog

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