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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