MUSIC MONDAY Christian Rock Pioneer Larry Norman’s Songs Part 12

Christian Rock Pioneer Larry Norman’s Songs Part 12

I posted a lot in the past about my favorite Christian musicians such as Keith Green (I enjoyed reading Green’s monthly publications too), and 2nd Chapter of Acts and others. Today I wanted to talk about one of Larry Norman’s songs. David Rogers introduced me to Larry Norman’s music in the 1970’s and his album IN ANOTHER LAND came out in 1976 and sold an enormous amount of copies for a Christian record back then.

 

1. Only Visiting This Planet – Larry Norman

ONLY VISITING THIS PLANET

Larry Norman

Prophet…scoundrel…poet…thief…comedian…clown…rock star…fallen star…

A living, breathing contradiction in terms, Larry Norman passed away on February 24th, 2008 at the age of 60. I attended the funeral, arriving late and “listening” to it from outside the doors of a Church near Salem, Or.

*          *          *          *

Larry Norman: “Song For A Small Circle Of Friends” Music Video*

As with the Stonehill review I will not dwell on that part of the story. There have been plenty of others that have written extensively on the subject. But I do want to note the opening line of this review and reinforce that those things which have  made Norman such an important and lasting figure in Christian music are not only the positives but the negatives as well.

His life would be filled with failed marriages and friendships. No artist ever recorded more than two albums with Norman and most left frustrated, jaded and angry. The rift between Stonehill and Norman lasted decades and much has been written on this and a controversial and decidedly one-sided documentary, “Fallen Angel” has been produced. Anyone with the interest and an internet connection can research the gory details I will avoid here. My point is that his life was both wonderful and tragic and both cannot be denied.

This album would prove to be a major influence on many young people and future Christian musicians. The honesty, well produced rock would break down many doors currently boarded shut. Though not a “heavy” record musically it still contained a serious rock vibe and socially significant content.

The following nationally album is what many, the present writer included, spelled the end or Norman’s artistic zenith. “Something New Under the Son” could really be considered a 4th album in the series, but “trilogy” just sounds more artistically satisfying. Also released on Solid Rock and distributed by Word records, the album would serve as the “heaviest” of Norman’s studio releases. This is a blues record through and through. Although recorded in 1977 it would also not see the light of day until 1981. This too would become a common problem of Norman’s both for himself and for the artists he was associated with, most notable Randy Stonehill and Daniel Amos.

It should be noted that there were several releases between “In Another Land” and “Something New” but were either generally unavailable (Starstrom), parody albums (Streams of White Light) or live albums (Israel Tapes and Roll Away the Stone). In fact “Israel Tapes” was recorded several years earlier (1975). Another album was a single that expanded into an album called “The Tune.”

 

Larry Norman – The Tune Jesus Fest 8-13-1983

 

This would also begin a frustrating history of Norman releasing poorly recorded live albums and albums of re-hashed demos, reworked song and compilations under different names. “Something New” would also mark the end of Norman’s national distribution agreements and all but one release would be exclusive to Norman’s Solid Rock or Phydeaux labels, primarily through mail order. I could discuss a majority of those albums but I’m not sure wordpress has enough bandwith.

“Something New” is often overlooked and that is a shame. As mentioned above, the album is a lesson in blues writing. Nearly every song would be considered a blues tune and Norman excels here. “Born to Be Unlucky” just flat-out rocks and Jon Linn gets to show off here. “Watch What You’re Doing” is hysterical and remained a Norman live favorite for years to come. Linn’s guitar and Norman’s harmonica trade-off some amazingly aggressive riffs.

Norman, who apparently had a lot of nightmares, recorded three songs with a numbered “Nightmare” title, but the best one is here. But the song that steals the show is the closing rocking romp, “Let The Tape Keep Rolling.” Though he would write several songs “reinventing” his history, this would be the best one and serve as a great lesson in how to write a great rockin’ blues song!

Norman would spend the 1980’s releasing two albums a year, though most would be poorly recorded live albums, anthologies and rehashed “favorites” with different arrangements and differing results in quality. There are a couple albums of note though.

“Letter of the Law” and “Labor of Love” would both be pretty decent pop rock records and probably deserved some national distribution. These were studio projects that contained several quality Norman tracks. I was able to obtain “test pressings” of those two albums and convince KYMS to play a few of the songs. they became pretty good hits and I contacted Larry to carry them at my store. Eventually a few independent distribution companies picked up the albums. Several of those songs would eventually be released on the album “Quiet Night” under the name Larry Norman and the Young Lions. One stand out is a cover of the late Tom Howard’s “Shine Your Light.”

Two last albums I wanted to point out are “Home at Last” and “Stranded in Babylon.” The first album was originally released by Norman as double album, but the Benson Company worked out a deal to create of single album release of what was felt were the best songs. This would mark the first time in a decade that Norman’s music would receive national distribution from a major Christian Record company. It would also mark the first album of primarily all new material during that same time period. It was also one of the first albums to be released on CD.

The album would be uneven, but it was hoped that it would bring Norman back into the public’s mind. It really never accomplished it as Christian radio was lukewarm and the buyers of Christian music were a whole new generation of people primarily unfamiliar with Norman.

“Stranded” was probably Norman’s best work after “Something New” and is worth picking up. Produced by his brother Charly, it marked a return to both social commentary as well as spiritual themes. Most importantly it showed Norman could still write new music that was powerful and compelling and that he could still rock. “God Part 3″ is worth the price of admission! Lacking any real quality distribution it too went mostly unnoticed.

Norman’s music and ministry would influence probably the widest variety of musicians of any other Christian artists. Fans include the previously mentioned Paul McCartney, Cliff Richard, Van Morrison, John Mellancamp, Pete Townsend, U2, the Pixies and Sarah Brendel. There have been over 300 covers of Norman’s songs recorded included even by the likes of Sammy Davis Jr.

 

LARRY NORMAN AND CLIFF RICHARD (RARE)

In Christian Music the list of artists who are fans would be too long to mention. He influenced everyone from Geoff Moore to DC Talk. There have been two tribute albums to Norman, including a “dance remix” compilation called “Remix This Planet.”

 

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