MUSIC MONDAY Christian Rock Pioneer Larry Norman’s Songs Part 3 (Larry met Paul McCartney)

Christian Rock Pioneer Larry Norman’s Songs Part 3 (Larry met Paul McCartney)

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.

Larry Norman: Trapped in Contemporary Christian Music walls he helped create?

(COMMENTARY) When Larry Norman died in 2008 there was one thing the critics – secular and religious – agreed on: The controversial singer and music maven helped create the “Contemporary Christian Music” industry.

For Norman, that was not good news.

“In China, if you become a Christian, you may be imprisoned,” said Norman, offering a cynical aside during his last concert, in New York City. Seven months later, his fragile heart failed one last time.

“In India, your parents may disown you. In the Middle East, they might execute you. But in America, if you become a Christian, you just have a broader selection of Christian CDs to choose from.”

Norman lived to see the fiery folk-rock style he pioneered in the early 1970s – part “Jesus Movement” evangelism, part social-justice sermons – evolve into a suburb-friendly genre in which “Christian” was attached to safe versions of old fads in mainstream music.

The album Norman considered his bravest – “So Long Ago the Garden” – infuriated many “CCM” consumers because of its symbolic, mysterious language. Then there was the semi-nude, Edenic cover image of the singer.

While writing his Norman biography, “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music,” philosopher Gregory Alan Thornbury dug into the singer’s papers and found an impassioned defense of that album, in a letter to angry fans.

“All of the songs I write are Christian songs, because I am a Christian,” wrote Norman. “Is a man any less a Christian because he is a car mechanic instead of an evangelist? … Some people are so conditioned that if a song doesn’t have some religious clues like ‘blood of the lamb’ or ‘the cross,’ they are unsure of its spiritual qualification.”

Part of the problem, said Thornbury, is that Norman had “a glorious way of speaking out of both sides of his mouth. He never wavered from his desire to write Jesus songs. …Yet at the same time, he was constantly blasting Christian music people about making music that was propaganda – with no art, or poetry, or mystery at all. …

“Larry thought you could be very, very clear on Jesus and the Gospel and, at the same time, go way out there on the edge in terms of art.”

Alas, it was hard to be a commercial, secular success while doing both those things. The same thing was true in CCM circles.

This is a topic – battles to define “Christian” art, film and literature – that I have been writing about since the late 1970s. In my own book, “Pop Goes Religion: Faith in Popular Culture,” I concluded that gatekeepers and consumers in the marketplace use six definitions. Thus, “Christian” music is:

(1) Hymns – period.

(2) Any style of music considered appropriate for use in worship services.

(3) Openly Christian music in all genres – except rock ‘n’ roll.

(4) Any music – even hip-hop or heavy metal – built on evangelistic lyrics.

(5) Music with sufficient “God-talk” (CCM’s “Jesus-per-minute rule”).

(6) Music made by Christians that expresses their Christian worldview.

Norman fit in several camps. He wrote folk music that people sang in church, as well as raging guitar-rock that bashed trends in modern church life, said Thornbury. He attacked some of the niches his own art helped create.

Early in his career, Norman sang in a mainstream band called “People!” that shared concert bills with major rock acts, including Janis Joplin. Watching the haunted blues singer from off-stage, Norman wrote a song that was openly evangelistic, yet too blunt to perform in any church – unless the pews contained doomed rockers.

Some key lines: “Sipping whiskey from a paper cup, you drown your sorrows ’til you can’t stand up. Take a look at what you’ve done to yourself, why don’t you put the bottle back on the shelf. … Shooting junk ’til you’re half insane, broken needle in your purple vein. … Why don’t you look into Jesus? He’s got the answer.”

This was not a sing-along song for youth-group campfires.

“There’s no way around Jesus in that song and that’s how Larry Norman wanted it,” said Thornbury. “But that’s a song he wrote to Janis Joplin. He’s the only person who could have said that to her, because he was the only Christian there. That shaped his music.”

Larry Norman – 7 – Deja Vu – Look Into Jesus – In Another Land (1976)

Larry Norman – 8 – I Am A Servant – In Another Land (1976)

Larry Norman on John Lennon, Paul McCartney and the Beatles

John Lennon: One of Jesus’ “Biggest Fans”

By Jesse Carey
Interactive Media Producer During his lifetime, he became one of the most controversial figures in popular culture, effecting not just how people listen to music, but how many view religion and faith. But a recently discovered interview with the late Beatles frontman John Lennon indicates the singer’s real views about Jesus and Christianity. The interview, which was unearthed two weeks ago, took place in 1969 for a segment on a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation show before getting lost in studio obscuirty for nearly 40 years.

Lennon’s views on Christianity first came into focus when he made his infamous 1966 proclamation that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus.” The statement drew scorn and boycotts like nothing rock ‘n roll had seen before. Christians decried Lennon and his band, blasting the audacity of such an irreverent statement. But, according to the interview, irreverence wasn’t the singer’s intention. And, as it turns out, he was actually really interested in Jesus.

“It’s just an expression meaning the Beatles seem to me to have more influence over youth than Christ,” he said in the interview. “Now I wasn’t saying that was a good idea, ‘cos I’m one of Christ’s biggest fans. And if I can turn the focus on the Beatles on to Christ’s message, then that’s what we’re here to do.”

He went on to express how he felt many Christians seemed to be very “uptight” and even hypocritical for not allowing him to marry Yoko Ono in church because he had been divorced. He said that his original distaste for church first came at a young age, when he was kicked out for giggling. But, in the interview, Lennon said that his feelings only extended to the organized church, not Jesus Himself.

“If the Beatles get on the side of Christ, which they always were, and let people know that, then maybe the churches won’t be full, but there’ll be a lot of Christians dancing in the dance halls. Whatever they celebrate, God and Christ, I don’t think it matters as long as they’re aware of Him and His message,” his voice says on the unearthed recording.

And though this is the first time many Beatles fans have heard this particular conversation, Lennon’s interest in Christ was no secret in the early ‘70s. In his book, The Gospel According to the Beatles, writer Steve Turner said that there was a period in his life when the world’s most famous songwriter deeply wanted to know who Jesus was. According to the book, in an effort to escape the chaos of public life, Lennon would often retreat to television and became a regular viewer of the era’s most influential evangelists including Billy Graham, Oral Roberts and even Pat Robertson.

In 1972, Lennon even took part in a written correspondence with Roberts, in which he apologized and further explained his statement about being “bigger” than God. The Beatles frontman, who had experimented with a variety of drugs and spiritual ideas wrote this to Roberts:

“The point is this, I want happiness. I don’t want to keep on with drugs. Paul told me once, ‘You made fun of me for taking drugs, but you will regret it in the end.’ Explain to me what Christianity can do for me. Is it phoney? Can He love me? I want out of hell.”

Oral Roberts sent him a long response, giving him a copy of his book Miracle of Seed Faith and a detailed explanation of God’s love for him.

Five years later, in 1977, Lennon became deeply moved by NBC’s broadcast of the movie Jesus of Nazareth and told his friends that he had become a born-again Christian. A week after seeing the film, Lennon returned to church on Easter Sunday with his wife Yoko and son Sean in tow.

It was during this time that Lennon even penned several Christian songs (“Talking with Jesus” and “Amen”), and according to Turner’s book, even called The 700 Club prayer line.

The change in his life disturbed his wife Yoko Ono, who pulled her husband away from his new religion, and eventually, after months of isolation in Tokyo, Lennon found his life going in a dark direction, and ended up abandoning his faith and retreating into New Age practice and further searching. Before he was murdered in 1980, Lennon embraced a universalistic belief of religion and no longer seemed interested in his born-again lifestyle.

Although the new interview doesn’t change what we know about John Lennon at the end of his life, it does shed some light on what help developed his view of Christianity in the first place. It wasn’t confusion about theology or the nature of God. It wasn’t the pull of a conflicting lifestyle. According to Lennon, it was Christians who made him not want to be a part of the church.

Many unbelievers (and believers for that matter) could say that some Christians can be “hypocrites” and “uptight” and may even be responsible for turning people away from church. But that shouldn’t be a discouragement. Rather, it should be an encouragement to prove them wrong.

No one is perfect, and we can’t undo the actions of others (even when they are well-intentioned fellow believers), but we can change people’s perspectives by being the change. Reading between the lines of scripture shows that Jesus was pretty good at that. Even His own disciples couldn’t figure out what He was going to do next. Whether it was healing on the Sabbath (a major taboo in religious circles), dining with sinners or preaching messages of love and forgiveness, Christ didn’t always please the religious establishment of His day.

But He wasn’t out to ruffle feathers and just change people’s minds. He was out to change hearts.

Christ wanted people to see that God desired a personal relationship, and wanted His church to reflect His passion for loving others. Though God is perfect, we (Christians who make up the church) are often victims of our own imperfection. But, as the apostle John noted, a key to becoming effective in reaching the lost is this prayer: “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30, NIV).

So whether it’s an artist looking for answers like John Lennon in the early ‘70s, an “uptight” fellow Christian who is focused more on church rules than Christ’s love, or just an unbelieving neighbor who may have had their own bad experience with church, showing the real message of Christ (and a genuine picture of His Body, the church), a little bit of truth can go a long way.

Send Jesse your comments on this article.

Read more book excerpts and author interviews on

Discuss: In light of the recent interview uncovered about his thoughts concerning Jesus, how did John Lennon’s music influence the way you view culture?

Check out Jesse’s Blog, The Morning Five

Jesse CareyJesse Carey is the Interactive Media Producer for With a background in entertainment and pop-culture writing, he offers his insight on music, movies, TV, trends and current events from a unique perspective that examines what implications the latest news has on Christians.

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  • Americaoncoffee  On September 29, 2021 at 2:48 am

    I love this one!🎶

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