MUSIC MONDAY Christian Rock Pioneer Larry Norman’s Songs Part 9

Christian Rock Pioneer Larry Norman’s Songs Part 13

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.

6 Reasons We Should All Be Ready to Know Music Pioneer Larry Norman

Larry Norman

By Bob Smietana

The late Larry Norman’s life can be summed up in one question. “Why should the Devil have all the good music?”

Norman, often considered the father of Christian rock, was perhaps the most influential Christian singer and songwriter over the last 50 years.

When he burst on the scene in the late 1960s, Christian music had little popular appeal outside the church. Norman set out to change that—and in doing so, created a whole new genre of music—marrying rock and roll to lyrics about Jesus.

By the time he retired due to poor health 2001, Christian contemporary music had become a billion dollar industry. That same year, he was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

His songs earned list of fans from Paul McCartney and Sammy Davis Jr. to Bono and the Pixies. He played at the White House for Jimmy Carter and was an opening act for a who’s who of 70s rock: the Who, Jefferson Airplane, the Byrds, and Jimi Hendrix.

“I want the people to know that He saved my soul but I still like to listen to the radio,” Norman sang in one of his most popular songs, which also includes the line, “Jesus is the rock and he rolled my blues away.”

Here are a few reasons why Norman’s music lives on long after his death. And what modern Christians can learn from a long-haired hippy Jesus freak.

He put righteous rockers on the map.

Before Norman, contemporary Christian music didn’t really exist, says Greg Thornbury, author of Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music, a new biography on Norman.

He helped create a new genre of music—and did it with style.

Billboard magazine called Norman “the most important writer since Paul Simon,” after the release of his 1971 album, “Only Visiting This Planet.”

That album was added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry for its artistic and cultural value.

Some of the biggest names in early contemporary Christian music—folks like Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Steve Camp, the Daniel Amos Band, and Randy Stonehill—have all credited Norman for paving the way for their careers.

Norman didn’t just talk about engaging culture. He made it.

We are constantly talking about cultural engagement,” says Thornbury.

“For many evangelicals, that means blogging and talking about culture. But it’s a different thing altogether to do it and have the respect of the world. Larry Norman had that. I think we have a few things to learn there.”

Norman was open about his faith but friendly to those who didn’t share it.  And he stuck with it—despite opposition from inside and outside the church.

“We should care about Larry Norman because he was truly an artist living out his faith—against almost impossible odds,” says Thornbury.

“The secular music industry thought he was completely nuts to waste his talent on religion. On the other hand, you had church leaders, preachers, saying rock and roll is of the Devil, your children should not be listening to this.”

Norman led the Jesus movement.

The 1970s brought a religious revival, as young Americans—many in California’s counterculture—decided to look into Jesus.

The so-called “Jesus freaks” became a national phenomenon. Even Billy Graham noticed.

Graham and Norman were both featured at Jesus Explo 72—a “religious Woodstock,” which drew more than 75,000 young Christians to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

Norman was also featured in a cover story in Time entitled “The Jesus Revolution”—about how young people’s lives were being reshaped by the teaching of Jesus.

Norman wanted Jesus to save your soul. And change your life.

Norman loved to be around famous people, says Thornbury. But he was uncomfortable with the trappings of stardom.

After concerts, he refused to sign autographs. But he’d stand around for hours talking with concertgoers and praying with them about their troubles.

Other singers, Thornbury wrote, sang about finding forgiveness for sin. But Norman wanted to show that forgiveness should transform the lives of listeners.

“Larry Norman, in contrast, was incredibly effective at getting crowds to enter into his ‘message’—how, through God, coming to terms with your secret sins made you more compassionate to the poor, the needy, and the lost,” he wrote.

Norman’s songs still speak to today’s culture.

Nothing was off limits for Larry Norman. He sang about drug abuse, racism, greed, pride, loneliness, war, and the news media.

His songs were often bittersweet—filled with regret and hope, joy and sorrow—and almost always sing-able.

He might be the only artist who could sing about the end of the world to a calypso beat, as he did in “Revolution Peace and Pollution.” Or sing a catchy melody about the KKK, fake news, injustice in the courts, race, and religion.

Norman’s songs are popular among other artists.

More than 300 artists have covered Larry Norman songs, from British 1960s pop singer Petula Clark and 1950s country singer Tennessee Ernie Ford to modern CCM rock bands like DC Talk and Audio Adrenaline.

Five great introductory Larry Norman songs

  • I Wish We’d All Been Ready: Probably his best-known song, it features an all-star backing band (including legendary drummer Hal Blaine of the Wrecking Crew.) You’ll find yourself humming along.
  • Great American NovelA classic protest song that points to Jesus in the end. Could have been written today.
  • UFO: Like C.S. Lewis, Norman wondered what would happen if Jesus appeared to residents of another planet.
  • The Outlaw: A look at all the ways people see Jesus—from rabble-rousing moral teacher to Son of God.
  • Shot Down: Larry Norman was no saint—he had failings like any other person. And he had his critics. So he answered them in a catchy song.

Related:

BOB SMIETANA (@BobSmietana) is senior writer at Facts & Trends.

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.

*          *          *

DC Talk – I Wish We’d All Been Ready [Live]

But that influence ultimately started with “Only Visiting This Planet.”  Recorded for MGM’s Verve label, the album would become the most influential Christian album of all time. It served as a lesson in how a Christian can write songs on every possible topic with true humanity all the while expressing the undeniable Biblical truths a Christian possesses. There are songs about lost love, sex, free love, politics, media, culture and theology.

George Martin produced the album that was recorded in London at his AIR studios in 1972. It would be, by far, the best produced Christian album for its time and still remains a quality production. Norman’s voice is at its very best, both his singing and lyrical voice.

The album starts with a song of lost love, “I’ve Got to Learn to Live Without You.” I have always believed that it was Norman’s attempt at a Top 40 pop song. The honesty and longing in Norman’s voice makes the song utterly believable. These are theme and thoughts shared by nearly all who have experienced a love gone wrong.Musically it contains a very beautiful string arrangement and a subtle similarity to what The Beatles finished their career with.

Today I thought I saw you walking down the street
With someone else, I turned my head and faced the wall.
I started crying and my heart fell to my feet
But when I looked again it wasn’t you at all.

Why’d you go, baby? I guess you know,
I’ve got to learn to live without you

“The Outlaw” follows and would become one of the two or three most famous Larry Norman songs even though it would not receive Christian radio airplay until several years later. The story of Jesus as portrayed by an outlaw working on the outside of the established religious community also would speak to Norman’s own situation. With limited acoustic guitar accompaniment and some keyboards, this song is all about Norman’s voice and words.

some say He was an outlaw that He roamed across the land
with a band of unschooled ruffians and a few old fishermen
no one knew just where He came from or exactly what He’d done
but they said it must be something bad that kept Him on the run

Larry Norman The Outlaw

While at a sales conference for The Benson company the sales force was being introduced to music from an upcoming Dana Key (DeGarmo and Key) solo project. One song was going to be a reworking of a DeGarmo and Key song. I commented that having Key re-record a song he had already sung wouldn’t “sound new” to fans and would possibly cause the listener to wonder why Key would need to do a solo album if he was just going to redo previously recorded songs.

Actually I said, “What’s going on a the record company? You guys running out of songs?” But what I really meant was the above. Either way Key went back into the studio and recorded a cover of Norman’s “The Outlaw” and it ended up being the biggest hit from that album.

For some reason, I never got a thank you letter.

“Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus” would be a song that would continue to shock listeners for generations to follow. The blunt discussion included would not even be accepted well today with a more “enlightened” audience. Labeled vulgar, this ong is the primary reason many stores would never carry the album, even decades later.Driven by an amazing blues vibe the song remains one of Norman’s finest and on par with the best of Bob Dylan lyrically.

Sipping whiskey from a paper cup,
You drown your sorrows till you can’t get up,
Take a look at what you’ve done to yourself,
Why don’t you put the bottle back on she shelf,
Yellow fingers from your cigarettes,
Your hands are shaking while your body sweats,
Why don’t you look into Jesus, He’s got the answer.
Gonorrhea on Valentines Day,
And you’re still looking for the perfect lay,
You think rock and roll will set you free,
You’ll be deaf before your thirty three,
Shooting junk till your half insane,
Broken needle in your purple vein,

Why don’t you look into Jesus, he’s got the answer.

Larry Norman – Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus

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