Larry Norman 1947 – 2008

Posted: 03/02/2008 by that's Elbert in Christianity, Music

This post is sadly late as I’m sure that most people familiar with Larry Norman have already heard of his passing (recently it has been hard to post during the week which would have made this post more timely). He passed away last Sunday, February 24, but I only became aware of it on Tuesday or Wednesday. Many people have already written about him so there’s not much I can add outside of my own thoughts regarding his passing.

Larry Norman was one of the pioneers of modern Christian music. He became popular in the late 1960s as a member of the band People. At the time the group had a hit with a song called “I Love You”. He left the group shortly after their hit due to some of the band’s internal conflicts and disputes with their record label. These disputes centered around his desire to name the band’s first album We Need A Whole Lot More of Jesus, and a Lot Less Rock and Roll and some other conflicts with the religious faith of the members.

Once out of the group, he recorded a solo album for Capitol Records entitled Upon This Rock which featured more Christian-themed lyrics. Musically it now sounds dated but featured some of the songs would continue to be staples of his song catalog, including “Sweet Song of Salvation” and “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.” I first heard Upon This Rock in the early 80s. It sounded dated then but not too far removed from old songs that played on the radio at the time. My favorites from the album were “I Don’t Believe In Miracles”, “Moses”, and “Forget Your Hexagram”. The last song on side one, titled “Ha Ha World,” sounded more like a odd dream closing with the line, “The Bible says without a vision the people perish,” which to me still didn’t seem to fit into the rest of the song. Thinking about it now, it probably would have resinated with the drug crowd, sounding more like something you might “see” while high. That’s all second-hand knowledge to me because I never did drugs.

He later recorded for MGM Records then for his own label, Solid Rock Records. The first album I remember hearing by Norman was his first on Solid Rock, In Another Land. I think the first song I heard from this album was “The Rock That Doesn’t Roll”, a blues/rock tune, really the hardest sounding song on the album. Notable songs from that album, “UFO”, “Six Sixty-Six”, and “I’ve Searched All Around The World.”

I also owned Something New Under The Son. There were two songs on that album that stood out for me: “Watch What You’re Doin'” and “Put Your Life In His Hands.” The first song had the lines:

mamma killed the chicken
she thought it was a duck
she put it on the table
with its legs sticking up

papa broke his glasses
when he fell down drunk
tried to drown the kitty cat
turned out to be a skunk

you gotta watch what you’re doing…

The latter song didn’t have a second verse, so he simply said:

oh yeh right
i don’t really have a verse to go here
so i’ll just let the band play it one time
play it johnny, play it boys
yeah that’s nice

I had two live recordings, Roll Away The Stone and Come As A Child. The first sounded like a “bootleg” recording, maybe like it was recorded with a microphone set up in the back of the room. The second one was simply him on the acoustic guitar. I enjoyed the simplicity of the albums, thus they were played often.

I only purchased one more album after these, his later 1980s release, Home At Last. There were several songs I enjoyed but the album just didn’t appeal to me as a whole, unlike the material he recorded in the 60s and 70s.

Larry Norman was one that pushed the envelope, offending the Christian community, but doing what he thought might impact the most people. One piece of evidence to that was one of the verses from “Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus” on the album Only Visiting This Planet:

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 you’re thirty-three
Shooting junk ’til your half insane
Broken needle in your purple vein
Why don’t you look into Jesus, he’s got the answer

Most of my impressions of Larry Norman were made in the early 80s, basically after his heyday. I still enjoyed his music. The music and lyrics never bothered me like it did others. He appeared to be a rebel for the right.

I’ve got some digital files of his old stuff. Yeah, the vinyl is still here in the house but it’s a pain digging out the Kenwood. Every so often I drop him in Winamp’s playlist if I want to walk down memory lane. Like many people, I’m saddened to see him gone. I’m glad his music was a part of my life. May he rest in peace in the presence of the Lord.

For more information: Wikipedia | his official site | Reuters article regarding his death | Christianity Today article

  1. Steve says:

    I am not familiar with much of his music but I do know “I wish we’d all been ready” covered by DCTalk is one of my all time favorites. Great lyrics and melody. Thanks for the memories!

  2. Bill Sammons says:

    I first heard Larry Norman in June 1972 in Dallas, TX as Explo ’72. It was him, Andrae’ Crouch and The Disciples, Randy Matthews, Love Song, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson…all playing to maybe 60,000 people in the Cotton Bowl. I thought Christian music was just hymns, and his music nailed me between the eyes. It was fantastic. His music was simple and haunting, and funny & gut-wrenching all at the same time. And his voice was kind of like Joe Walsh’s… not one you’d want to have but one you liked listening to.
    I remember when DC Talk released I WISH WE’D ALL BEEN READY, and when it came out I was singing along with it and my kids were impressed I knew the lyrics. I told them Larry Norman had sung it for my generation. Maybe somebody else will cover it for the next generation–if we’re still here. :o) RIP Larry.

  3. Brad says:

    When my friends were listening to Amy Grant and Petra, I was listening to Larry Norman. He and DeGarmo & Key were my favorites. I bucked the trend.

    I completely missed the news of Larry’s passing earlier this year, but quite coincidentally around the same time, I had dug up some old LN stuff and for a few week entrenched myself in his music. The first time in about twenty years.

    Larry is on my list of people I want to meet when we see the U.F.O. in the air. 😉