Larry Norman: Discography Part One - 1967-1993

Tuesday 1st May 2001

Dougie Adams embarks on part one of the mammoth task of chronicling every release issued by American CCM pioneer LARRY NORMAN. Larry himself sent in his own insights on a number of his best known albums.

Continued from page 1

Larry Norman, Only Visiting This Planet, Verve (V6-5092) / MGM (2315135), 1972

If one album alone has secured Larry's legendary status then this is it. The track list reads like a greatest hits collection with the classics "Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music", "The Outlaw", "I Wish We'd All Been Ready", "The Great American Novel", "Why Don't You Look Into Jesus" and "Reader's Digest" all featuring on what must still rank as Christian rock's most quotable album. 'Only Visiting This Planet' is articulate, intelligent and yet many of its boldest and best-remembered statements are framed in the form of questions. Again and again this album features in lists debating the best Christian album ever made. It topped CCM's 1988 best 25 Christian albums survey and then came second in their 1998 poll and so was judged more influential than albums from the 90s of the calibre of DC Talk's 'Jesus Freaks' and Rich Mullins1 'A Liturgy, A Legacy, & A Ragamuffin Band', U2's The Joshua Tree' and Bob Dylan's 'Slow Train Coming'.

Larry's comments: 'Only Visiting This Planet1 really came out the way I wanted it. I was trying to create a message that seemed to be about that era but was really more a comment on Western society and our delusions that war will bring peace; sex and love are inseparable journeys; American supremacy in space is conformation of God's ordinate seal of favour; that kind of culturally smug jingoism that America carried with them. The album was about political errancy, racist theology, musical idolatry and corrupted values. I felt like I was on top of my game and could figure out a compelling way to say anything I thought about. I recorded the album at George Martin's studio and used players from King Crimson and The Average White Band and other English groups. There were no problems making this album.

In addition to the subjects which Larry lists above, Planet also discusses different views about Christ's identity on "The Outlaw" and is also characterised by bold evangelistic statements on songs like "Why Don't You Look Into Jesus". Produced by Rod Edwards, Jon Miller and Roger Hand of Triumvirate Productions and Larry Norman for Street Level Productions. Recorded in AIR Studios, London. George Martin also received special thanks for his personal assistance in organising this album. On the original Verve version of the album "Why Don't You Look Into Jesus" swaps places with "I've Got To Learn To Live Without You" to become the opening track. Elsewhere someone somewhere was having difficulty agreeing upon a title for the song which later became known as "Righteous Rocker # 1". On the original Verve pressing it is titled "Without Love You Are Nothing" (as it had been on 'Bootleg'), while the various MGM singles from this time go under two other titles; "Righteous Rocker, Holy Roller" and "Without Love". Three of the songs were copyrighted as early as 1969 showing that Larry has always recorded older songs even at his creative peak. Some of the songs were taken from another of Norman's musicals Lion's Breath. Upon its release there were two distinct reactions to the release. Billboard listed the album among its special merit picks and said 'there's one song on this LP which puts it firmly on the map as an album to be reckoned with -'Reader's Digest'. The song is sort of a dissertation discussing everything from Alice Cooper and Bowie to the Rolling Stones and warrants heavy Top 40 airplay". They added "Larry Norman is probably the most important songwriter since Paul Simon". The New York Times called him, "Christian Rock Music's most intelligent writer and greatest asset". The other initial response to 'Planet' came from the American Christian bookstores who banned the album. As Philip Mangano (once an employee of the Street Level Artists Agency) explains, "It 'Planet' seemed openly rebellious. It criticised the [Vietnam] war, questioned the space programme, explored human love and sex, spoke questioningly and bluntly about religious tradition and seemed abrasive on many other levels. It talked bluntly of drug habits and it mentioned gonorrhoea". Reissued on CD in 1992 and 1999 with the 11 songs from the original Verve version and some cracking bonus tracks in the shape of "Peace Pollution Revolution" (a B-side from 1972) and a rough mix version of "Righteous Rocker" plus newer rock versions of "The Outlaw" and "Reader's Digest". CD is still available from Solid Rock.

Larry Norman, So Long Ago The Garden, MGM (SE 4942), 1973

Remarkably both 'Planet' and 'Garden' were hard to get a hold of in the seventies because MGM Records went bust in 1974 and never had enough money to promote or distribute those classic albums. An early Phydeaux newsletter announced, "This should have been Larry's finest album, but corporate censorship and commercial concerns marred the version which was eventually released. The album proved to be an artistic disappointment to Larry and confusing to some who bought the album". In the 'Something New Under The Son' lyric book Larry wrote, "The full length version of 'So Long Ago The Garden1 has 12 songs on it and they are more revealing than any other album". Whereas 'Planet' commented upon the contemporary world and Christ, 'Garden' was intended to be a statement about the past and God the Father. The CD booklet lends another hand in explaining the album's central concepts, 'So Long Ago The Garden' redirected Christian topicalism into an ancient world of ignorance and self-absorption with its personal poetry. Everyone is the centre of his own universe, especially without a knowledge of God. The characters of these songs suffer great sadness and misguided joy... This is not an album of typical love songs and rock anthems, it is a very serious and sober examination of the human condition and the map of the human heart". A number of songs have been listed as being originally intended for the album before being removed by the record company, these are: "Up In Canada", "Butterfly", "I Hope I'll See You In Heaven", "Kulderachna", "If God Is My Father", "Righteous Rocker # 2". In an attempt to make the album more commercial and less religious MGM Records added two songs which had been recorded as B-sides for singles, "Meet Me At The Airport (Fly, Fly, Fly)" and "Christmas Time."

Larry's comments: 'So Long Ago The Garden' was a difficult album to record. It was fun, too. Paul McCartney was in the other room recording "Live and Let Die" for the James Bond movie. Brian Eno was in Studio C with Robert Fripp making an avant garde album. But MGM was pressuring me not to make another Christian album and my manager started doing drugs and emptying out my bank account and the arranger was trying to make "She's A Dancer" into a totally different song that what I wanted it to be. But the "Nightmare" song came out perfectly balanced and "Lonely By Myself came out really nice with that Mellotron effect. We had to lock all the doors when we recorded it because in those days the Union declared the Mellotron illegal. Even The Beatles had to lock up when they recorded "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "I Am The Walrus" with the Mellotron or tape samples because you could get in big trouble for not using real musicians and the Union could blackball you so that no string players would cross the line and record with you. No horn players. Now it seems funny, but in those days if one Union got on your case they could tell other Union men not to light your Albert Hall gig, not to give you any electricity, not to pull the curtains open. And if you couldn't play Union houses all that was left was grungy non-Union pubs and clubs.

In 1981 Phydeaux issued a completely different special edition version on LP then later on tape titled 'Almost So Long Ago The Garden'. Phydeaux's version of the LP included some of the new mixes of the songs which first appeared on the 1977 Australian 'Starstorm' LP and a version of "Nightmare" with all the missing words re-instated! Just to confuse matters further, there are two Phydeaux versions, one of which has "Fly, Fly, Fly" but not "Soul Survivor" and on the other pressing the situation with those two songs is reversed! The CD re-issue 1992 is more or less the original MGM version plus three decent bonus tracks from the same era. The only differences with the MGM LP listed earlier is that an edited version of "Baroquen Spirits" is used in place of the longer MGM album version and the "Starstorm" mix of "Christmas Time" is preferred to the MGM original. The excellent "Up In Canada" and rough mix band versions of "If God Is My Father" and "Dear Malcolm, Dear Alwyn" make up the bonus tracks. Produced by Jon Miller, Rod Edwards and Roger Hand of Triumvirate Productions and co-produced by Larry Norman for Street Level Productions. Mixed by Tony Scotti and Larry Norman for MGM Records. Recorded in AIR Studios London during August and September 1973, this album made recording history as it was the first to be recorded in England on 24 track. The CD has just sold out. Nearly 30 years after it was first recorded and after four different versions of the album on various formats we have still to hear the original 12 song version as Larry intended!

Larry Norman, In Another Land, Solid Rock Records (SRA 2001), 1976

The final part of the first trilogy looked ahead to the future or the End Times and made subtle references to the work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian's life. 'In Another Land' was Larry's best selling album ever.

Larry's comments: 'In Another Land' was fun to make because I employed all of my friends. Jon Linn and I played all the guitar parts and doubled guitars with a few other friends. I did all the voices and wrote out every note of the orchestra parts using Anthony Harris to do take-down. And then I actually sang some of the horn parts and string lines and blended them with the orchestra pads so I could get unusual textures. If you listen with headphones you can hear me doing French horn parts and shadowing string lines. I did 18 songs for the album but the record company took off a few because they thought they were too strange. I was working on 'In Another Land' right up until the last minute. The album was totally finished but I just didn't like some of the layers on songs so I went back into the studio to add some more harmonies to "Hymn To The Last Generation" and I added some more harmony to "I Am A Servant". Word refused to include 'Top 40 Survey" because they thought it was too negative and also didn't want '"Looking For The Footprints" because they thought it sounded Arabic, which meant it sounded ungodly. They cut so much off the album that I felt it was a real mess. And I wanted the album to be about the same length on both sides because of the problems it would solve with cassettes and 8 track tapes. So I threw on a version of "I Love You" with different lyrics from the version I had produced for Randy Stonehill on 'Born Twice'. I didn't really want to release the album with all of the changes Word was demanding, but after a six month stand-off I realised they weren't going to live up to the contract under which they had promised me complete artistic control. Their head just wasn't up to speed, culturally. They were not aware of what was going on in the real world and they were more afraid of what store owners wanted than what God possibly wanted. I wanted to put out a three-album boxed set of 'The Complete Trilogy' but they refused because they said 'Only Visiting This Planet' wasn't a Christian album. And they liked 'So Long Ago The Garden' even less, so that project remained undistributed. And when later I gave them 'Something New Under The Son' they also refused to release that and that's when I started Street Level Records and soon after that started Phydeaux Records. They didn't release 'Something New Under The Son' until five years later when they decided it was safe to. Very frustrating making great albums like 'Le Garage Du Monde', 'Voyage Of The Vigilant' and Steve Scott's 'Moving Pictures' and then having them be rejected because they didn't sound "Christian".

"I Dreamed That I Died", "Looking For The Footprints", "Top 40 Survey", "Presque Vu", "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" have all been listed as songs which were intended for the album but were not released by Word although a couple of them have featured on the special edition Phydeaux cassette from 1988 (which also contains some alternate mixes) or the various CD releases. An 18 song test pressing version also exists which included "Strong Love, Strange Peace". First re-released on CD in 1993 by Spark Music in Europe. The CD contained the 15 songs originally released by Word plus four bonus tracks which include "Looking For The Footprints" (one of the censored songs) and a great studio version of "Strong Love, Strange Peace". A 32 page booklet also helped make this re-release a bit special. Sadly Spark's plans to re-release the whole Solid Rock back catalogue ran into problems due to Larry's failing health and the condition (and whereabouts or ownership) of the original master tapes of the albums concerned. Solid Rock still hope to release the full series on CD in the near future. In 1999 Solid Rock issued a second CD re-release of the album. In addition to the 19 songs on the Spark CD version from 1993 here we have 4 new bonus tracks but only one is really worth repeated listens, the stomping blues rocker "Delta Day Jam". Another new CD booklet and a new picture CD mark this re-re-release... but most of the censored songs still aren't here! The latest version of the CD is still available from Solid Rock and Spark still have copies of their original CD version.

1974 or 1976
Larry Norman, Streams Of White Light Into Darkened Corners, AB Records (AB 777), 1977

Larry treats some of these cover versions with more respect than others on an album which started life as an unpublished newspaper article discussing the false rumours about rock star conversions to Christianity and giving the true background to the inspiration behind "Christian-sounding" hits like "Spirit In The Sky", "Let It Be", "My Sweet Lord" and "Presence Of The Lord". Even though some of the songs are treated with scorn, Norman and the band sound great throughout with Tom Howard, Randy Stonehill and Jon Linn all helping turn the spotlight on songs by Norman Greenbaum, Gene McLellen, Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Randy Newman, Leon Russell, Jackson Browne and Mick Jagger & Keith Richards. Randy Stonehill spoofed FM radio DJs to the hilt as the Surf Duke to heap additional insult upon a collection of songs which vaguely spoke about Christ but without recognising his status as Saviour or Son of God. The LP version came with a four page insert with contained an extract from Larry's unpublished newspaper article and a review of the album by Paul Akens. The cassette and CD reissues also had two great bonus tracks 'The Road & The Sky" (Jackson Browne) and "Shine A Light" (Rolling Stones). The CD is still available from Solid Rock and uniquely it features two additional song introductions courtesy of Larry doing a mean impersonation of a DJ going by the name of The Big Bomber!

Larry Norman, Larry Norman, (Australia) Rhema / Starstorm (S777-1), 1977

In years to come this Australia only release became something of a much sought after rarity as word got out that the album had a new recording of "I Don't Wanna Lose You" and two of the censored tracks from the 'Garden' sessions with new overdubs on them, "Righteous Rocker # 2" and the full length version of "If God Is My Father". Elsewhere there is a new mix of "Christmas Time" and new vocals on "It's The Same Old Story" from 'Garden' and most noticeably "I've Got To Learn To Live Without You" (from 'Planet') which also received new lead guitar overdubs courtesy of Jon Linn. Now available for a limited time from Solid Rock Records as part of their Historical Archives CD Series begun in 2000.

Larry Norman, The Israel Tapes, Phydeaux (W00F-999-1), 1981

1974 benefit concert with a new line up of People! They have never sounded as good and Gary Pomeroy's lead guitar lines are melodic and adventurous. On top of that very few of the 10 songs here now feature in Larry's set list and even less so when he is accompanied by a band. Where else could you find Larry and a band playing the likes of "Fly Fly Fly", "I Love You", "Baroquen Spirits" and "Forget Your Hexagram" live? You get some idea of how Upon This Rock' might have sounded had Larry been allowed to follow a rockier and more bluesy direction with the production. On the downside the overall sound quality is a little rough. Many of the early Phydeaux live albums were intended to sound just like on the night of the concert. As a result they were not EQ'd or remixed and definitely not overdubbed in the studio. Not for everyone, but enthusiasts will no doubt enjoy. The CD version was released by Solid Rock in 2000 and is still in stock.

Larry Norman, Roll Away The Stone (& Listen To The Rock), Phydeaux (WOOF-999-2), 1981

Given that Mark Heard, Jon Linn, Tom Howard and Randy Stonehill were all part of the band at various times on Larry's wild and woolly 1979 tour you might expect a better record than you get here. I suppose part of the excitement at the time may have been the fact that this was Larry's first tour with a band since leaving People over a decade earlier and that many of the songs on this record were unreleased at the time like "Jonny's Blues" (co-written with Jon Linn), "Soul On Fire", "Watch What You're Doing", "Let That Tape Keep Rolling". Rough but rocky performance with the same verdict on sound quality as for 'The Israel Tapes'. There are definitely lots of much better live albums from Larry than this one... but it is much better than live At The Mac'! Never issued on CD, LP long deleted!

Larry Norman, Something New Under The Son, Solid Rock Records (SRA 2007), 1981

Another album with a long and complex history. Larry has maintained this should have been a double album but again fell victim to the hand of censorship. Things are further complicated by the fact that Larry's divorce and the break up of Solid Rock Records' artist roster had taken place in the four years between the album being finished and released and so many of the references in the lyrics were misunderstood when they were heard for the first time in 1981. Larry was prompted to write, "Contrary to the opinions of some reviewers, this album is not an autobiographical update. It is not literal, linear, not personal or astringently punctiliar. This is a blues album. A storyline is woven through the songs. Sure these songs are about my life, just like they're about your life. I wrote these songs to express how I feel about passing feelings I have about emotions like loneliness, despair, romantic rejection. If you find yourself unable to identify with these songs, then congratulations... you've led a very privileged existence". The storyline which emerges is one in which an outsider ("Hard Luck Bad News") struggles with depression ("Feeling So Bad") and the temptation to follow the world's empty ways rather than God's way ("Watch What You're Doing") until they invite Christ into their life and it is transformed. After the despondency on side one the pilgrim is then able to leave their past behind on side two and find satisfaction in their life through following Christ and sharing their faith with others. So far only the rough mix version (with the hand-drawn artwork) has been released. An annotated lyric book was sold by Phydeaux which helps to explain the original meaning of the songs and backs up Larry's claims that other more extensive versions of some of the songs exist. In 1988 Phydeaux issued a special edition cassette with longer versions of the songs and a unique bonus track, the exclusive first take of "Twelve Good Men" with different lyrics than those found on later versions of the song. The album was then re-released on CD in 1993 by Solid Rock and contains the nine songs finally released by Word in 1981 and three pretty good bonus tracks; "Twelve Good Men", "Deep Blue" (from 'Barking At The Ants') and previously unheard rock rough mix of "It's Only Today That Counts". The CD is still in stock at Solid Rock.

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