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.
Put simply, without Larry Norman there would be no contemporary Christian music. This awesomely talented rocker spearheaded the whole Jesus Music movement, picked up hit records (or more often hit songs, classics like "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" and "Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music" being endlessly covered) In the 70s and '80s Larry was an inspiration for a generation wanting rock not schlock to reflect their Christian worldview. Even Nashville occasionally overcame its cultural myopia to acknowledge Larry's towering contribution to Christian music. Yet for most of the last 20 years Larry has operated without a major record deal in his native America.
Norman's activities have been curtailed by a number of serious health problems which have included partial brain damage and several heart attacks. A massive body of recorded material has accumulated and tales of many other unreleased albums and half-finished projects gathering dust somewhere in the vaults add only to the mystique and controversy which surrounds Norman's work. Different albums have been released in different countries on a beguiling list of record labels and some albums have been re-released several times and in such a manner that there are even several different versions of the one album! Confused? Well, you should be! CR editor, Tony Cummings, decided enough was enough and it was time to end the confusion (as far as possible!). I've tried to chart, review and describe Larry's official albums for this article. All the other material - promos, singles, albums by other artists to which Larry contributed, compilations and videos - will be dealt with in an extended version of this article to be published exclusively available exclusively on the Cross Rhythms website, once Part 2 of this feature is published in CR63.
NOTE: The albums are listed in the order they were released. The first year or years shown indicates the year(s) of recording
People!, I Love You, Capitol Records ST 2924,1968
Larry's role in the proceedings is limited to singing backing vocals on a few songs and being credited with co-writing "1000 Years BC" and "The Epic" which takes up all of side two and clocks in at 13 minutes and 25 seconds. Best summed up in one word: barmy! As it happened Larry left the group on the day that the LP was launched. He has subsequently claimed that the album was originally to have been titled 'We Need A Whole Lot More Of Jesus And A Lot Less Rock And Roll' and should have contained more of his own songs until Capitol changed the album title and track list to make the release more commercial. The album was released on CD by Capitol in 1994 but is now deleted.
People!, Both Sides Of People, Capitol Records ST-151,1969
Larry ended up with more writing credits and lead vocals on this album even though he had left the group the previous year! "I've Got You On My Mind" and "Hasty Heart" were both written by Larry and feature his lead vocals, while the remaining members recorded a long, protracted psychedelic version of "She's A Dancer" after Larry had moved on to pastures new. This album was a compilation of B-sides, outtakes from the first album and songs recorded after Larry had left. Never issued on CD, LP deleted!
Larry Norman, Upon This Rock, Capitol Records ST-446,1970
Larry's debut solo album contained the first seeds of greatness which hinted at what he would be capable of producing in the years to come. Sometimes this is erroneously referred to as the first Christian rock album. What is not disputed is the fact that 'Upon This Rock' was one of the first contemporary Christian albums to gain respect in mainstream music circles. Believe it or not, John Peel was once a fan of this album.
Larry's comments: 'Upon This Rock' was supposed to be a blues album but I got flu for three days and while I was in bed the basic tracking sessions got pushed away from rock and roll. Which was probably for the best. You can hear my version of "Sweet Song Of Salvation" on 'Shouting In The Storm'. It's more like Wilson Pickett or Otis Redding and that would have never gone very far with the people who ended up liking the song and putting it in hymnals. The direction of the album got side-tracked by a person in publishing who had formerly been a construction worker. He convinced Liz Montei that he could produce, so he and I ended up tussling for the reins. But I'm sure now it was part of God's plan. I would have cranked out a tortuous, lovely rock and roll album, closer to Beggar's-Banquet-meets-Layla and it would have burned to a crisp. But as it was, the album went all over the world, even bootlegged in many countries where the church has no concept of copyright laws. It started a ball rolling that I never could have nudged very far at all. Hal Blaine played drums on it, as well as for many other bands like the Beach Boys and Simon and Garfunkel. Joe Osborne, Larry Knetchtel, Butch Parker, Mike Deasy; all top session men at that time, were on it.
Clydie King and Vanetta Fields, who worked with The Stones and Ray Charles, sang on some of the songs and then three singers who did that kind of operatic thing on "I Don't Believe In Miracles," 'The Postlude" and a few other places. When Capitol finally gave me the tapes, I did overdubs and other changes on the songs, a completely different "Last Supper," remixed the entire album and this became the version most people have heard.
In later years many critics bemoaned Larry's tendency to release different versions of the same album and to keep recording new versions of old songs. This tendency has been there from the very start of Larry's output as a recording artist. The original version on Capitol Records was recorded in 1969 but not released until 1970. In this rarer of the two versions (it wasn't sold in Christian bookshops) the album began with an instrumental medley which cross faded into "You Can't Take Away The Lord". This opening track went under two different titles (another emerging trait); being named "Overture" on the label and "Prelude" on the jacket. Elsewhere the mixes of "Ha Ha World" and "Nothing Really Changes" were significantly different to those featured on the more familiar version released to the Christian bookstores. The version of "The Last Supper" is a completely different take altogether, as this one has Larry singing in an almost operatic voice accompanied by an orchestra. Hal Yoergler was credited as the producer. Several of the songs are still ranked among most people's favourite Norman tunes with the likes of "Moses In The Wilderness", "Sweet Sweet Song Of Salvation", the often-overlooked gem "Forget Your Hexagram" all present, plus the original studio version of the classic "I Wish We'd All Been Ready". Speaking of his third contract with Capitol Records, Larry recalled, "This time they're all eager. They want to be the first label to release this Jesus Rock stuff. They were calling my album the Sergeant Pepper of Christianity and preparing grand promotional manoeuvres. But when 'Upon This Rock' was finally released, all the distributors and disc jockeys were all uptight. They'd never heard of Jesus rock and they wondered who would buy it. Even the Christian distributors and record stores and disc jockeys were uptight. They'd never heard of Jesus rock. And they felt it couldn't possibly be Christian because it was rock. So basically I was met by this wall of resistance: I was too religious for the rock and roll people and too rock and roll for the religious people." This version has never been released by Capitol on CD.
Larry Norman, Upon This Rock (remix), Impact (HWS-3121), 1970
This is the more familiar version released to the Christian bookstores with 10 songs. To begin with the prelude or overture has been axed and a number of the tracks have had new mixes and new lead vocals and / or additional harmonies added. This process sees "Walking Backwards Down The Stairs", "Sweet Sweet Song Of Salvation" and "Ha Ha World" being edited in length, while varispeed is applied to "I Wish Wed All Been Ready" to speed it up slightly. "Forget Your Hexagram" and "Nothing Really Changes" get new lead vocals and "The Last Supper" becomes a solo, piano and vocal arrangement notable for the two moments where Larry goes crazy on the cacophonous piano solos and the strange disturbing imagery in the lyrics! Kingsway released this on CD in 1990 but this has long been deleted. Solid Rock also sold a slightly different radio promo only version on CD which had most of the mixes from the later version along with the reinstated "Prelude" and 1969 mixes of "Ha Ha World" and "The Last Supper". This second CD version is now also deleted.
Larry Norman, Street Level, One Way Records (JC-7397), 1970
Larry's comments: 'Street Level' and 'Bootleg' were made under the poorest of circumstances. I was working on a series of seven albums, but I was also writing musicals and using some of my album songs for cast music. I had planned to do 'Street Level1 and 'Bootleg' with Capitol Records but they dropped me because they couldn't locate a market for my kind of music, which is why they leased 'Upon This Rock' to Benson for the Impact label. So I had no money for the studio and ended up using bits of pieces of cast demos, live performances and after-hour studio favours to cobble together a vague semblance of what my original concepts were. I met Fred Bova in a health food restaurant He was barefoot playing his guitar at the lunch table where he was sitting and eating. So that's how I found a lead guitarist The whole two years of sessions was like that Trying to create a message despite the situation and making cassettes so I could give them to people I was witnessing to because most street people and hippies thought 'Upon This Rock' was "plastic", which was anathema to the hipsters who were begging for spare change and scrounging for drugs. 'Street Level' opened a lot of doors into those people's heads so I could keep talking to them about Jesus.
Side one has some songs from a 1969 concert in Hollywood and opens with the excellent poem "First Day In Church" which proved to be a good early example of Larry using humour to help make his audience take note of an unpalatable strong social comment Norman then plays two songs which look forward to the persecution of Christians in America ("Peace Pollution Revolution" and "Right Here In America") before delivering a beautiful and haunting performance of "I Wish We'd All Been Ready". Side two features studio demos of some of the songs from the musical Lion's Breath: "I Am The Six 0 Clock News", "She's A Dancer", "I Don't Wanna Lose You", The Price Of Living" and "Sigrid Jane".
Larry Norman, Bootleg, One Way Records (JC-4847), 1971
Double LP with 27 tracks including some TV interview segments and on stage monologues plus studio demos and live performances. Later Larry would speak of his regrets about 'Bootleg' being put together too quickly so that it was released before his newly signed contract with MGM Records took effect. The majority of cuts feature Larry accompanying himself on guitar or piano with one or two wilder band performances thrown in to the mix.
Larry Norman & White Light, Street Level (second version). One Way Records (JC-3973), 1971
Side one survives unchanged from the first version, but side two is completely different after being changed so that Christians could understand it more easily! Larry is joined by Randy Stonehill and White Light for some raucous studio versions of "Baby Out Of Wedlock" (later renamed twice as "You Knew What You Were Doing" and "When You Sent Your Son"), "Blue Shoes White", "I've Searched All Around" (later to grace 'In Another Land') and "Jim Ware's Blues" (also better known as "Why Don't You Look Into Jesus"!). Two cuts from 'Bootleg' reappear here, the long simple piano vocal version of "One Way" and the aforementioned "I've Searched All Around". Larry accompanies himself on piano for the Jesus Music favourite "No More LSD For Me" the only track from both versions which has so far not been re-issued on either the 'Rough Street Love Letter' or 'Cottage Tapes' CDs.