Larry Norman

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Larry David Norman born April 8, 1947 in Corpus Christi, Texas and died February 24, 2008 was an American singer-songwriter and record producer who is considered the originator and architect of modern gospel music. Although he has performed with bands, off and on for forty years, his most popular music seems to be his haunting folk rock finger picking style, and the light touch he gives his vocals for these songs are somewhat reminiscent of the more mellow songs of artists like Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison and Neil Young. But lyrically, he is copying no one. At 17 he was the youngest person to be inducted into the Edwin Markham Poet Laureate Society and he continues to take his poetry very seriously. One critic lionized him as the "Rebel Poet, Jukebox Balladeer". He has used orchestras, rock bands and choirs to enliven his avant garde music and popular rock songs. In the end analysis, the range and vision of his music defies obedience to any musical discipline.

He has had a strong influence on several later rock musicians such as John Cougar Mellencamp who was quoted as saying, “Norman’s music changed my life.” Van Morrison has been quoted in an interview with a European magazine, telling the reporter, “Yeh. I’m a fan. I’ve got all his albums”. There was a time when he could have easily claimed this, but after almost eighty studio, live and bootleg releases it’s become less and less likely that anyone, except the most avid collector, has “all of his albums.”

Dylan has openly said “I’m a big fan,” and it’s clear that Norman’s Only Visiting This Planet was a progenitor to Dylan’s Slow Train Coming. Just compare the 1971 song. “Righteous Rocker, Holy Roller” from "Planet". and the 1978 song, “You Gotta Serve Somebody” from "Train". and you will be unable to avoid the similarity of the poetic "compare and contrast" approach.

Norman has had over 400 cover records, including recordings by Petula Clark, Sammy Davis, Jr., Pat Boone, Jack Jones, Cliff Richard and other contemporary artists. His music has been translated into more than a dozen languages, studied in college literary classes and used in many films.

He was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame alongside Elvis Presley in 2001.


Whether he likes it or not he is called "The father of Christian Rock" and the first forerunner of contemporary gospel music.

In the late '60s he was a member of the rock band People!. People! released its first album in 1968 and had a Top 10 hit with the song, "I Love You". He had opened for Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash and other artists. The band had appeared on Johnny Carson and The Tonight Show.

It was during the 27 city tour with The Who that Pete Townshend watched the Norman rock opera, The Epic from the wings a dozen times and then said he was going to fly to his house on The Isle of Wight and write his own rock opera. Townshend wrote Tommy; But Larry had left the band by this time.

After he left People! he released his first solo album, Upon This Rock in 1969. This is considered the clarion call of a new era. It included one of Norman's most memorable songs, "I Wish We'd All Been Ready." This song has been called Apocalyptic by some and interpret the lyrics which seem to them to portray a regretful singer thrust into a bleak and violent post-rapture society. It became an instant classic and was covered by many artists, in many different languages. His album caused shockwaves within the whitebread church community. He was quickly known around the world and was labeled notorious and a tool of Satan.

Even after his daunting breakthrough onto the scene, facing down mass rejection from the church fathers, and almost no commercial sales from any religious retail outlets, there were very few others who immediately attempted to follow his lead, maybe because he did not fit the enviable pattern of success or possibly because so many church people associated rock music with secularism and hostility to traditional morals and Christian values that they forbid their children to play rock music that Larry recorded in the house, go to dances or buy a guitar.

Larry Norman brokered an entrance into the bohemian radical community with two underground albums: Street Level and Bootleg and then created a music scene that opened the door widely for other artists when he released his 1972 album, Only Visiting This Planet. This groundbreaking release included a clever rock anthem for the burgeoning Christian rock movement: "Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?" and was a satirical slap across the face to the church.

What made the "Planet" album particularly significant was the combination of credible rock and roll music with songwriting that critiqued both American society and the contemporary church. Norman's songwriting stunned many in the Christian music scene by its bold references to subjects ranging from the Vietnam War to venereal disease and even the U.S. space program.

And songs such as "The Great American Novel" attacked hypocrisy in the American public square while others, such as "The Outlaw," portrayed Jesus as an anti-establishment figure, mirroring Norman's outreach to street people and his subsequent identification with the unwitting neophytes who were being absorbed into The Jesus Movement. These songs and others were quite often covered by tamed, acceptable Christian artists like Cliff Richard and DeGarmo and Key. However, Norman's contribution to Christian music went far beyond the songs themselves.

His use of critique, stand up satire and unflinching songwriting launched a tradition within Christian rock that was continued by newly subversive artists such as Steve Taylor, Daniel Amos and Resurrection Band. Only Visiting This Planet was voted the most significant album in Christian music history at the end of the 1980s in national critic's poll. His position remained at the top until almost ten years later when Amy Grant sold seven million copies of an album and became gospel music’s great white hope for “crossing over”. She went on to sell 25 million albums. Her subsequent divorce and companionship with the not–yet divorced Vince Gill has probably changed her allure with the historically skittish critics and public sentiments. However, money crowns almost any social derision and Amy’s combined fortune with the Vince Gill gold mine of hits has made her untouchable, if no longer beloved.

A huge boost at the beginning of Norman's career was his 1971 sold out Royal Albert Hall appearance in London and his impressive sold out European tour which stretched from France to Finland.

The road wasn't always easy for Norman whose shoulder length blond hair, jeans and T-shirt, and sharp, sometimes caustic diatribes against secular influences in Christianity did not win him many friends with the older generation in the church who took on every theological fad and secular acknowledgement with enthusiasm. In the meantime, teens (both religious and non-religious) were attending Larry Norman concerts in droves though they still could not buy his albums at many religious outlets. But Tower Records, Sam Goody, Peaches and other secular retail stores carried his music. But many Christians back then had never even been to a normal record shop. So the majority of churched kids had never bought, or been allowed to listen to, Larry Norman and his explosive albums.

In 1972, Norman made his first screen appearance with his favorite actor, Burgess Meredith which also featured Robert Walker, Jr., Carol Lynley, comic actor Godfrey Cambridge and stand up comic Shelley Berman. Also TV actor Dick Van Patten and Cindy Williams and character actor Dick Stahl. The big attraction, though, was Richard Webb who had not been seen in years, but had been an early TV hero in his show Captain Midnight. It was the first time directing effort by Larry Hagman (I Dream of Jeannie) who also appeared in it briefly in a cameo role. Producer Anthony Harris had personally requested that Larry be in the film and Larry had at first refused. Finally though, when promised he could write his own character, he chose to be a Christian whose best friend, Danny Goldman, was Jewish. He also got Randy a part in the film but Randy tailored his role as a pot head singing a song about cocaine inside a sewer drain pipe so he could be one of the first few people to die. Apparently the film was a pretty big success and is still popular as late night fare, if frequency is an indication of its popularity.

In the late 1970s, Norman formed Solid Rock Records, which went on to release his own In Another Land and Something New Under The Son;, The Stonehill albums Welcome to Paradise and The Sky is Falling. Larry also produced the Tom Howard album View From The Bridge, and the Mark Heard album Appalachian Melody;.

Controversy and injury

But perhaps the most controversial involvement in Norman's career occurred over Daniel Amos's Horrendous Disc LP. The album, which was recorded in 1978, had been dropped by Maranatha! Music after the label decided to quit releasing rock and roll albums and focus on children's releases and gospel music. So the band, now without a record contract, began to shop the project around to various labels. After considering a number of offers including the Warner Brothers' label Curb Records, Amos settled on Norman's Solid Rock Records in late 1978. Norman had the album mixed and took photos of the band for the album's cover, though most of the tracks were recorded back in 1978 with Mike "Clay" Stone as producer. For reasons that remain a mystery, the album was shelved until its release in April 1981, weeks before the band's follow up on Newpax Records, ¡Alarma!, hit record stores. While in People! during the mid 1960's, Norman shared the stage with D.A.'s Terry Scott Taylor in one of his early pre-Daniel Amos bands, Copperbrick Window. Decades later, Norman paid homage to Taylor on the D.A. tribute album, When Worlds Collide. However, the Horrendous Disc episode strained the relationship between D.A. and Norman.

Norman re-released Horrendous Disc on CD in 2000. The re-release stirred controversy among Daniel Amos fans by the inclusion of two covers sung by Norman of the song "Hound of Heaven," a straight-forward version and a lounge-style cut. Norman was also accused of being too defensive in his liner notes regarding the long-delayed release of the album in the late 1970s. The amount of controversy generated twenty years after the album's original release is a testament to the lasting, devoted fan base both Norman and the band Daniel Amos have retained throughout their careers.

The late 70's marked a difficult time for Norman. He was severely injured aboard an airplane in 1978 when an overhead compartment door fell on his head. Norman claimed that this accident gave him a "bipolar trauma" which made it impossible for him to work to completion on albums; he did not record a studio album for the next twelve years.

1980s and later

A dispute with Word Records resulted in the dismantling of the Solid Rock label in 1980. Norman moved to Europe and formed the Phydeaux label.

In 1980, Norman's wife, Pamela, divorced him. A few years later he married Sarah Finch, the ex-wife of his best friend and writing partner, Randy Stonehill. This marriage, which produced son Michael Norman, ended in divorce as well.

In 1992, he suffered a heart attack and was expected to live less than one week. He survived high-risk surgery and was left with very limited cardiopulmonary ability. Even though easily winded, he continued to perform, although very infrequently. He performed what was billed as his "final" concert in October of 2003. Then, in 2005 he announced two more "final" concerts: one in his adopted home of Salem (Oregon), Oregon and the other at a seaside festival in Norway. Additional dates in the United Kingdom were also planned. A further concert by Norman (with two members of the band People!) took place in August 2006.

Norman was inducted into the Gospel Music Association's Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2001.


Many artists have been influenced by Norman's music including Frank Black of the Pixies, who covered one of Norman's songs, "Six-Sixty-Six" on his album Frank Black & the Catholics as well as during solo concerts during 2005 and 2006. During the song "Levitate Me", Black says "Come on pilgrim, you know he loves you" - a phrase that Norman had written onto the end of the 1978 song Watch What You're Doing. Black was one of the "special guests" at the June 2005 Elsinore Theater concert in Salem, featuring an evening with Larryjoining him on the song, "Watch What You're Doing".

Other artists such as DC Talk count themselves as fans of Norman's. Guns 'N' Roses keyboard player Dizzy Reed performed on Norman's Copper Wires album. While Norman was recording at George Martin's Air Studios in 1974 McCartney was quoted in an interview as saying that Norman could be the most significant artist of the 1970s, if he didn't only restrict himself to gospel tunes. Bono and The Edge from U2 are also fans. (1968).

In the 1990s, animators for the popular television series, The Simpsons created a limited edition comic book featuring Norman as a Simpsons character. Watches were also sold that featured Norman's yellow, three fingered Simpsons likeness.

Characteristics of Norman's Music

The majority of Norman's music that was produced during his most creative years (1969 - 1977, or from "Upon This Rock" through "Something New Under the Son") was markedly different than that of other artists in Christian Rock Music. In the early years, this was partially because so few Christian Rock artists existed; however, this minimizes how significantly different Norman's music was from other music in the genre.

Norman's best lyrical work bore more similarity to other significant writers of 60's than to the cliched, superficial lyrics common in Christian Rock music. His songs addressed topics far beyond those of his contemporaries, touching on politics ("The Great American Novel"), the eventual emptiness of free love ("Pardon Me"), the realities of war ("The Six O'Clock News"), witchcraft and the occult ("Forget Your Hexagram") and alienation ("Lonely by Myself").

Quality of Production

Other than "Street Level" and "Bootleg", which were intentionally raw and underproduced, Norman's music was of a significantly higher quality, production-wise, than that of other music of the genre. Larry was able to get significant figures in secular music involved in the production process, most notably George Martin and Andy Johns. Most of Norman's releases through 1977 had sound quality and delivery much closer to that of their secular counterparts than other Christian Rock music at the time, most of which was of a noticeably inferior quality.

Surrealism and Nightmare

A recurring thematic element in Norman's music is that of surreal imagery and nightmare. In many of the songs in this style, the main characters seem to move in and out of alternate times and dimensions. On his solo debut album "Upon This Rock", songs like "Ha Ha World" and "The Last Supper" presented verbal imagery that seemed a hybrid of biblical prophecy crossed with "The Twilight Zone".

This continued on "So Long Ago the Garden" with "Be Careful What You Sign" and "Nightmare", in which the sleeper engages in a tortured conversation with a marionette of Harpo Marx that rattles off apocalyptic warnings about mankind's future.

"In Another Land" saw a more subdued version of this element with "The Sun Began to Reign" (featuring Dudley Moore on piano), and stretching the paradigm a bit, the song "666" (featuring John Michael Talbot of Mason Proffit fame on banjo). However, "Something New Under the Son" once again took listeners into another journey into the surreal with "Larry Norman's 97th Nightmare" and to a lesser degree "I Feel Like Dying".

Surrealism was not a popular style in Christian pop music, which favors clear-cut spiritual homilies over lyrical impressionism. While Norman was recording these types of songs in 1969, it was probably not until Daniel Amos's "Horrendous Disc", recorded nearly a decade later, that other examples of this writing style began to emerge in Contemporary Christian Music.

The End Times

Norman's eschatology reflected twentieth century American Protestant beliefs about the end of the world. Many of Norman's songs refer to "the last days" as seen through a dispensational understanding of the Book of Revelation. As mentioned earlier, Norman is probably most well known for the end-times anthem "I Wish We'd All Been Ready". However an apocalyptic thread clearly surfaces throughout virtually all of Norman's music, starting from "Upon This Rock" with "Ha, Ha World", "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" and "The Last Supper" and continuing with "Peace, Pollution, Revolution" and "Nightmare" from "So Long Ago The Garden" and "UFO", "666" and other selections from "In Another Land". While a common theme in Norman's music, he was adept at looking at the topic through many different lenses, using various styles of delivery. Some songs, such as "I Wish We'd All Been Ready", "Even if You Don't Believe" (from "Bootleg") and "If the Bombs Fall" were very straightforward, with very little use of symbolism. On the other extreme, songs like "The Last Supper", "Nightmare" and "The Sun Began to Reign" used symbolism that ranged in style from vaudevillian to cryptic to hallucinogenic.

Albums as Conceptual and Thematic Art

While the "concept" album had probably been born with the Beach Boy's "Pet Sounds" album, Norman took the idea a step further, tying multiple albums together. The albums "Only Visiting This Planet", "So Long Ago the Garden" and "In Another Land", were grouped together as parts 1, 2 and 3 of what Norman later called "The First Trilogy". In a 1980's interview with CCM, Norman claims that all of these albums were not only related as a look at the past, present and future, but that each album had its own themes and sub-themes. In addition he has stated that the track order of the songs was originally designed to allow certain thematic elements to occur at specified intervals within and across albums. Because the record companies refused to allow the songs to be placed in the order he intended, Norman complained that the hints and foreshadowing intended by this creative technique were ruined.

While the "Trilogy" albums were obviously related, Norman also indicated that there was actually a larger concept interwoven between his first seven albums. When "Something New Under the Son" was released on vinyl, many of Norman's fans were puzzled by the album sleeve art, supposedly showing a different inner gatefold jacket, strange drawings, a series of letters that formed circles, numbers and the cryptic statement "Numbers Don't Count". Those who listened carefully to the album realized that Norman was hinting at (if not outright telling them) the names of his next seven albums. Later on, Norman claimed that the first seven albums were supposed to be (in some way) related to the first seven days of creation and that the number of words in the titles of each set of seven albums had symbolic meaning. The second seven albums (of which "Something New Under the Son" was the first) were to represent a second "week", but with a different creative direction. While these albums were never finished, "The Best of the Second Trilogy" (released by Phydeaux) gave a peek into three of the next seven albums.

As with the Paul Is Dead episode in the history of The Beatles, there has been a divergence of opinion as to whether this revelation of complex relationships was merely a clever form of marketing, or if Norman had actually conceived this grand architecture from the beginning or at some point along the way. While the first verifable evidence of these relationships appeared on the back cover of "In Another Land", when it was identified as the 3rd part of "The Trilogy", there is some coherence to not only Norman's first albums, but also to the present, past and future themes of The Trilogy. There is also the observation, not noted by many, that Norman's seventh album "In Another Land" was his most commercial and least controversial, and thus most readily embraced by the Christian community. This "rest" from criticism corresponds to the 7th day of creation, where God also "rests" from his creative work.

The concept album "Something New Under the Son" follows a young man through love lost and a conversion to Christianity, and finally into a career in music. A cross between Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" and the blues, the album contains a collection of songs that seem at first to be vaguely familiar, either in style, or form. As the album continues, borrowed elements from classic 50's and 60's rock become apparent. "Watch What You're Doing" opens with lyrics repeated from B.B. King's "Shake It Up and Go". While "Larry Norman's 97th Nightmare" seems to be a blatant re-working of "Stagger Lee", it also opens with Larry and the band imitating the famous false start at the beginning of "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" by Bob Dylan, in which the band breaks up laughing and has to start the song again. Likewise, the photos on the inside of the album sleeve clearly imitate the photos on the cover of Bob Dylan's album "Bringing It All Back Home" which "115th Dream" is on. The concluding song, "Let the Tape Keep Rolling" begins as a remake of "Johnny B. Goode", continues with many brief cameos of rock classics and ends with an echo of the Rolling Stones' "You Gotta Move". A bonus track, "12 Good Men" (included on cassette and CD versions of the album) borrowed lyrics from Bob Dylan's "Outlaw Blues".

Selected discography


  • I Love You, 1968 (with People!)
  • Both Sides of People, 1969 (with People!)
  • Upon This Rock, 1969 album


  • Street Level, 1970 album
  • Bootleg, 1971 album
  • Only Visiting This Planet, 1972 album
  • So Long Ago the Garden, 1973 album
  • In Another Land, 1976 album
  • Streams of White Light, 1977 album 1998 CD
  • Larry Norman, 1977 collection (often referred to as 'Starstorm')
  • Something new under the son, Recorded: 1977 Released: 1981 album, 1993, 2003 CD


  • The Israel Tapes, 1980 live album
  • Roll Away The Stone, 1980 live album
  • Something New under the Son, 1981 album
  • Larry Norman And His Friends On Tour, 1981 live album
  • Barking At The Ants, 1981 collection with other artists
  • Letter Of The Law, 1982 album
  • Labor Of Love, 1982 album
  • The Story Of The Tune, 1983 album
  • Come As A Child, 1983 live album
  • Quiet Night, 1984 album
  • bArchaeology, 1984 collection
  • Stop This Flight, 1985 album
  • Back To America, 1985 collection
  • Down Under (But Not Out) 1986 album
  • Rehearsal For Reality, 1986 album
  • Home at Last, 1986 album
  • The Best Of The 2nd Trilogy, 1988 collection
  • White Blossoms From Black Roots, 1989 album


  • Live At Flevo, 1990 live album
  • The Best Of Larry Norman, 1990 collection
  • Rough Mix 3, 1990, album
  • Stranded in Babylon, 1991 album
  • Children Of Sorrow, 1994 live album
  • Totally Unplugged, 1994 live album
  • A Moment In Time, 1994 live album
  • Footprints In The Sand, 1994 collection
  • Omega Europa, 1994 live album
  • Remixing This Planet, 1996 remix album
  • Gathered Moments (Somewhere In This Lifetime), 1998 collection & live album
  • Shouting In The Storm, 1998 live album
  • Breathe In, Breathe Out, 1998 live album
  • Copper Wires, 1998 album
  • Live At The Mac, 1998 live album
  • We Wish You A Larry Christmas, 1998 collection
  • Home Box, 1998 featuring Home at Last & Footprints In The Sand together
  • When Worlds Collide: A Tribute to Daniel Amos, 1999
  • The Vineyard, 1999 live album
  • Rough Street Love Letter, 1999 collection
  • Father Touch, 1999 Phann Klubb release
  • The Cottage Tapes - Book One, 1999 collection (featuring Randy Stonehill)


  • In The Beginning, 2000 live album from Creation West 2000 festival
  • Blarney Stone, 2000 album
  • Sticks And Stones, 2000 album
  • Tourniquet, 2001 album
  • The Best Of Larry Norman, 2001 30 Year British Anniversary Tour celebration collection
  • The Belfast Bootlegs, 2001 live collection through the years
  • Agitator, 2002 "The Essential Series - CD2" collection
  • Collaborator, 2002 "The Essential Series - CD4" collection
  • Survivor, 2002 "The Essential Series - CD7" collection
  • Instigator, 2002 "The Essential Series - CD1" collection
  • Rock, Scissors et Papier, 2003 album
  • Larry Norman Presents Solid Rock Sampler 1, 2003 collection (includes other artists)
  • Live At Cornerstone 2001, 2003 live release
  • Restless In Manhattan, 2003, live album from the early '70s
  • Invitation Only, 2003 concert goer's release
  • American Roots, 2003 collection
  • The Very Best Of Larry Norman, 2003 collection
  • Road Rage, 2003 live album
  • Christmastime, 2003 Christmas album
  • The Six O'Clock News, 2004 single
  • Eve Of Destruction, 2004 single
  • Snowblind, 2004 live album from the 1980s
  • Infiltrator, 2004 "The Essential Series - CD6" collection
  • Liberator, 2004 "The Essential Series - CD3" collection
  • The Final Concert, 2004 live Final concert (maybe not!)
  • Sessions, 2004 medical expenses special
  • Heartland Junction, 2004 collection
  • The Norman Invasion, 2004 live 2001 tour collection
  • The Cottage Tapes - Book Two, 2004 collection (featuring Randy Stonehill)
  • Emancipator, 2004 "The Essential Series - CD5" collection
  • On The Prowl, 2004 live ablum from 1986
  • 70 Miles From Lebanon, 2004 live album from 2003's "final" show
  • 70 Miles From Lebanon, 2004 live DVD from 2003's "final" show
  • Maximum Garden - The Anthology Series, 2004 alternate takes collection
  • Maximum Planet - The Anthology Series, 2004 alternate takes collection
  • The Very Best Of Larry Norman - Vol 2, 2004 collection
  • Hattem, 2005 live album
  • Face To Face, 2005 live DVD
  • Siege At Elsinore, 2005 album (not to confused with the June concert in Salem)
  • Frisbee, 2005 soundtrack album
  • 4 Track Motorola '66 Corolla, 2005 alternate takes and outtakes album
  • Live at the Elsinore, 2005 live album from June concert in Salem

External links

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