Thoughts on Larry Norman’s music

When I approached the song presentation, I was thinking about music genres that have influenced my life, and one of them is Christian rock–or rock music with Christian themes (depending on how you define it or who you’re listening to). Growing up, I was into Reliant K, Superchick, and Skillet, to name a few—and these seem to fit into a more of a punkish/early 2000’s rock genre. Of bands from more of my dad’s era, I admired Petra, a band from a handful of Christian rock bands that started around the late 70’s. I didn’t know too much about Larry Norman, who has been blamed for starting that genre in the late 60’s. Since he was an influential figure to these other bands I like, I decided to read up on him more.

As I went listening some Larry Norman songs for the first time, I felt like there was something raw and bold about the style (the themes). Some words I would use to describe his songs: storytelling, outspoken, straightforward, catchy. The music (sound) style ranges from fast rock-n-roll to slow folk ballads. From what I read and listened to, it seemed like Larry was able to make an impact with the messages in his songs while not failing to have fun with the music at the same time. The song “Why should the devil have all the good music?” is an example of a song that both expresses his zany side while also confronting a serious issue (the fundamentalists’ retort that rock music and Christian music shouldn’t be mixed).

“The Great American Novel” was the song that really got me. Maybe I just like depressing folk songs with sarcastic titles. But I like the serious tone it takes, and found it interesting to see what Norman chose to protest about (the moon landing in particular). The style of the song as well as lamenting the messed up things in our nation is similar to Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”. What’s different about it is the Christian perspective. The lyrics are almost entirely a lament about political downfalls, but the whole point, which he gets to at the end, is that we need Jesus, as the lyrics read at the end: “Don’t ask me for the answers, I’ve only got one: that a man leaves his darkness when he follows the Son.”

Another popular song by Norman was “Why Don’t You Look into Jesus?” I looked this up and read that he wrote the song about Janis Joplin. That seemed obvious when I reread the lyrics “Shooting junk till you’re half insane/Broken needle in your purple vein”. I had mixed reactions when I heard the song: Is this a bash on the hippie/partying lifestyle? Is this arrogant? Then: He’s simply saying that there’s something(one) better, and he won’t hesitate to tell you it’s Jesus. So I can see how the song can be reacted to in different ways and how my beliefs affect how I react to the song. Either way, it’s one of those songs that tries to make you reconsider what you’re doing with your life.

If you’re interested, here’s a playlist- I typed in the YouTube search ‘top songs by Larry Norman’, mostly out of curiosity to see what would come up. This playlist has a mix of the songs I mentioned as well as some other ones.


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