CCM’s 100 Most Important Artists

January 7, 2013 5 comments

Finally…the new blog is here!

http://ccms100mostimportantartists.wordpress.com/

 

No Man’s Land – Charlie Peacock

October 9, 2012 7 comments

NO MAN’S LAND (2012)

Charlie Peacock

Perhaps it is only fitting that I follow up a review of one of the most celebrated and revered artists in mainstream music with a nearly equally celebrated and revered artists in Christian music. In fact, there are moments on Peacock’s brilliant offering here that may even cause the listener to pause a moment and reflect on some of Dylan’s finer moments. There is a rough, southern Americana, bluegrass, country feel that has been embraced by Dylan’s palette on more than a handful of occasions.

There is so much to like here that a quick review really is an injustice.

After working with the best selling and critically acclaimed and awarded The Civil Wars, Peacock here delivers his own take on truly American music. More bluesy and soulful and clearly less funky and poppy than previous Peacock offering, “No Man’s land” clearly ranks among Peacock’s finest. Do not bother trying to track down any songs on your local CCM station, there is nothing here that will ever grace the airwaves of modern Christian radio. There is a lot of Dylan, Elvis Costello and John Hiatt here, though, as Peacock reaches deep in the American soundtrack to deliver twelve utterly brilliant songs.

Self-produced and self-released, there was no compulsion to create three and half minute radio gems that often populated previous Peacock works. Here the songs are allowed to grow, breathe and develop into real, sparkling gems that will, with very little doubt, last beyond whatever their current format for delivery’s shelf life. I guess a 12 year sabbatical will do that to an artist.

The album starts with the soulful country-tinged “Death Trap.” The lyric comes across as somewhat of lyrical reworking of James’ warning about the tongue. Peacock pleads with the Lord to help him hold his tongue in the face of an angry response, but the struggle seems overwhelming. Peacock also seems to channel the Apostle Paul when he bemoans his own inability to not do what he knows better not to do.

The hauntingly beautiful “Mystic” follows with the one song that sounds like it could have appeared on “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” or at least would have been under considerable consideration by T-Bone Burnett. Burnett is probably not too far off of a comparison, but the swampy groove has a touch of John Hiatt as well (other songs later really exploit that wonderful sound).

The more Gospel grooved “Voice of the Lord” is the closest to any previous Peacock material with the brass section and funky groove. Peacock is also more vocally soulful here than just about anywhere else on the project. In fact, the song may have fit quite comfortable on one of the three “West Coast Diaries” projects, while sounding perfectly in place here.

The clear stand out, though, is “Kite In a Tree.” The musical marriage with an utterly brilliant lyric makes for just about a perfect song. I do not know of too many artist that would dare rhyme “construct” with “thumb-suck,” but Peacock not only manages to do, he does it with a intellectually honest discussion of the struggles of faith. The chorus owns the finest hook on the project and the six plus minutes seem all too short. This is where a comparison may find their most difficult representation, but it’s not far from Bruce Cockburn during his “Dragon’s Jaws” days. If any song deserves the “repeat” button it is this one.

“Deep Inside a Word” immediately impressed me as a song Elvis Costello would be proud to include in his repertoire. The song nearly stops at moments and then comes raging back with a little touch of Italian street music combined with Louisiana blues. Peacock is best when his voice feels caught between breaths; struggling for that last gasp of emotion. It is disappointing not to have the credits handy as the musicians deserve major kudos for their performances here.

My dad used to complain that there was too much country on the radio and not enough western. “Let the Dog back in the House” is more the latter than the former. If Peacock could have kept the lyrics simple, perhaps about building a ship to take you over the Jordan, the song could have become a Southern Baptist staple.

The Peacock fan in me makes me love “Beauty Left the Room” all the more because of how much it is completely a “Peacock” tune. His emotional approach to subtle delivery is unsurpassed and is best exemplified on this track. If you can’t “feel it” you are clearly not paying attention.

It would be far to easy to skip passed “Until My Body Comes Undone” because of just how quiet it is. But that would be huge mistake. I don’t know why, but this song, more than any other on the project, reminds me of John Hiatt. Hiatt’s gravelly, swamp-infested voice even seems to influence Peacock’s delivery. It is never rushed. He never lets a work drip passed his lips without pulling every ounce of guts from it. Again, the musicianship here is brilliant as it carries a very slow, at times almost invisible backdrop, for over six minutes, without letting the listener off the hook. If anything, one is drawn closer to the speakers as not to miss a single note.

“Thinkin’ Till the Crack of Dawn” has me completely convinced that if Terry Taylor and company ever needs someone to join The Lost Dogs, it would not be stretch to invite Charlie Peacock. If someone told me the song was co-written by Taylor and Mike Roe I would not have flinched.

Up until now, “No Man’s Land” has been filled with deep, dark and introspective tunes. That all changes with “Ghost of the Kitty Cat.” The rollicking, Cajun-funked bop fest is a sheer delight. There is a touch of rockabilly and a sassy delivery that seems initially out of place against the backdrop of the rest of album, but when taken as a whole, it would have been a great oversight musically to ignore this form of Americana music.

The slower, more emotionally stirring sound returned with “Only You can.” Taking a cue from the Psalms, Peacock is back in the emotional pocket with an introspective look at failings and the need for hanging on to the one who does not fail or fall. Brokenness is a common theme on this project and it matches quite well the musical landscape Peacock has created; few songs fit better than this.

It should be noted that there is not a single “filler” song to be had on this project. Each songs has a life all unto its own. This is most obviously demonstrated with the albums closer, “Satellites.” Soulful and slow, but with a huge musical experience driving the chorus. Previous Peacock projects focused on funky brass section to drive the hook, here they simply carry the melody and heighten the experience. The big chorus that brings the album to a close sounds like it has a chanced to be a live favorite. It also appears to be a studio moment where the musicians could let loose and not be fearful of bringing down the house at Peacock vamps his final words.

Twelve years is far too long between vocal albums from this masterful artists, but a wait worth living as he so delivered on this project. An interesting side note here is that until about 18 months ago, Peacock had no plans to record another pop/vocal album. he had been staying busy producing and writing for others. The project came from some study of his ancestry and the impact of a diverse musical heritage his family experienced. Whatever the reason, this fan is so appreciative to have peacock, the artist, back in true form. I cannot begin to guess where this album would be ranked, but I do not believe any other project outside of “Lie Down in the Grass” would be its equal.

Tempest – Bob Dylan

September 13, 2012 9 comments

TEMPEST

Bob Dylan

Once upon a time I would be able to tell you the street date of an upcoming Dylan release and would bet I would be the first of my friends to purchase it. But the 1990’s and 2000’s became spotty for Dylan releases, both quantitatively and qualitatively. For every one “Modern Times” and “Time Out of Mind” there were two “Oh Mercy’s” and “Good As I Been To You’s.” But a few months ago I heard rumblings that not only was Dylan releasing an album of fresh new music, but that it was to be his most “religious” album thematically since “Shot of Love.”

My interest was piqued.

This week Dylan released his 35th album, “Tempest,” and delivered an epic album an so many levels. It is both epic in length with only two of the ten songs coming in under four minutes and the inclusion of a 13-minute tour de force.

It is folky, sweet and swinging music filled with dark, somber and deeply moving lyrics. yes, it is Dylan’s most religiously tinged project since the trilogy (Slow Train Coming, Saved, Shot of Love), but no more so than the brilliant “Infidels.” In fact, it is the latter album that this current release reminds me the most of. Not so much musically as lyrically. There are clear evangelical imagery, mixed with human frailty and the darker sensibilities of Dylan’s best.

Most enjoyable is the interplay between human emotions, sexual tensions and spiritual phrasings. Initially some may find this merging confusing or uncomfortable, but it is what makes the album so intriguing and compelling. It does not drag you to the bedroom kicking and screaming, it dances with you slowly and leads to the bed. There is nothing commercial here and don’t expect to hear the album much on radio.

I do not want to spoil the wonderful wordplay here, I only suggest you pick it up and discover it for yourself. The true brilliance is the lack of context of common phrases. What I mean by that is Dylan’s penchant for using a common spiritual phrase to describe that which is carnal and using carnal phrases to describe that which is deeply, authentically spiritual.

The only song I want to bring up is the epic title track. At first one is wondering where the song is going, but by the end wishing it would continue. It is my favorite Dylan ballad since “Every Grain of Sand.” The song uses painful human experiences like the sinking of the Titanic to describe the human condition and need for hope, mercy and grace. Its brilliance is in the simplicity and the emotional impact more than crafty words.

This first review of the blogs new direction is a clear choice for an album that will appear in any upcoming, comparable list.

New Direction

September 11, 2012 11 comments

OK…what to do with this blog. I haven’t posted in forever and yet it is still pulling in a ton of visitors a day. I know the countdown is done, but i want to continue with a similar theme without having to start a new blog. Plus, hopefully new posts will keep people coming and introduce new readers to the blog.
So, here is what my plan is to do.

I am going to make note and review albums that were released after the countdown started that, by rule, could not be included in the countdown. I will also review albums that should have been included, but i did not own at the time and believe would be counted if I was do the countdown all over again. The purpose will be to let readers know of quality releases that will receive heavy consideration when the Top 100 Albums blog starts in 2020!

So…stay tuned.

The Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda List

April 25, 2012 63 comments

Here is the famous (infamous) list of albums that in hindsight should have been included. Some were left off by pure and simple oversight while others were left off and, after further consideration, should have been included. Some were even missed because of being lost while cutting and pasting from several different compiling lists. Some will just be listed; others will receive more detailed explanation.I will also list where the album may have appeared.

The list is longer then anticipated originally.

100% PROOF – 100% Proof (1981) – Recorded in the late 70’s and finally making it’s way to record shelves (or at least the bands trunks at concerts), this debut rocked with a Southern groove that few other bands touched. More Molly Hatchet and Lynard Skynard than AC/DC (the band they are most often compared to), this debut was just really cool and actually had guitar solos. A real highlight is the rock ballad about the life of AC/DC’s late lead singer, Bon Scott. (High 400’s)

2ND CHAPTER OF ACTS – IN the Volume of the Book (1975) – One the groups best and most “rockin'” albums with Yaweh, Now That I Belong To You and hey Watcha Say. A young Phil Keaggy sounds really nice on many of these tracks. (Mid 200’s)

THE 77’s – Drowning with Land In Sight (1994) – As if Mike Roe was not represented enough, the hardest and most blistering rock record of the bands history was left off. The Zeppelin cover that kicks off the album should have been enough to force inclusion. For me, though, the real treat is Snowblind. Roe’s penchant for hooks can be found on the beautiful Film at 11. (Low 200’s)

ADRIAN SNELL – Firelake (1975) – How I missed this is totally a blow it on my part. Britain’s biggest selling CCM artist had two albums that easily should have made the list. His debut here is wonderful and fans of jesus Music will find much to enjoy. (Mid 300’s)

ADRIAN SNELL – The Passion (1980) – Combining classical, Jesus Music, Church Music and CCM, this musical look at the final week of christ’s life was a predecessor to many that would follow. (Low 400’s)

AGAPE – Gospel hard Rock (1971) – As one of the very first “hard rock” albums in CCM history, the album deserved inclusion for that fact alone. WAY ahead of the curve here. But the record itself is also quite good and combines a soulful jazz with the late 60’s blues rock. (High 400’s)

THE ALARM – Eye of the Hurricane (1987) – The bands most pop oriented release is still filled with enough great songs that I should have included it. Oddly enough, it is the album I listen to the most over 20 years later. (Mid 400’s)

ALBRECHT, ROLEY & MOORE – Take it to the People (1981) – The supergroup of sorts released a few albums and this one was leaps and bounds above most of the straight ahead pop music in CCM at the time. (High 300’s)

ANDRAE CROUCH – Soulfully (1972) – Should have been included. Period! (High 100’s)

ANDRAE CROUCH – Keep on Singin’ (1975) – A Gospel classic that also contains one of the Top 50 greatest songs of the CCM era with My Tribute. (Low 100’s – maybe higher)

ANDRUS BLACKWOOD & CO. – Following You (1978) – One of the truly first CCM albums. Very current for the day with touches of Chicago, the Commodores and Earth, Wind and Fire. The title track is awesome. (High 300’s)

ASHLEY CLEVELAND – God Don’t Never Change (2009) – Shawn is right. This should have been included. perhaps when i started the list it was just too fresh. No excuse, though. (Mid 200’s)

BJ THOMAS – Home Where I Belong (1976) – The first real crossover (at least from mainstream to CCM) album. It is filled with several songs that were just as good and memorable as any Thomas had as a megastar in pop music. The silky, soulful tones of Thomas’ voice is pure gold. The Pat Terry penned title track is a real classic.(Mid 300’s)

BARRATT BAND – Playing in the City (1981) – I had lost this album while doing the list and completely missed it. I have since tracked down a copy and believe it deserved to be there. Barratt is one the finest guitarists in CCM history. He passed away last year. (High 400’s)

BE BE & CE CE WINANS – Heaven (1988) – The brother-sister combo released more than a handful of very successful records. This was their best. It has Keith Thomas production written all over it. The album reached number one on the Billboard albums chart. (Mid 200’s)

BELIEVER – Extraction from Morality (1989) – Of all of the hard core, speed metal albums left off this list…this is one of them. Actually quite good and displays better musicianship than most. (Low 400’s)

BILLY CROCKETT – Carrier (1984) – As mentioned in a response elsewhere this album was one of two Crockett albums I had on the original list. the lead track is just a monster hit. (Low 400’s)

BILLY CROCKETT – Watermarks (1998) – Released as Crockett’s career was waning, it was his best. Wonderfully crafted, brilliantly and passionately performed. these are the best songs in Crockett’s repertoire. (High 200’s)

BOB AYALA – Joy By Surprise (1976) – better than most CCM for the time. Very well produced and finely crafted songs. In the style of John Denver, Harry Chapin and Dan Fogelberg. Ayala was one of the bridge artists from Jesus Music to CCM and his music was superior than most. (High 300’s)

BOB DYLAN – Modern Times (2006) – Was on my original list. Not sure where it went. A collection of 6 minutes tunes that are the most obvious expressions of faith since Infidels. (Late 200’s)

BRUCE COCKBURN – Salt, Sun & Time, The Trouble With Normal, Night Vision, Inner City Front, Joy Will Find a Way – Let’s be honest, pretty much everything Cockburn has done could have been included.

BRYN HAWORTH – The Gap (1980) – This is one of a few that should have been included. But this one was DEFINITELY on the original list. Best slide guitarist in CCM and a brilliant singer-songwriter. The Gap was the one album that truly made it across the pond. (High 100’s)

DANIEL AMOS, TERRY SCOTT TAYLOR, LOST DOGS & SWIRLING EDDIES – Everything Ever Recorded! (Will that satisfy everyone?) OK…if anything should have been added it would be Bibland and the self-titled debut.

DAVID CROWDER BAND – Church Music (2009) – My penchant for hating nearly everything called “modern worship” music kept this masterpiece off the list. It deserves inclusion. (Mid 200’s)

DAVID MARTIN – Stronger Than the Weight (1985) – This great pop album was on the list until the very last cut. In hindsight this fine songwriter deserves to be recognized. (Late 300’s)

DAVID MEECE – 7 (1985) David Meece deserved more than one album on the countdown. Not being a fan of his Gino Vanelli oriented later material it is clear that “7” is one of his best and should have been included. (Late 300’s)

DEGARMO & KEY – No Turning Back (1989) – In hindsight i should have blown off my “no live album” rule for this album. Not only one of the best Christian rock live albums, simply one of the best live albums ever. the extended jams on Jericho, Long Distance Runner and Emmuel make this a real treat. The band proved they were a collection of some of the finest musicians assembled in CCM. (50-100)

DEITIPHOBIA – Clean (1994) – One of my rules is that I had to own the album and have it in my possession to honestly review and include it. I had lost my copy and, therefore it did not make the list. It would now. (Low 300’s)

DENNY CORRELL – How Will They Know (1980) – One of CCM’s best voices deserved more than one album included. This title would be the best shot at making it. (Low 400’s)

ELI – Second Hand Clothes (1999) – Now the News could just have easily been included as well. What a great songwriter. this is one of those examples of losing a title in the cut and paste world. (High 200’s)

FARRELL & FARRELL – Portrait of Us All (1979) – This MUST have been a cut and paste loss. I had this ranked quite high. It is one of the best examples of taking Jesus Music into the CCM world with VERY current music, great production and songwriting that was not trite or silly. Several real classics can be found here. Possibly one of the 10 most important albums of the time. (Mid 100’s)

THE FRAY – How To Save a Life (2005) – I went back and forth about whether to include this album or not. I should have. Though not as blatant as other “mainstream” releases that were included, the faith of the band members is rather common knowledge and their content is smart and creative. (High 100’s)

GEOFF MOORE & THE DISTANCE – Foundations (1994) – Uh…duh! Should have been there. The cover of Lone Justice’s “I Found Love” is great and the whole albums Springsteenesque rock and roll was spot on for the times and still sounds good today. (Mid 200’s)

GLAD – Captured in Time (1982) – A group as original and ground breaking as Glad deserved more recognition. They did tend to suffer from having several good song on average albums. This album, though, was solid throughout. It also closes with one of the most beautiful songs of the CCM era, Be Ye Glad. (Low 300’s)

GLENN KAISER & DARRELL MANSFIELD – Trimmed and Burning (1990) – Another victim of cut and paste. Should be a top 100 contender, but most likely would have fallen somewhere in the mid 100’s. The first of several great acoustic blues album from both artists.

GREG AND REBECCA SPARKS – Field of Your Soul (1994) – This is one of the most embarrassing oversights. There is not a single tune not worthy of repeated listens. Though not a fan of Rebecca’s voice in the pop world of Bash-n-the-Code, this is real, stark and honest rock and roll, and the voice works…perfectly. Carve a Tunnel alone is worth including this album. That song will appear quite high in the Top 1,000 songs countdown. If this song does not send chills up and down your spine…you are dead! (Low 100’s)

GREG X VOLZ – The River is Rising (1986) – The omission of this album was based solely on my dislike of Volz’s vocals and some personal run-ins over the years. that should not have been enough to have the album excluded. (Low 400’s)

HARVEST – Only the Overcomers (1986) – The best album from a group that put out consistently really good releases. (Low 400’s)

IMPERIALS – Let the Wind Blow (1985) – The best of the later, more pop releases from the group that has had more personnel changes than any other CCM group. But there was no missing of stride here. Paul Smith took a more front and center position on this album, giving a much more contemporary sound. The title track was musically quite a stretch for the group and it worked quite well. (Late 300’s)

JOE ENGLISH – Held Accountable (1982) – For several years Joe English was the toast of the CCM world. Former drummer of Paul McCartney & Wings, any artist with mainstream success was given red carpet treatment in the CCM market. he did make several very good and one great album. He know claims to have not been a Christian at the time and an alcoholic and drug user during this era. Many people have refuted this part of his current testimony and believe he has been brainwashed by a cult. Seriously. It’s very odd. (High 400’s)

JOHN FISCHER – Johnny’s Cafe (1978) – In all honesty about 5 John Fischer albums probably deserved placement on the list. I did not own all of them until recently. One I did own that should have been included was this one. (Mid 300’s)

LIFEHOUSE – No Name Face (2000) – The proof that cutting and pasting can be dangerous is that no Lifehouse album made the list. Uh…not only would this album chart, so would Lifehouse (Mid 300’s) and Who We Are (Mid 200’s). This would be a Top 100 release without a doubt.

M. WARD – Hold Time (2009) – Probably would have caused a little stir if included, so i left it off. In retrospect it deserves inclusion if similar releases like Mercy Seat also made the list. (Mid 200’s)

MAD AT THE WORLD – Boomerang (1991) – serving as the transitional album from the Euro synth first two releases, Boomerang rocked with a pretty ferocious attitude. Isn’t Sex a Wonderful Thing along should have been enough to have the album included. (Low 400’s)

MALCOLM & ALWYN – Wildwall (1974) – Should have been included no doubt. (Mid 400’s)

MATTHEW WARD – Armed and Dangerous (1987) – Released nearly a decade after his debut the wait was clearly worth it. The album’s closing track, Love, is just stunning. (Mid 400’s)

MERCY ME – Almost There (2001) – I Can Only Imagine is probably enough to have included this album. Not a great record as much as a strong selection of individual songs. (High 400’s)

MICHAEL ANDERSON – Love is the Hardest Part & Saints and Sinners – Clearly both should have been included. the first in the low 400’s and the second in the high 100’s. Cut and Paste victim…had to be.

MICHELE PILLAR – Michele Pillar (1982) – Pillar’s CCM solo debut (after her masterpiece release with Erick Nelson) proved to be a real gem. Filled with great pop and smart lyrics. (Mid 300’s)

MO LEVERETT – For the Benefit of Desire (1993) – One of the first Storyville releases and one of the best. Edgy and challenging acoustic rock. For a bluesy Bruce Cockburn fan. (High 300’s)

PAUL FIELD – Restless Heart (1982) Easily one of the best pop rock releases of the early 80’s and was only not included because I had lost it. I recently found a copy and have no doubt it would rank amongst the best of its era. Field has written several hits for Cliff Richard and Rebecca St. James. A clear AYSO! (Low 100’s)

PHIL & JOHN – Pick one…doesn’t matter. Actually I originally had two albums included on the list. Carnival of Clowns was in the 200’s and Don’t Look Now was in the low 300’s.

RANDY STONEHILL – The Sky is Falling (1980) – I clearly let my general dislike for the album impact the fact that it probably deserves being listed. But my general dislike would not let me rate it higher than the low 400’s. The good songs are really quite good, but songs like bad Fruit and the seemingly never ending Through the Glass Darkly and Venezuela make it rough to listen to regularly. Someone could have used a little editing in the studio.

REBECCA ST JAMES – God (1996) – St. James most likely deserved to have some representation on the list. this would be her best effort. (High 300’s…maybe?)

RICHIE FURAY – I’ve Got a Reason (1976) – Seriously? I left this off? Moron! Former Poco front man put together a legitimate country driven progressive rock album for the ages. It was originally released on a secular label and featured Love Song members Truax and Mehler as well as help from Michael Omartian. Not a single “miss” on this. Deserved high placement. (Low 100’s)

SAM PHILLIPS – Martinis and Bikinis (1994) – Possibly the best “Sam” album (High 100’s)

SEAWIND – Light the Light (1979) – One of the last albums to be excluded from the list. My bad. In retrospect the sheer musical presence is overwhelming and deserves a placement on the list. (Low 300’s)

SEPTEMBER – SEPTEMBER FIRST (1981) – Would have easily made the list if I still owned a copy at the time of compiling the list. I lost it over the years (I’m guessing Shawn has it). I have tracked down a digital copy and it is even better than I remember it. Imagine Servant as an AOR and borderline progressive rock back in the vein of Styx with much more melody and more ballads. It is progressive for its musical diversity and changes within a single song. the opening track is a great example. An AYSO. (High 200’s)

SHADES OF BLUE – Shades of Blue (1994) This acoustic jazz project headed up by guitar god Lanny Cordola slipped through the cracks to most CCM fans. But it is really delicious. Cool and soulful. (High 400’s)

STEVE SCOTT – Lost Horizon (1989) – Possibly the most discussed omission. I really struggled with whether to include the album given just how much of the album appears on other projects. probably should have been listed. (High 100’s)

TONIO K. – Ole (1997) – What was I thinking? (High 200’s)

TWILA PARIS – Kingdom Seekers (1985) – In 20 years when someone decides to actually make hymnals again, there will be several songs from this album included. Lamb of God and he is Exalted are truly classics in the most authentic use of the word.

VIGILANTES OF LOVE – Blister Soul (1995) & Welcome to Struggleville (1994). Another artist that many complained was not represented enough (4 releases). If other albums were to be included I would say both of these easily qualify. Blister would be in the mid-300’s and Welcome in the high 200’s.

WES KING – The Robe (1998) – Should have been Top 100. Total cut and paste loss…my bad big time!

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Have fun!

1. The 77’s – The 77’s

January 9, 2012 61 comments

THE 77’s (1987)

The 77’s

Released within a few weeks of U2’s “The Joshua tree” on the exact same label, this album was supposed to make a rock stars out the band and make Christian Music’s finest rock band a household name. “The Joshua Tree” caught fire, became the biggest thing in the label’s history and The 77’s became cut out bin material in the mind of the label. Though nestled within the grooves of this masterpiece in the finest collection of rock songs Christian Music has ever produced. there is such diversity, creativity and originality that it stands beyond the test of time and continues to deliver the finest listening experience by a Christian band.

I have spent countless reviews discussing the fact that Michael Roe is one of the greatest treasures in Christian Music. There may be better songwriters (Terry Scott Taylor, Mark Heard) better guitarists (Phil Keaggy?) and better live performers (Bono?), but none that have the hat tricks of being amongst the very best in all categories. Roe would clearly rank amongst the best in every measurable category and on the self0titled third release it came together in abrilliant fashion.

the album also features what I believe is, by far, the finest line-up the band ever compiled. Their extensive live performances at the time allowed them to fine tune some amazing rock chops and work through the songs included on this project so that the album feels very live and frenetic while polished and perfect. Roe’s collection of songs here combines the finest in self-indulgent  experimentation and finely and perfectly crafted pop tunes in a rock setting. There is literally not a single blemish and every song is brilliant unto itself, despite the variety and limitless risks taken on several cuts.

This combination of radio friendly pop rock, acoustic tinged Americana and experimental rock and blues is appealing to both critic and “fan” alike. That is a truly rare combination.

I have dealt in detail with the history of the band in other reviews and won’t do so here. This is all about the album. I am going to guess Roe will read the review (like he did of previous ones) and tell me I am wrong about several opinions expressed.

Oh well…

If any complaint can be made about the album it is that it is too short. Recorded at a time when vinyl and cassette were still the primary formats, the length of an album was always an issue. Later releases would offer songs left off this amazing project and would prove to be worthy of inclusions of their own.

The album starts with what should have been a number one rock radio hit, “Do It For Love.” This inspiring and inspired rock song contains the bands finest and most memorable hook to that point and would offset an album filled with regret, misery, loss and confusion. But what a brilliant way to kick of such an album, with a joyous song revealing in love and experience, both emotional and spiritual. The rollicking 60’s influence guitar sound would be repeated elsewhere on the project, but here it sounds so fresh and different, which set against the backdrop of the rest of the music scene at the time.

After such a joyous introduction, Roe’s reflections of love turn darker and more internal. “I Can’t get Over It” deals with the reality of how ones own selfish decision to not forgive leaves true love behind and replaces it with regret and bitterness.  Roe’s self-realization is haunting as everyone has seen someone they love throw away something good even though they could have easily saved the situation by being honest and humble. This is a difficult emotion to overcome. Musically, it is still a very hook driven rock song, with some of Aaron Smith’s finest drum work; not for its complexity but rather for its sheer power and punch! Roe is never content to let a song rest on its own hook, but rather, he adds such passion and attitude into the performace that it breaks through where other songs would be soon forgotten.

The same aggressive rock riff follows with “What Was In That Letter.” Roe’s improved songwriting here allows for a double meaning to persists. Whether it is a real letter written from a lost love or convicting friend, or whether it is God’s letter the Bible, the song message rings true. Roes gruff vocals here stand out against a more rough edged guitar sound in the chorus. What really stands out though is the inclusion of an acoustic piano accompanying the riffing guitar. It gives the song a sound akin top The waterboys or even the Smiths, but with a decidedly heavier sound.

A long standing live favorite and utterly brilliant recording performance follows with “Pearls Before Swine.” Recorded with an “as live” soundtrack, this aggressively blues rock number shows Roe’s supremacy as songwriter and rock vocalist. But even more so it is here that the CCM world discovered that Michael roe is clearly one of the great rock guitarists that has ever graced it’s stage. The whiny and winding riffs just weave in and out and through the listener. the song starts heavy and somehow actually builds and builds. the crescendo is a pure rock orgasm. It is both painful and exhilarating. As Roe moans and then screams the words “veil of ashes” over and over the song just transcends anything CCM had ever witnessed with the band nearly out of control in some sort of progressive blues experiment. The band Veil of Ashes would take their name from this song.

After this the breathless listener is then jolted back to reality with a musical expression utterly and completely different. “The Lust, the Flesh, the Eyes and the Pride of Life” follows with what should have been the biggest hit in the bands history. The Byrds influence is unmistakable with the jangly guitar and lyrical scheme heavily influenced by the legendary band. It should be noted here that there has been some discussion about a potential Top Songs in CCM history blog. Since I would be crazy to attempt such a feat, I will let the cat out of the bag that this song would be my hands down number one. It is about a perfect rock song as has ever been written. the melody is timeless, the performance spot on, and without the aid of long guitar solos or crazy instrumentation, the band simply put together a brilliantly simple song that will remain a true classic.

Regret again takes center stage thematically with “Frames With a Photograph.” The mid-tempo rocker finds Roe in familiar territory and sounds a bit like a handful of songs from “All Fall Down.” The sense of longing Roe projects is so real and human that nearly all could relate to the message. Again here Roe makes the song more universal by allowing the listener to determine whether the one who can fill the frame is God or another person. This allows for a much more universal expression and a better song overall.

“Don’t Say Goodbye” is perfect Roe song. A cool little groove mixed a sultry vocal line that turns quickly rock and roll. Again we find Smith’s drum work driving the song onto a different level. Rather than dealing with guilt of loss Roe expresses the frustration of a loved one who selfishly leaves and has yet to find and greener grass despite the promise. Yet there is a longing from Roe for the person to stay. this conflict of frustration and love is again a more universal theme than most CCM bands would ever dare to address. Musically it is not too far removed from “Someone New” but with a much better guitar riff and solo.

A long time favorite has been the melodious “Bottom Line.” This is all about the groove. Sexy and soulful, the song just pulls the listener in. It is inescapable. The song also contains one of Roe’s finest lines with “Peace of heart is better than peace of mind.” the song never bursts into some sort of rock cliche, but stays true to itsel;f and delivers on content and performance.

The album closes with a stream of consciousness experiment acoustic folk rocker called “I Could laugh.” It is both utterly odd and utterly brilliant at the same time. many have struggled with the unconventional lyrics including lines about having a “rocket in my pocket” and “what will get me off” and the way the song just plods along with no hook and even a suitable conclusion. It just is. And it just is brilliant. But the way Roe infuses similar imagery and spins the songs into different directions by using juxtapositions and repeated themes in different settings makes it truly an original. One example of what I mean is Roe’s use of the word “right” in back to back lines. in one line it refers to the direction while it later refers to the privilege. he uses homonyms like missed and mist in back to back lines as well.

I used to believe the song did not require repeated listens. now I find myself waiting anxiously for the song to start. I grab something new from it during every listen. At nearly 8 minutes and no instrumental break it is a lyrical tour de force and yet there is not a single line worthy of dismissal.

And with this epic acoustic ballad or sorts the album comes to end.

And so does this blog…at least the countdown part.

IT.IS.FINISHED.

2. Only Visiting This Planet – Larry Norman

January 9, 2012 23 comments

ONLY VISITING THIS PLANET (1972)

Larry Norman

Prophet…scoundrel…poet…thief…comedian…clown…rock star…fallen star…

A living, breathing contradiction in terms, Larry Norman passed away on February 24th, 2008 at the age of 60. I attended the funeral, arriving late and “listening” to it from outside the doors of a Church near Salem, Or.

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Pastor Steve Wilkins spoke of the great Scottish warrior William Wallace several years ago at a conference. In his introductory remarks he noted that we actually know very little historical “facts” about Wallace and that most of what we believe about Wallace comes from an epic poem by an English Minstrel named Blind Harry a century or two after the death of Wallace.

Blind Harry’s poem stretches, twists and turn the truth on many occasions as it was compiled through oral traditions in which “legends” entered and merged, mixed and meshed with historical fact to create the larger than life character portrayed in the movie, Braveheart. And now even centuries later dissecting the truth from the legend and lore has proven to be nearly impossible.

But Wilkins argues that there is no real harm in the fabricated additions to the lore and legacy of Wallace, and in fact they play a very important role in actual history. Wilkins explains that it was the “legend” of Wallace that inspired many Scottish Christians to seek a new land in the Americas and eventually take up arms for the same freedoms they believed and perceived Wallace had fought for many centuries previous. It was not the actual truth that inspired them and carried them through difficult times and decisions, but the “legend” built upon the truth.

This placement may become the greatest controversy on the list. I assume most will argue this should have been ranked number one. It was number one on the Top 50 list that inspired this countdown. It is number one on many other critics and collaborated Top Album Charts. It is recognized as one of the truly great artistic achievements in CCM history.

It, I will agree, is the single most important album in CCM history, and one of the greatest artist achievements any CCM artist has aspired to create. It could be number. Maybe it should be. As stated in a previous post; this has been the death of me. I have decided to keep the vast majority of the Top 50 review in tact here because the album is as important socially and historically as it is musically. It’s history and the history of the artist himself is valuable in understanding the release.

Larry Norman was born in Corpus Christi, TX but spent most of his formative years in Northern California near or in the Bay Area of San Fransisco. He was introduced to God and the Church early in his life at a Black Pentecostal Church in the neighborhood he grew up in.

In his late teens he joined a band called People! out of the Bay Area that took their name on as a response to the common use of animals or insects for rock band names like The Animals, The Beatles and The Byrds. A psychedelic, blues band People! only scored one hit with the song, a cover of the Zombies (which was OK I guess because they used to be people) hit song, “I Love You” that did crack the Top 20.

The album also contained the song “What We Need Is a Lot More of Jesus, and A Lot Less Rock and Roll,” which in reality comes off as a parody of mainstream evangelical Church life and thought. There was really nothing very “Christian” about the song despite its title. This is a bit odd as Norman would later claim that the album was supposed to be named after that song and that the supposed original artwork was changed to just a photo of the band and the title changed to simple. “I Love You.” Other band members would dispute this claim.

This would begin a long list of revisionist history claims by others regarding Norman’s version of things.

People! would record one more album for Capitol Records but Norman will have left previous to its release and end up only appearing one song. Along with the above claim of censorship by Capitol Records, Norman claimed that band members were being forced to embrace Scientology or forced to leave. This too is denied by band members.

The band would reunite 5 years later for a benefit concert at UCLA that would later be released under the name, “The Israel Tapes.”

Larry would record his first solo album, Upon This Rock, in 1969 for Capitol Records, the same label he claimed censored his work with People! This album is a very “Christian” album in all respects and would kick off a solo career that would last until his death in 2008. It is as the result of this album that Norman is credited with being the father of Christian Rock.

Christian Rock was born!

Upon This Rock is considered one of Norman’s finest works combining both blatantly Christian and evangelical messages as well as social and political commentary. This would remain a constant for Norman, who was the first Christian artists to make very progressive commentary on many issues that would conflict with mainstream Christianity.

The album would contain many Norman classics that would endure for decades including You Can’t Take Away the Lord, Moses in the Wilderness, Nothing Really Changes and Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation (which would become a youth group and Young Life favorite).Norman was influenced by Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Black Gospel Music and it shows here and on every album that would follow.

Also included on this album would be the first version of the song that would define both him and the Jesus Movement for all time, “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.” The song would be covered an inordinate number of time, not only by other artists but by Norman himself, appearing on more than just a handful of albums that would follow.

The Jesus Movement had a focal point of its ministry the idea of the soon coming secret Rapture of the Church. Theologians CI Scofield and Louis Sperry Chafer were primary influences as well as the Latter Rain Movement, a Pentecostal movement that emerge after World War ll that taught that the return of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Charismatic “gift” experiences would be a sign of the end times. Evangelist and “hippie prophet” Lonnie Frisbee would also play a major in the burgeoning musical genre.

The above coupled with the growing popularity of the unique “Dispensational” position on eschatology, the “Secret Rapture” was a major component of the Jesus Music and his rapture-ready song became the movements anthem. The song would even play a major role in the popular evangelical movie, “A Thief In the Night.”

Normans’ music and appearance would not play well in mainstream Christian circles that still argued that drums were inherently evil and the use of modern musical styles violated God’s ordinance. there is no doubt there was also a racial component to this issue as well. Norman’s music was heavily influenced not only by modern folk and rock of the time, but by Black Gospel music as well.

It would be the last nationally distributed album for Norman until the release of “Only Visiting This Planet” in 1972. In the years in between he would record and release two independent projects called “Street Level” and “Bootleg.” Both would feature grainy, underground looking black and white artwork. Both would also be “double albums” mixing live concert recording, studio demos of previously unreleased songs and future classics.

These albums would also reveal the smart and piercing humor Norman would always be noted for. Norman concerts were part rock and roll show, part revival meeting and part stand up comedy. This facet of his life and ministry would be introduced on these two albums. One section from “Bootleg” in particular really shines as he addressed the National Youth Workers of America Conference introducing “Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation.”

Several songs from the two “independent” releases would find their way on to what is known as the “The Trilogy.” The Trilogy of albums include Only Visiting This Planet, So Long Ago the Garden and In Another Land. Though recognized as a trilogy of records Norman only stated that they were informally created to deal with the present, past and future (respectively) with each album focusing on one of those topics.

Norman had left Capitol after “Upon This Rock” and singed with MGM to release “Only Visiting This Planet” as well as the following album, 1973′s “So Long Ago the Garden.” On both albums he received production help from George Martin, the famed producer of the The Beatles.  Norman stated that he had previously met Paul McCartney and that Paul had tracked him down to talk about his music. This is interesting as we will discuss when we talk about “Only Visiting This Planet.”

The album was decidedly more “secular” in content than any of Norman’s other releases. But much of the controversy in Christian circles came from the original cover (pictured above) because many argued the picture of the lion in the field superimposed onto Norman’s body was an attempt to cover the fact that Norman is naked in the cover as his navel is clearly visible. The later cover (below) would be cropped at a much higher point.

But it is true that the content was not as blatantly spiritual as other Norman releases. This may have caused him to not perform those songs as often in concert, which in turn may have impacted the general longevity of many of the songs. Mus9ically the album was very “current” for the time and flawlessly produced. Martin brought in the same “mellotron” keyboard used on the Beatles, “Strawberry Fields Forever” to use on the song, “Lonely By Myself.” There is a story that while recording the album in one studio Paul McCartney was in the adjoining studio recording “Live and Let Die.”

The album combined Norman’s penchant for 60′s blues, 50′s pop vocals and current social commentary to create a true classic worthy of more attention than it ever really received. Highlights include Fly, Fly, Fly, Be Careful What You Sing, Baroquen Spirits, Nightmare #71 and the haunting beautiful, “She’s a Dancer.” One interesting note is the “cover” of “Christmastime.” The song originally appeared on Randy Stonehill’s “Born Twice” album and is credited as being written by Stonehill. On this album the songwriting credit is given to Norman.

In response to many critics that he had “sold out” his Gospel message on the previous album, Norman followed up with “In Another Land.” It would take nearly three years to record and release this album that ranks a VERY close second in the list of great Larry Norman albums. This album would be released on Norman’s Solid Rock label and receive distribution by Word records in 1975.

“In Another Land” would mark the first nationally distributed “Christian” album for Norman and would also mark the on again, off again love/hate relationship Norman would have with the Christian music industry and, in turn, the industry would have with him. Consider that despite his in arguable multiple contributions to the industry he was not inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame until 2001.

The album was not free of controversy despite its very evangelical content. The first and most obvious issue was the unseemly longhair he sported, which in 1975 was simply unacceptable at the time. The cover also received complaints because Norman’s thumbs are supposedly switched with the right thumb on the left hand and vice versa, and that, it is claimed, is some sort of Satanic imagery.

SERIOUSLY!

“In Another Land” would contain many of Norman’s classics that would remain favorites for all time. The production is stellar and the use of limited spacing between songs keeps the record moving in non-stop fashion. Highlights would literally include the entire album! But I will note some interesting points.

The cover of Stonehill’s “I Love You” in a little odd since the only line from Stonehill’s original from “Born Twice” is the first line of the song. “The Rock That Doesn’t Roll” continues the theme of “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music” and would inspire countless musical defenses of Christian Rock. But rather than being a song about Christian Rock it is simply a play on words to describe Jesus. It is also the song that contains the lyric the album titles is based on.

UFO, The Sun Began to Rain, Six Sixty Six, One Way and Hymn to the Last generation would continue Norman’s popular “Second Coming” theme complete with Beast, Antichrist and Rapture.The reworked “Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus” edits out the references to sex and sexually transmitted diseases the original included in 1972. “Righteous Rocker #3″ is a very short (chorus only) a capella reworking of the song from “Only Visiting This Planet.” I heard once that a second version was supposedly removed from “So Long Ago the Garden.”

“Shot Down” would prove to be his defense against detractor who believed he had forsaken the Gospel message on the previous album.

The album does credit Dudley on piano and John Michael Talbot on Banjo. But I wanted to note here that much of Norman and even Stonehill’s early work was greatly enhanced by guitarist Jon Linn. His work is much unheralded and he deserved much more respect. I know little about Jon but did read that he had passed away in the late 80′s or early 90′s.

One last song point out is “Song For a Small Circle of Friends.” The song is a list of artists the Norman counted as acquaintances and friends. It served as an evangelical call to these musicians. One stinging verse in hindsight is in regards to then good friend Randy Stonehill.

As with the previous reviews and those involving Stonehill, I will not dwell on that part of the story. There have been plenty of others that have written extensively on the subject. But I do want to note the opening line of this review and reinforce that those things which have  made Norman such an important and lasting figure in Christian music are not only the positives but the negatives as well.

His life would be filled with failed marriages and friendships. No artist ever recorded more than two albums with Norman and most left frustrated, jaded and angry. The rift between Stonehill and Norman lasted decades and much has been written on this and a controversial and decidedly one-sided documentary, “Fallen Angel” has been produced. Anyone with the interest and an internet connection can research the gory details I will avoid here. My point is that his life was both wonderful and tragic and both cannot be denied.

This album would prove to be a major influence on many young people and future Christian musicians. The honesty, well produced rock would break down many doors currently boarded shut. Though not a “heavy” record musically it still contained a serious rock vibe and socially significant content.

The following nationally album is what many, the present writer included, spelled the end or Norman’s artistic zenith. “Something New Under the Son” could really be considered a 4th album in the series, but “trilogy” just sounds more artistically satisfying. Also released on Solid Rock and distributed by Word records, the album would serve as the “heaviest” of Norman’s studio releases. This is a blues record through and through. Although recorded in 1977 it would also not see the light of day until 1981. This too would become a common problem of Norman’s both for himself and for the artists he was associated with, most notable Randy Stonehill and Daniel Amos.

It should be noted that there were several releases between “In Another Land” and “Something New” but were either generally unavailable (Starstrom), parody albums (Streams of White Light) or live albums (Israel Tapes and Roll Away the Stone). In fact “Israel Tapes” was recorded several years earlier (1975). Another album was a single that expanded into an album called “The Tune.”

This would also begin a frustrating history of Norman releasing poorly recorded live albums and albums of re-hashed demos, reworked song and compilations under different names. “Something New” would also mark the end of Norman’s national distribution agreements and all but one release would be exclusive to Norman’s Solid Rock or Phydeaux labels, primarily through mail order. I could discuss a majority of those albums but I’m not sure wordpress has enough bandwith.

“Something New” is often overlooked and that is a shame. As mentioned above, the album is a lesson in blues writing. Nearly every song would be considered a blues tune and Norman excels here. “Born to Be Unlucky” just flat-out rocks and Jon Linn gets to show off here. “Watch What You’re Doing” is hysterical and remained a Norman live favorite for years to come. Linn’s guitar and Norman’s harmonica trade-off some amazingly aggressive riffs.

Norman, who apparently had a lot of nightmares, recorded three songs with a numbered “Nightmare” title, but the best one is here. But the song that steals the show is the closing rocking romp, “Let The Tape Keep Rolling.” Though he would write several songs “reinventing” his history, this would be the best one and serve as a great lesson in how to write a great rockin’ blues song!

Norman would spend the 1980′s releasing two albums a year, though most would be poorly recorded live albums, anthologies and rehashed “favorites” with different arrangements and differing results in quality. There are a couple albums of note though.

“Letter of the Law” and “Labor of Love” would both be pretty decent pop rock records and probably deserved some national distribution. These were studio projects that contained several quality Norman tracks. I was able to obtain “test pressings” of those two albums and convince KYMS to play a few of the songs. they became pretty good hits and I contacted Larry to carry them at my store. Eventually a few independent distribution companies picked up the albums. Several of those songs would eventually be released on the album “Quiet Night” under the name Larry Norman and the Young Lions. One stand out is a cover of the late Tom Howard’s “Shine Your Light.”

Two last albums I wanted to point out are “Home at Last” and “Stranded in Babylon.” The first album was originally released by Norman as double album, but the Benson Company worked out a deal to create of single album release of what was felt were the best songs. This would mark the first time in a decade that Norman’s music would receive national distribution from a major Christian Record company. It would also mark the first album of primarily all new material during that same time period. It was also one of the first albums to be released on CD.

The album would be uneven, but it was hoped that it would bring Norman back into the public’s mind. It really never accomplished it as Christian radio was lukewarm and the buyers of Christian music were a whole new generation of people primarily unfamiliar with Norman.

“Stranded” was probably Norman’s best work after “Something New” and is worth picking up. Produced by his brother Charly, it marked a return to both social commentary as well as spiritual themes. Most importantly it showed Norman could still write new music that was powerful and compelling and that he could still rock. “God Part 3″ is worth the price of admission! Lacking any real quality distribution it too went mostly unnoticed.

Norman’s music and ministry would influence probably the widest variety of musicians of any other Christian artists. Fans include the previously mentioned Paul McCartney, Cliff Richard, Van Morrison, John Mellancamp, Pete Townsend, U2, the Pixies and Sarah Brendel. There have been over 300 covers of Norman’s songs recorded included even by the likes of Sammy Davis Jr.

In Christian Music the list of artists who are fans would be too long to mention. He influenced everyone from Geoff Moore to DC Talk. There have been two tribute albums to Norman, including a “dance remix” compilation called “Remix This Planet.”

But that influence ultimately started with “Only Visiting This Planet.”  Recorded for MGM’s Verve label, the album would become the most influential Christian album of all time. It served as a lesson in how a Christian can write songs on every possible topic with true humanity all the while expressing the undeniable Biblical truths a Christian possesses. There are songs about lost love, sex, free love, politics, media, culture and theology.

George Martin produced the album that was recorded in London at his AIR studios in 1972. It would be, by far, the best produced Christian album for its time and still remains a quality production. Norman’s voice is at its very best, both his singing and lyrical voice.

The album starts with a song of lost love, “I’ve Got to Learn to Live Without You.” I have always believed that it was Norman’s attempt at a Top 40 pop song. The honesty and longing in Norman’s voice makes the song utterly believable. These are theme and thoughts shared by nearly all who have experienced a love gone wrong.Musically it contains a very beautiful string arrangement and a subtle similarity to what The Beatles finished their career with.

Today I thought I saw you walking down the street
With someone else, I turned my head and faced the wall.
I started crying and my heart fell to my feet
But when I looked again it wasn’t you at all.

Why’d you go, baby? I guess you know,
I’ve got to learn to live without you

“The Outlaw” follows and would become one of the two or three most famous Larry Norman songs even though it would not receive Christian radio airplay until several years later. The story of Jesus as portrayed by an outlaw working on the outside of the established religious community also would speak to Norman’s own situation. With limited acoustic guitar accompaniment and some keyboards, this song is all about Norman’s voice and words.

some say He was an outlaw that He roamed across the land
with a band of unschooled ruffians and a few old fishermen
no one knew just where He came from or exactly what He’d done
but they said it must be something bad that kept Him on the run


While at a sales conference for The Benson company the sales force was being introduced to music from an upcoming Dana Key (DeGarmo and Key) solo project. One song was going to be a reworking of a DeGarmo and Key song. I commented that having Key re-record a song he had already sung wouldn’t “sound new” to fans and would possibly cause the listener to wonder why Key would need to do a solo album if he was just going to redo previously recorded songs.

Actually I said, “What’s going on a the record company? You guys running out of songs?” But what I really meant was the above. Either way Key went back into the studio and recorded a cover of Norman’s “The Outlaw” and it ended up being the biggest hit from that album.

For some reason, I never got a thank you letter.

“Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus” would be a song that would continue to shock listeners for generations to follow. The blunt discussion included would not even be accepted well today with a more “enlightened” audience. Labeled vulgar, this ong is the primary reason many stores would never carry the album, even decades later.Driven by an amazing blues vibe the song remains one of Norman’s finest and on par with the best of Bob Dylan lyrically.

Sipping whiskey from a paper cup,
You drown your sorrows till you can’t get up,
Take a look at what you’ve done to yourself,
Why don’t you put the bottle back on she shelf,
Yellow fingers from your cigarettes,
Your hands are shaking while your body sweats,
Why don’t you look into Jesus, He’s got the answer.
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 your thirty three,
Shooting junk till your half insane,
Broken needle in your purple vein,

Why don’t you look into Jesus, he’s got the answer.

Martin had assembled an amazing backing cast and on this song it really shows. Great guitar work drives this tune to a huge finish. And the false ending, instrumental finish just works perfectly.

“Righteous Rocker #1″ also known as “Without Love” predated Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” by nearly a decade but the similarities are shocking. Country blues riff propel a message of the need for God’s love no matter your personal situation.

You can be a righteous rocker, you can be a holy roller
You could be most anything,
You could be a Leon Russell, or a super muscle,
You could be a corporate king,
You could be a wealthy man from Texas, or a witch with heavy hexes,
But without love, you ain’t nothing without love
Without love you ain’t nothing, without love.

You could be a brilliant surgeon, or a sweet young virgin,
or a harlot out to sell,
You could learn to play the blues, or be Howard Hughes
or the scarlet pimpernel,
Or you could be a French provincial midwife,
or go from door to door with a death-knife,
But without love you ain’t nothing, without love,
Without love you ain’t nothing, without love.

The full length and most recognized version of “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” closes side one on the album. This post-apocalyptic ballad borrows directly from Matthew 24 and has the obviously distinct “Left Behind” theology at its core.

a man and wife asleep in bed
she hears a noise and turns her head
he’s gone
I wish we’d all been ready

two men walking up a hill
one disappears and one’s left standing still
I wish we’d all been ready

there’s no time to change your mind
the son has come and you’ve been left behind

The song would not only catapult Norman to the forefront of the Jesus Movement (a movement he never claimed nor felt any attachment to), it was featured in the movie “A Thief in the Night” and has even made its way into many hymnals. In fact, once a month at the Baptist Church I was raised in the would have a “Hymn Sing” in which congregant could request to sing a favorite hymn. I discovered that the Norman classic was included in the Churches new hymnal and would routinely ask to sing the song.

It wasn’t long before my raised hand was ignored.

Side two kicked off with “I Am the Six O’clock News,” which served a both an anti-war protest song as well as a critique of the modern media, especially television news broadcast that would routinely edit what would be discussed to meet political agendas. This was years Rush Limbaugh would lodge similar complaints, but from a distinctly different point of view.

I’m taking pictures of burning houses
Colored movies of misery.
I see the flash of guns, how red the mud becomes,
I’ve got a close-up view.

I’m the six o’clock news – what can I do?
All those kids without shoes – what can I do?
Military coups – what can I do?
I’m just the six o’clock news.

The song would fade out with a recording of an airline stewardess giving flight instructions over the roaring of a jet engine. As the roaring engine fades the early quiet strains of an acoustic guitar would fade in. This fed right into one of Norman’s finest lyrical accomplishments. “The Great American Novel” is comparable to the best Bob Dylan of Neil Young would write. +

This indictment against American politics would not sit well with mainline Christianity that would label him a liberal and communist and place him firmly amongst the atheist “hippy” left. The song would also feature some of Norman’s most indicting and creative lyrical content.

I was born and raised an orphan
in a land that once was free
in a land that poured its love out on the moon
and I grew up in the shadows
of your silos filled with grain
but you never helped to fill my empty spoon

The Church in the South that was still holding on to prejudice ways receives a very strong blow from Norman’s pen a well. Here though he also deals with the long ramifications and the impact on coming generations.

you kill a black man at midnight
just for talking to your daughter
then you make his wife your mistress
and you leave her without water
and the sheet you wear upon your face
is the sheet your children sleep on
at every meal you say a prayer
you don’t believe but still you keep on

This was obviously unexpected content from a Christian artists and deemed immoral, un-American and clearly unacceptable.

“Pardon Me” follows with the most odd and unique song in Norman’s catalog. After a string arrangement introduces the song Norman is accompanied by a very simple acoustic guitar. Dark, haunting and sad, the song deals with the understanding of “free loves” great cost and the moral decision to walk away despite the internal struggle for physical attachment.

Close your eyes, and pretend that you are me.
See how empty it can be
Making love if love’s not really there.

Watch me go, watch me walk away alone,
As your clothing comes undone,
And you pull the ribbon from your hair

If “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” is not the most covered Larry Norman song, then most definitely it must be “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music.” Norman’s defense of using contemporary music for the Gospel message. Many readers under 30 may have no idea that using contemporary music was not always acceptable. Norman and other have attributed the quote to Martin Luther though it has never been actually established.

This most likely came from possible comment Luther made regarding the use of certain instrumentation in Church music. Luther also said something to the effect that “Music is from God and that Satan hates.” But applying the actual quote to Luther is dubious.That doesn’t change the fact that the song is fun, rollicking rocker with a 50′s twist.

They say to cut my hair, they’re driving me insane,
I grew it out long to make room for my brain.
But sometimes people don’t understand,
What’s a good boy doing in a rock ‘n’ roll band?

There’s nothing wrong with playing blues licks,
But if you got a reason tell me to my face
Why should the devil have all the good music.
There’s nothing wrong with what I play
‘Cause Jesus is the rock and he rolled my blues away


Interestingly there is a line in the song that appears to be a knock on hymns and the tradition of hymns. Norman would later argue that he loved hymns, especially older hymns with deep theological content, but his complaint more against the modern church music of the time being dry and empty.

The album closes with “Readers Digest,” another lyrically heavy song that pre-dated rap by almost a decade and can be closely compared to Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” A fast-moving, groove oriented music serves as a backdrop for Norman to critique everything from the moon landing to The Beatles. Often caustic and humorous there are few sacred cows left standing at the end of the much too short song.

Rolling Stones are millionaires, flower children pallbearers,
Beatles said All you need is love, and then they broke up.
Jimi took an overdose, Janis followed so close,
The whole music scene and all the bands are pretty comatose.
This time last year, people didn’t wanna hear.
They looked at Jesus from afar, this year he’s a superstar.

Dear John, who’s more popular now?
I’ve been listening to some of Paul’s new records.
Sometimes I think he really is dead.

Norman would actually later remove the comments regarding Lennon and McCartney out of respect to the artists and even apologized for including the words originally. The song closes with the lyric in which the album derives its name.

You think it’s such a sad thing when you see a fallen king
Then you find out they’re only princes to begin with
And everybody has to choose whether they will win or lose
Follow God or sing the blues, and who they’re gonna sin with.
What a mess the world is in, I wonder who began it.
Don’t ask me, I’m only visiting this planet

Despite the controversy, rejection and vitriol spilled out over this album it has endured and more than one generation has been impressed and blessed by it. As stated above it was important on so many levels that a book would be required to discuss it all.

The same can be said for Larry Norman himself. Perhaps someday, like William Wallace, the legend will supersede the history and what is important will not be the failed marriages, failed friendship and finances, but rather the “legend” that will inspire future generation to create art as honestly, profoundly and professionally as is found on “Only Visiting This Planet.”

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