Home > CCM, Christian Music, Christian Pop, Christian Rock, Greatest Albums, Jesus Music > 2. Only Visiting This Planet – Larry Norman

2. Only Visiting This Planet – Larry Norman

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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  1. Don
    January 9, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    Great album, great review

    What is number one?

  2. January 9, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    This album would have been my number one. Larry Norman was the man. No other artist has ever have the skills to sing as perfectly about God as him.

  3. Shawn McLaughlin
    January 9, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    No argument from me….and no argument if you had put it #1.

    • low5point
      January 9, 2012 at 9:31 pm

      So far in the comments all three have had some support as being number one. I don’t believe anything from #4 down deserves the top ranking, but I do believe a case can be made for any of the Top 3 to be number 1. I’m cool with the list right now. I’ll start it all over again in 2020, and I’ll make it 1,000…

      …anyone with me?

  4. Greenchili
    January 9, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    Sure! See you in 2020! 😛

    Anywho.. thanks for sifting thru and narrowing down Larry’s better more consistent releases. Just sifting thru all the remakes and live albums is totally mind boggling and I’ve always wanted to just have a list of albums that are considered complete works (outside the “trilogy”) that would be worthy of listening too.

    Me.. I’d probably would placed this one at 1 and U2 JT at number 2.. But then my knowledge of the 77’s is limited so I have no particular preference where they go. Other than the fact that I like what music of theirs that I have heard since being exposed to the lists. (Yours, CCM, and that top 50 by some christian hard rock site?)…

  5. Jarrod
    January 9, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    Much as I love the 77s, this should have been number one. But thanks for the list, I’ve enjoyed it and picked up a few new albums on the way……

  6. Bill B
    January 10, 2012 at 7:34 am

    ‘Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus’ is one of my favorite songs on this album along with ‘Righteous Rocker #1’ and ‘The Outlaw’.

    With no intent to offend, it is because of my disagreement with the left behind/rapture teaching that the Jesus Movement music is a bit of a turn-off for me.

    • low5point
      January 10, 2012 at 5:08 pm

      I have a ddressed that several times during this countdown. the fixation with Dispensational eschatology was both a driving force and the eventual pitfall that befell many artists and churches….

  7. Brett C
    January 10, 2012 at 7:41 am

    This IS No. 1. period.

  8. Sam
    January 10, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    Larry’s best, for sure, but I love all his 70’s output. I would probably rank this #1 as well. Even Larry’s worst material is better than the dreck passing for music these days, Christian or otherwise, as anyone who suffered through any part of “VH1’s Top 100 Songs of the 00’s” can attest.

  9. Shawn McLaughlin
    January 10, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    For me, the biggest reason to place this #1 would be “historical context”. That is not to demean the artistic quality of the album. It is great, but I don’t think, purely on a musical basis, that it stands up to the best albums by Mark Heard, Daniel Amos, Adam Again, The 77’s, The Choir, Sam Phillips…………or U2’s Joshua Tree as well. It would be interesting to see a list that disregarded historical context and based it’s criticism solely on artistic merit. Again, this is terribly subjective but I think this countdown would be altered drastically. Interesting concept to ponder.

  10. citywideDan
    January 14, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    Just a brief note to say how much I enjoyed this list and the articles. A lot of my favorites and artists are on the top 500. Thank you Dave for your passion, knowlege and love of CCM music and sharing this with us.
    I noticed your interest varied but your choices are in the 80′s.
    I have compiled a brief summary of the top 25 artists on the list.
    The points are a method of breaking ties of similar album counts.
    For those interested how the points are generated for each album: take
    (500 – chart Position). An example #5 Keith Green would be 495 points
    Someone had suggested songs .. Wow !! that would be fun but very contraversial
    as well

    Pos. Artist-Group Albums Points
    1 Daniel Amos 8 3024
    2 Mark Heard 8 2385
    3 Phil Keaggy 6 2135
    4 Charlie Peacock 5 1869
    5 Seventy Seven’s (The 77′s) 5 1854
    6 Randy Stonehill 5 1796
    7 Larry Norman 5 1707
    8 Steve Taylor 5 1474
    9 U2 4 1576
    10 Vigalantes of Love 4 1366
    11 Resurrection Band 4 1362
    12 Bruce Cockburn 4 1316
    13 Adam Again 4 1234
    14 Sweet Comfort Band 4 1194
    15 Undercover 4 1119
    16 T-Bone Burnett 4 990
    17 Benny Hester 3 1153
    18 Amy Grant 3 1122
    19 2nd Chapter of Acts 3 1101
    20 Russ Taff 3 1071
    21 The Choir 3 958
    22 Degarmo and Key 3 906
    23 Keith Green 3 903
    24 Prodigal 3 852
    25 Bob Dylan 3 830

    also with 3 albums are & Bob Bennett, Jon Gibson, Julie Miller, Neal Morse,
    Petra, Servant, Stryper, and Toby Mac (in alpabetical order)

  11. Greenchili
    February 3, 2012 at 9:11 am

    “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”

    If anything this comment could be said to be true of modern day worship music which is so meh.. literally mind numbing dribble.

    • low5point
      February 3, 2012 at 4:14 pm

      Agreed…as the complete and total lack of any albums by Chris Tomlin, Charlie Hall and Hillsong on this list attests.

  12. shawnuel
    February 5, 2012 at 4:00 am

    Charlie Hall may not have any albums on this list, but he surely doesn’t belong in the same category as Tomlin and Hillsong. He is WAY more creative.

    • low5point
      February 5, 2012 at 7:03 pm

      Interesting you bring up Charlie Hall. he is my least favorite of those mentioned. When it comes to worship music the lyrical content is my primary concern and my attachment to the regulative principal of worship disqualifies Hall in my book. What you call creative I call unBiblical.

      Lift my hands and spin around,
      See the light that i have found.
      Oh the marvelous light
      Marvelous light

      Lift my hands and spin
      See the light within…

      Depak Chopra could have written those words. The songs of Hall’s I am familiar all seem to have a very expressive tone, in the not so Biblical sense of the term.

      • shawnuel
        February 6, 2012 at 12:15 am

        No, I meant creative in the musical sense. I must admit to barely listening to worship lyrics anymore. They are so banal in most cases. Yeah….the lyrics you present are a little on the self illuminating (pun intended) side of things. Well…..still rarely listened to him so no big loss for me. Have you examined Michael Gungor’s stuff? Musically brilliant. His lyrics have seemed OK but he wrote a post on his website about meditation and it wasn’t about meditating on scripture…..definitely scary.

  13. February 11, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    First christian album i ever Bought… Best Value For Money.
    Loved This Album And All The Other Songs And work Larry Done For The Lord.
    May God Bless His Family,
    I’m Sure We’ll See Him Soon, : )

  14. Craig Krueger
    August 14, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    The inspiration for “Why should the Devil have all the good Music?” comes not from Luther but General Booth of the Salvation Army. Some one reported to him that some of their groups were using pop songs in worship by changing the lyrics; and they were using popular instruments like trumpets (gasp!) The General paused, thought, and then said, “Why should the devil have all the good tunes?”

  15. James Wynn
    September 8, 2014 at 11:28 pm

    “The album also contained the song “What We Need Is a Lot More of Jesus, and A Lot Less Rock and Roll,” […] 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.”

    I’m inclined to trust Norman’s take on the issue. Larry’s friend Allen Flemming claims that Norman’s relationship with the other People! members was their involvement with Scientology. Reportedly, because he emphatically didn’t share their interest, Larry got labeled a “suppressive”. Larry told the band he was leaving and got fired on the spot. As a suppressive, he got harassing phone calls for some time after that which is 100% in line with Scientology behaviors. But before things came to that, reportedly, there was an offer on the table that the album would have the alternate title as a concession to Larry’s increasing disillusionment with the direction of the band. Maybe it was not a realistic offer, but unreaslistic offers get made. Anyway, more here:
    http://www.thetruthaboutlarrynorman.com/shot-down/people/

  1. February 23, 2012 at 5:50 am
  2. March 26, 2012 at 10:03 pm
  3. October 10, 2012 at 12:45 pm

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