Review Summary: "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" for this classic.
I think the only reason people still turn to those "contemporary" Christian radio stations is because it's much like watching the Boston Red Sox.
"You think they'll be any good this time around, mommy?"
"Of course not, sweety; but here's hoping today's the day."
Even that comparison is off, since at least the Boston Red Sox had their day a long time ago. Did CCM at any point in time have anything to be proud of?
I didn't think so...until I heard Larry Norman.
Larry is often considered "The Godfather of Christian rock and CCM." Yikes. What a bad association. While it is true that he was the first rock musician to sing [almost] exclusively about Jesus (I'll get to that), Larry Norman is nothing like the washed-up poseurs on your local Christian radio station.
In 1969, Larry Norman's Upon This Rock was considered the very first Christian Rock album, and it literally blew the minds of all those little old church ladies. Check out "Forget Your Hexagram" and you'll see why (it totally owns "Kumbaya"). Backwards churches banned the album from Christian book stores and called it "the devil's music." Nevertheless, Larry Norman began to gain popularity with the Jesus Movement hippies. A year after releasing his sophomore album Only Visiting This Planet in 1972, Larry Norman was actually getting some radio airplay on rock stations.
And thus CCM was born...and it was off to a remarkably good start.
Larry Norman and his band sound like a mix of The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and pretty much every old-school rock artist you can think of. Though the band won't melt your face off, the skill of his band is top tier classic rock. To give you some perspective, the album’s bassist is none other than the legendary John Wetton a year before he became famous as the King Crimson’s lead singer/bassist in classic prog albums like Larks' Tongues in Aspic and Red. Didn’t see that coming, did you? Needless to say, Larry Norman doesn’t disappoint.
The defining difference between Larry Norman and the aforementioned bands is that he is...well... a Christian artist. He doesn't shy away from that fact, but he's not blinded by it either. His topics are surprisingly diverse.
Songs like the Stonesy "I Am the Six O'Clock News" is a cynical take on news reporters and how uncaring they can be. The following song "The Great American Novel" criticizes the then current political choices of the United States, including landing on the moon and the Vietnam War. It's clear throughout the entire album that Larry Norman had much more on his mind than just "Hallelujah Jesus!" His lyrics are bold and confrontational, which is exemplified the unofficial Christian rock theme song, "Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music." With an upbeat 50's rock feel, two great instrumentals, and possibly the wittiest line in all of Christian music "I feel good everyday/Because Jesus is the rock and He rolled my blues away," the song is genius. Kudos to Larry for shutting up the fundamental crazies with style.
There are a few duds in the album, with the worst offender being the opening track “I’ve Got to Learn to Live Without You.” This song is so uncharacteristically sappy. It sounds like the worst Elton John love ballad gone wrong. It’s so out of place that I’m guessing it was the record company that forced Larry to place it at the front of the record.
Yet, to Larry Norman's credit, his best songs are so blatantly Christian that it puts to shame all those prudes who rejected him. "The Outlaw" is a heartfelt acoustic ballad focused on what people said about Jesus, what he did, and who Larry believes he is. "Why Don't You Look into Jesus" is one of the catchiest rockers along with "Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music." The song examines the misled life of a hippie, which leads to the chorus "Why don't you look into Jesus? He's got the answer."
However, easily the greatest song on the album is the heart-wrenching ballad, "I Wish We'd All Been Ready." This song has been covered a few times, most famously by platinum selling CCM band dc Talk, though they pretty much butchered it the same way most CCM artist do everything else. It tells of the sad and horrific event of missing the second coming of Jesus. With excellent production, violins and drums that come just at the right time, and a beautifully understated chorus, "There's no time to change your mind/the son has come/and you've been left behind," the song is a genuine classic, and I'm talking "Imagine" by John Lennon classic.
If you can’t stand radio sponsored Contemporary Christian Music, do not fret. God, in His divine providence, has led you to Larry Norman. Praise the Lord.
“Why Don’t You Look into Jesus”
“I Wish We’d All Been Ready”
“Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music”