Remembering Christian rock pioneer Larry Norman

It’s been five years since Christian rock pioneer Larry Norman died of heart failure, complications from a heart attack he suffered a decade prior. Here’s his song, “The Great American Novel”:

His career was as long as it was controversial. After a brief stint as the lead singer for the San Jose, Calif., pop band People!, Norman went solo in 1969 with his Capitol Records release, Upon this Rock. It was Christian rock before there was Christian rock.

Sometimes compared to Bob Dylan for his mix of sociopolitical, religious, and antiestablishment critique, Norman came under early fire from evangelical conservatives like Jerry Falwell. He later came under fire from colleagues and artists like Randy Stonehill and Terry Scott Taylor, who felt his business dealings were less than kosher.

Regardless of his ups and downs, his was a foundational presence in the music. Writes John J. Thompson in his authoritative Raised by Wolves,

Despite the controversy, hype, and low points, Norman’s impact on Christian music cannot be overstated. As a songwriter, Norman crystallized the heart of the Jesus Movement; as an artist, he pushed the creative envelope well beyond what had been considered appropriate; as a producer, he brought to prominence some of the most significant artists in Christian music; and, as a businessman (undoubtedly his weakest suit), he ran a label that brought some of the most important albums into the world. He also modeled a successful independent recording career as an alternative to working for a label.

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

In memory of his passing, here are more of Larry Norman’s songs. And here are two obituaries, the first from Christianity Today, the second from the New York Times.

About Joel J. Miller

I'm the author of Lifted by Angels, a look at angels through the eyes of the early church. Click here for more about me or subscribe to my RSS here.

  • http://www.jessehoover.com Jesse Hoover

    I had not realized it’s been 5 years. I had the privilege of listening to him live. He brought a different yet authentic perspective of God to me. Now I’m off to iTunes!

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  • http://www.mhmcintyre.us Mark McIntyre

    Thanks for the reminder. Larry’s albums helped get me through high school in the 70′s. At the time, I knew only one other Christian in my school and it was a tough time for me. But Larry helped me by asking the question, “why should the Devil have all the good music?”

    • Joel J. Miller

      I was a bit more than a decade behind you and Larry Norman was old news by the time I was in high school, but I found him anyway (I have a thing for Jesus People music) and really came to appreciate him.

  • Will campbell

    First heard a recording of him in Scotland in 1976. Amazing. Then Greenbelt in the 1980s. Proudest possession in record collection is an LP signed by him. A true pioneer a study in contradictions for those in the know.

    • Joel J. Miller

      Cool. I bet the signed LP is pretty rare.


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