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.