In 1977 one of the more unique albums in the history of CCM dropped. Larry Norman released STREAMS OF WHITE LIGHT INTO DARKENED CORNERS-PART ONE (AB Records). It is a project that parodies the efforts of mainstream artists who write and perform songs of a spiritual nature.
Randy Stonehill plays West Coast DJ ‘The Surf Duke’ and introduces ‘Spirit in the Sky’ as a deep theological study by Norman Greenbaum. The song features mocking backing vocals that put you in mind of a cartoon. Here are some of the words: “When I die and they lay me to rest/I’m gonna go to the place that’s the best/When I lay me down to die/Going up to the Spirit in the sky…/Never been a sinner, I never sin/I got a friend in Jesus/So you know that when I die/He’s gonna set me up with the Spirit in the sky.” Larry humorously interjects “That’s bad.” Gene ‘Snowbird’ MacLellan’s ‘Put your hand in the Hand’ is next. Larry performs it for the most part with reverence, and a slight country feel: “Every time I look into the Holy Book I start to tremble/When I read about the part/Where the Carpenter cleared the temple/Because those buyers and the sellers/Weren’t much different fellers than what I profess to be/And it causes me shame to know that I’m not the man that I could be.”
Next DJ Stonehill says: “Okay, why don’t we kick back and listen to a hot little trilogy of faith, hope, and royalties, ha, ha. By Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison.” ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’ has a sound that will please fans of Norman’s ‘I am a Servant’. It is about true friendship or God’s care for us: “When you’re down and out, when you’re on the street/When evening falls so hard, I will comfort you, oh I will take your heart when darkness comes/And pain is all around/And like a bridge over troubled water/I will lay me down.” ‘Let it Be’ is short. It’s funny hearing Larry singing Catholic inspired words: “When I find myself in times of trouble/Mother Mary comes to me/Speaking words of wisdom ‘Let it Be’/And in my darkest hour/She is standing right in front of me/Speaking words of wisdom ‘Let it Be’/Let it be (4X)/There will be an answer/Let it be.”
‘My Sweet Lord’ has a classic rock feel to it, with nice background vocals. It includes these familiar lyrics: “I really wanna show you/I really wanna go with You/I really wanna show You Lord/It won’t take long my Lord/Hallelujah/My sweet Lord.” Larry cleverly adds “I’m so bored” because of the repetitive nature of the song and there is laughter at the end of the track. Eric Clapton’s ‘Presence of the Lord’ is a well executed classic rock song with electric guitar emphasis. It talks of finding a spiritual home: “I have finally found a way to live/Like I never could before/And I know that I don’t have much to give/But soon I’ll open any door/Everybody knows the secret/Everybody, everybody knows the score/I have finally found a place to live/In the presence of the Lord.”
Two Randy Newman songs are next. ‘I Think He’s Hiding’ is a ballad which Larry sings in a mocking, overly dramatic tone. Here are some of the awful lyrics: “If the Big Boy/Comes tomorrow/There’ll be no more teardrops/There’ll be no more sorrow/If the Big Boy comes tomorrow/Will He take you with Him?/Have you been good?/Have you been bad?/If you haven’t lived the way you should/You wish you had.” ‘He gives us all His love’ is an easy listening number that would have fit nicely on Norman’s IN ANOTHER LAND. The song contains words of comfort: “He knows how hard we try/He hears the babies cry/He sees the old folks die/And He gives us all His love/Now if you need someone to talk to/You can always talk to Him/And if you need someone to lean on/You can lean on Him (2X)/He gives us all His love (2X).”
Larry introduces the first of two Leon Russell tunes, ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’, in a crazy preacher’s voice: “Do you sometimes feel like a stranger in a strange land, walking through the desert, looking for the Prince of Peace, but your feet stick in the sand?/Is that what’s troubling you bubby? Well, never give up!” ‘Prince of Peace’ is upbeat and reminds us we may at any moment be entertaining angels unaware: “Never treat a brother like a passing stranger/Always try to keep your love light burnin’/Listen closely to his song and watch his eyes/Oh, he might be the Prince of Peace returnin’…/Never be impatient with the ones you love/Cause it might just be yourself that you’re burnin’/Listen only to their song and watch their eyes/Oh you might see the Prince of Peace returnin’.”
DJ Stonehill says the next song is by Jackson Browne. Stonehill remarks that some call Browne a prophet of the 70’s, while others say he’s just making a profit in the 70’s, ha, ha, ha. ‘Song for Adam’ is a pretty story song: “Together we went travelling/As we received the call/His destination India/And I had none at all/But I still remember laughing with our backs against the wall/So free of fear, we never thought that one of us might fall.” The album ends with the Rolling Stones feel good rock number ‘Shine a Light’. Larry does his best Mick Jagger imitation on this song which has a chorus that rings out like a benediction: “May the good Lord shine a light on you/Make every song you sing your favourite tune/May the good Lord shine a light on you/Yeah, like the evening sun.”
While there is certainly plenty of good natured fun poking going on on this album, Larry also delivers some dandy, shining musical moments that make this a true collectable. Fans of Weird Al, the Swirling Eddies, and Mark Lowry will appreciate the humour. Fans of mainstream pop and rock classics with spiritual lyrics should also give this project a listen. A listen to see how these songs take on new life when tackled by a CCM pioneer. I’m rating STREAMS OF WHITE LIGHT INTO DARKENED CORNERS: PART ONE 87.5%. For more info visit www.larrynorman.com.