Larry David Norman was born on April 8, 1947 and died on February 24, 2008. In 2001 he was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. He released his solo debut, UPON THIS ROCK, which many consider to be the first Christian rock album, in 1969. In 1971 he followed this with STREET LEVEL. Norman’s website says: “In early 1972 One Way Records released BOOTLEG, a double album retrospective covering the previous four years of Norman’s career compiled from the demonstration recordings made while at Capitol Records, private recordings from his friends, and various interviews and live performances. It was deliberately recorded to sound like an unauthorized bootleg recording to ensure reception by street people who were wary of slick major label products”. Here, I am reviewing a recent 2 CD re-issue of BOOTLEG which has been remastered.
Starting things off is ‘I Think I Love You’, a piano-based rock and roll song about conversion: “I used to wonder where You could be/I used to seek after truth and follow where it led/So many facts and philosophies inside my head/I heard so many people telling me You was dead/I bet they all own a Bible that’s never been read/Mmm.../All my life I’ve been wondering what I should do/Suddenly I stopped wondering/Cause I really found the answer when I fell in love with You”. ‘Walking Backwards’ is lullaby-like musically. It’s the song of one lacking direction: “People stop to watch me/They’re wondering what I’m doing/What direction I’m pursuing/I pretend I’m free but actually/I’m walking backwards down the stairs/Trying to get higher/How can I get anywhere’s/Walking backwards down the stairs”.
‘Ha Ha World’ includes these very Normanesque lyrics: “The call is for me/And I answered the phone in the kitchen/The room was too hot/I forgot I was cookin’ a chicken/It was burning like hell/But the stove wasn’t on/And the voice on the line says the chicken is gone/The receiver goes dead and it/Hums while the plot starts to thicken”. ‘Classical Mandolin’ is a very short instrumental.
‘I Don’t Believe in Miracles’ is a ballad about letting down one’s guard: “I don’t believe in miracles/I’ve been around, I’ve seen enough/Oh, no/The only way to get along, you must be strong/You must be tough, life is one big bluff/But then you opened up the door/I walked right in and all my fears fell on the floor/Do you suppose a miracle is happening to me?” ‘The Day That a Child Appeared’ reflects on the nativity: “Just a baby in a manger/But the room was filled with strangers/And the star hung in the sky/Oh, like an angel on the day that a child appeared/Little children please remember why we celebrate December/It’s much more than Santa Claus/But you’re right about the gift and tree/A gift of life at Calvary”.
‘What Goes Through Your Mind’ is a frank rock and roll song addressed to a gal: “What goes through your mind? (2X)/The things you think you want/They only screw you up/You can be good or bad, do what you want to do/And it’s up to you to decide/Just what goes through your mind, girl?/I think you like being blind, girl/Look for the truth and you’ll find it, girl/The truth’s ahead, you’re behind it, girl/Just what goes through your mind, girl?” ‘No Change Can Attend’ is a short track that includes these words of declaration: “Every human tie may perish/Friend to friend unfaithful prove.../No change can attend Jehovah’s love/You know He loves me/He loves me/He loves me”.
‘One Way’ is a gentle anthem of faith: “One way, one way to Heaven/Hold up high your hand/Follow/Free and forgiven/Children of the Lamb/In my youth, I knew the truth/But I spent many years just sitting on the wrong track/Now that I’m older, I’m bolder/And it’s high time I should be getting back/And that’s a fact”. ‘A Song Won’t Stop the World’ has an old country feel to it and reflects on the power of music: “This world’s in trouble/You know it’s true/But who has the answers/To help us get through?/We look to our leaders/They politely yawn/The press gives coverage/And the world goes on/This song won’t stop the world from goin’ round/’Cause a song can’t stop the world from being unsound/But it might change a heart/Change a heart or two/No, it can’t stop the world/But it might stop you”.
‘Blue Shoe’s White’ is a lively, upbeat rock and roll song of testimony: “He reached right out and touched my toes/Everybody knows how the rest of the story goes/If you’re steppin’ through life, then my appeal/Is to follow in His footsteps and get your soles re-heeled/And if ya wanna give your feet a treat/Then get ready to walk down that golden street/But be careful how you use your shoes/And don’t waste your time on the rhythm and blues/He turns blue shoes white”. ‘666 (The Anti-Christ)’ is a folk song about the End Times: “In the midst of the war he offered us peace/He came like a lover from out of the east/With the face of an angel and the heart of a beast/His intentions were six sixty six/He walked up to the temple with gold in his hand/And he bought off the priests and propositioned the land/And the world was his harlot and laid in the sand/While the band played six sixty six”.
‘Taking my Time’ is really just a short ditty. It includes these words: “Love is divine/And reading the scrolls/Is making me whole”. ‘I’ve Searched All Around’ is a swell pop tune on which Larry testifies: “Yes, I’ve searched all around the world to find a place of peace/I’ve sat in the shade of God and watched the joy increase”.
Disc Two begins with a television interview from 1971 in which Larry shares: “I found Jesus with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. That’s what changed me concretely...I don’t have to go to a church every day. I go to church in my heart. I don’t have to kneel or bow. My spirit has been humbled and bowed. Ah, I’m not afraid of approval from the preachers or the members of the church. I just, I have to be right before God. I have to read my Bible and a, to stay informed on whom man is and who God is”. The next track is ‘Let the Lions Come (Speech to Russia for Christ)’. It reflects on Watchman Nee and tackles the topic of persecution head on: “I’m not afraid of the Russians coming or the Chinese or the World Council of Churches if that’s gonna be our enemies too. Let them come. I’m not afraid of the lions. Let them eat me. They can’t swallow my soul. They can’t touch us. They can’t get us. We’ve been bought with the price and nobody’s got enough money or enough force to buy us back. They can’t touch you. And when they come you just pray for them and when they lead you away you just sing ‘Glory to God’. And when they shoot you, just smile”.
‘Jesus and the Movies’ is a humorous reflection by Larry beginning with these words: “It bothers me that in the movies they never show Jesus really, you know, the right way. Every movie I’ve seen He walks around like, you know, He’s just had His nails done or something”. ‘Addressing the National Youth Worker’s Convention’ is a very lengthy performance of his cheerful song ‘Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation’. It includes these words: “When you know a wonderful secret/You tell it to your friends/Tell them that a lifetime filled with Jesus/Is like a street that never ends, alright!/Sing that sweet, sweet song of salvation/And let your laughter fill the air/Sing that sweet, sweet song of salvation/And tell the people everywhere”. Larry uses his humor to engage the audience fully in the song: “Those of you who are uptight about clapping for a religious, you know, song or experience, ah, you can think of it as praying rapidly”.
‘When I First Met You’ is a short adult contemporary song that shares these sentiments many will be able to relate to: “When I first saw you I was all alone/Wishing for a love I could call my own.../I’m hoping that maybe we/I’m praying that maybe you and I/Can spend our life together/La, la, la, la...” ‘Without Love You are Nothing’ is a great rock song that doesn’t mince words: “You can be a woman feeler or a baby stealer/You can drink your life away/You can be a Holy Prophet/Get a blessing off it/You can fast for 50 days/You can shake hands with the devil/Or give your life to God on the level/But without love you are nothing, without love”.
‘A Love Like Yours’ finds Larry conversing with God: “With a love like Yours/A man could live in beauty and grace/If I were a king I’d give everything/Just to see Your face/With a love like Yours/A man could be completely satisfied.../You have saved me, You have saved me/You have saved me from myself”. ‘You Can Save Me’ finds Larry playfully strumming on his acoustic guitar. It again finds Larry conversing with God: “I can’t see You but I know You’re there/And I can’t touch You/But I know You care/God, I love You/And I just bought Your book/I took it home and had a real long look/And this may not sound nice/But my favorite part is where You died for me”.
‘Even if you don’t Believe’ is a pretty, piano-based ballad about the End Times: “Even if you don’t believe, it’s gonna come true/Even if you don’t believe, it’s gonna happen to you/He’s gonna come down/Take a last look around/And with both feet off the ground/You’ll be homeward bound”. ‘U.F.O.’ is a gentle folk tune that reminds us of our blessed hope: “He will come back like He promised/With the price already paid/He will call out for His followers/And take them all away.../He’s an unidentified flying object/Coming back to take you home/He’s an unidentified flying object/He will roll away your stone”.
‘Why Don’t You Look into Jesus’ is a rock song that offers a spiritual invitation: “If you’re unhappy and you don’t know how/Why don’t you look into Jesus?/He got the answers”. ‘Song for a Small Circle of Friends’ is a tender folk song that shares the Good News: “And Jesus died for all you friends/But even better yet, He lives again/And if words do not appeal to you/I hope the Spirit slips on through/He loves you”.
There are eight bonus tracks included on Disc 2. The first finds Larry performing ‘Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation’ at Jesus Sound Explo ’72. Then there are alternate takes of four previous songs. Next up are two takes of the American spiritual ‘He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands’. Larry includes these additional lyrics: “He’s got The Beatles and The Stones in His hands/Unless they bring it on home, in His hands/They’ll spend eternity alone”. Last up, is ‘He’s the One’. This fun rock and roll ditty includes this lyric: “He’s the One, He stole my heart away”.
BOOTLEG is a great companion piece to 1971’s STREET LEVEL. Several of the songs are different versions of songs that had already appeared on 1969’s UPON THIS ROCK or would go on to appear on the legendary studio albums ONLY VISITING THIS PLANET (1972) and IN ANOTHER LAND (1976). There are also many songs not on any of those records. This is truly a must have two disc collection for collectors. These are songs that convey a Christian message with a sense of both innocence and urgency. Fans of early Jesus rock and folk music should pick this one up. It includes some great shots of a young Larry Norman at work, on the street, and with a white cat. I’m rating BOOTLEG 90%. For more info visit: www.larrynorman.com.