Larry David Norman was born on April 8, 1947 in Corpus Christi, Texas. While in high school he formed the band The Back Country Seven. In the late 60’s he joined People! They appeared alongside The Animals, The Dave Clark Five, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix. Their cover of The Zombies’ ‘I Love You’ sold over one million copies and became a No 1 hit. Larry’s first solo album, UPON THIS ROCK, was released in 1969 by Capitol Records. It included such songs as ‘Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation’, ‘I Wish We’d All Been Ready’ and ‘Moses in the Wilderness’. Capitol dropped Larry when the album didn’t do well. Televangelists spoke out against him too. In 1970 Larry founded One Way Records. With a monetary loan from Pat Boone, he released the albums STREET LEVEL and BOOTLEG, as well as Randy Stonehill’s debut BORN TWICE. Here I will be reviewing STREET LEVEL which initially saw the light of day circa 1971. It was re-released by Larry’s camp in 2014. His official website says: “The first and second versions of the LP had different songs on side two of the vinyl, but this CD has all of the songs from both versions”. STREET LEVEL includes recordings from a solo concert at Don Williams’ Hollywood Presbyterian Church and also some recordings with White Light (Randy Stonehill, Fred Bova, Glenn Selwitz, and Hilly Hillman).
The opening track has Larry Norman reciting a poem by Nigel Goodwin in a British accent. It is called ‘First Day at Church’. It pokes fun at the language, clothing, and rituals of the church, and rebukes Christians who go to church but won’t help poor beggars in need. ‘Peace Pollution Revolution’ is a folk ballad that is both political and prophetic: “The word is revolution, but no one’s fired the shot/Each side has its battle plans, a million counterplots/And the world is closely watching as we near the battle line/But if you’re truly wise, you’ll keep your eyes on Palestine/The water is polluted and the air is filled with death/And someday it won’t be easy to stop and catch your breath/It’s all in Revelations/It’s part of the design/And if you’re truly wise, you’ll keep your eyes on Palestine”. ‘Right Here in America’ is another folk ballad, this one over seven minutes long. It speaks of being persecuted for the Christian faith: “There are Christians in Russia, they meet underground/In China they’re killed when they’re found/And in Cuba the Christians live up in the hills because it’s not safe in the town/And to think it might happen right here in America/I know you think it’s not true/But it’s happening to Christians right here in America/Wait till it happens to you”.
‘I Wish We’d All Been Ready’ is a classic CCM ballad about the suddenness of the Rapture: “A man and wife asleep in bed, she hears a noise and turns her head, he’s gone/I wish we’d all been ready/Two men walking up a hill/One disappears and one’s left standing still/I wish we’d all been ready/There’s no time to change your mind/The Son has come and you’ve been left behind”. ‘The Six O’clock News’ is a classic Christian rock number told from the perspective of a news reporter: “Catch my plane flight back to the mainland/Fall asleep to the engine’s drone/I see the sound of guns, how red the mud becomes/I’ve got a close-up view/I am the six o’clock news/What can I do?/All those kids without shoes/What can I do?/Napalm tattoos/What can I do?/Gorilla rendezvous/What can I do?/I am the six o’clock news/CBS, ABC, NBC...”.
‘She’s a Dancer’ is a tranquil song that begins with these words: “She’s a dancer in the garden and she dances with the flowers in the early morning hours/When the wind shifts and the fog drifts/She’s a dancer/She’s a dancer and she knows it/Everywhere she goes she shows it”. ‘I Don’t Wanna Lose You’ is a rock and roll love song: “I don’t wanna lose you to somebody else/I wanna keep you all to myself/Don’t wanna lose you, lose you/You keep me deeply satisfied all of the time/You know I love you all of the time/Don’t wanna lose you, lose you/I was lost and hungry, love, love is what you brung me/If I ever start to see you run around/I’ll break down”.
‘The Price of Living’ is a song of determination in the midst of life’s hardships: “It’s getting hard to find a place to stay/It’s overcrowded and it’s dirty, yes it is/And I don’t want to sleep with thirty other kids/This isn’t living, I feel like giving up, but if I’m strong/I’ll get along/Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday/Ends another week/Life goes on/Even for a freak/Life is rough, but I’ll make it through/Me, I’m tough/I know what to do/The price of living’s going up today/And costs are at an all time high/I hold my head cause so am I”. ‘Sigrid Jane’ is a short and repetitive rock ‘n’ roll song. On it, Larry declares love for a plain, insane, strange, troublesome lady.
‘Baby out of Wedlock’ is a piano-based story song of redemption: “I had a baby out of wedlock, her old man got me in a headlock/I was an unwed father, but don’t bother feeling sorry for me/I took a lot of L.S.D./I smoked a lot of marijuana/But it did not help me, it did not set me free/’Jesus, why’d You come and do it?/Why’d You help a guy like me?/You saved me, You forgave me and I swear You set me free/Ah, You took away my problems one by one/I guess You knew what You was doin’/When You sent Your Son’”. ‘One Way’ is a piano-based ballad of personal faith: “Two roads diverged in the middle of my life, I heard the poet say/I took the one less travelled by and that’s made the difference every night and every day/I say ‘One way, one way to heaven/Hold up high your head/Follow free and forgiven/Children of the Lamb’”.
‘Blue Shoes White’ is a fun rock and roll ditty of testimony to God’s transforming power. ‘I’ve Searched All Around the World’ is a catchy rock and roll song offering hope to all: “I’ve searched all around the world to find a grain of truth/I’ve opened the mouth of love and found a wisdom tooth/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”.
‘No More L.S.D. for Me’ is a ballad of testimony: “No more L.S.D. for me/I met the Man from Galilee/And He saved my soul, made me whole and heaven is my home/He takes good care you know/He’s everywhere you go/He fed me bread and He fixed my head/Untangled all my thread/Take a chance with Jesus, I highly recommend it/Let Him change your heart, let Him in/Take a chance with Jesus/Ask Him in and forget your sins.../I’m so happy, yes I am/I’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb”. The last track is ‘Jim Ware’s Blues’ which is one of the best Christian rock songs ever written! It is very bold as evidenced by these lyrics: “Gonorreah on Valentine’s Day/You’re lookin’ for the perfect lay/You think rock ‘n’ roll will set you free/Honey, you’ll be deaf before you’re 33/Shootin’ junk until you’re half insane/Broken needle in your purple vein/Why don’t you look into Jesus?/He’s got the answers”.
STREET LEVEL is a remarkable collection of songs. Any serious collector of CCM music must have this CD in his/her collection. The lyrics are full of fresh, vibrant, and new Christian beliefs. In addition, a couple of love songs are thrown in for good measure. This 2014 re-release of the album includes some pretty neat old photos of the grandfather of Christian Rock himself. I’m rating STREET LEVEL 90%. For more info visit: www.larrynorman.com.