Larry Norman
Rebel Poet, Jukebox Balladeer: The Anthology
Arena Rock CD/ MP3 Review by Gord Wilson



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The Late, Great Larry Norman by Gord Wilson

As with the Beatles, with a Larry Norman album, you always got more. The record of Magical Mystery Tour opened like a book, and so did Only Visiting This Planet. When Norman made his own record companies,  One Way, Phydeaux, and Solid Rock, he always tried to include a booklet of lyrics or photos, or slide a picture into the sleeve. As Doug Van Pelt pointed out in his Norman tribute in HM Magazine, Norman, again like the Beatles, always gave you more magic and mystery: the last line of the last song in each of the Trilogy albums is the title of the album. This CD continues that tradition. It unfolds twice, revealing song notes by Norman and an introduction. Slipped in the sleeve is a sticker and a twenty four page lyrics and photos booklet.

This CD would be a great intro to Norman for those new to him, and also as a sampler for bands considering tribute songs. However, it doesn't scratch the surface of his musical output.
Greg from Arena Rock began work on this compilation with Norman, even though it seems to be a tribute after the fact. Like most "Best of" collections, some of the songs are not what I would have chosen, but for an odd reason. As the Rolling Stone review notes, seven songs are from Only Visiting This Planet (1972). Why not just listen to the whole album? Also, the PR sheet from Big Hassle media quotes Frank Black talking about Norman's Street Level album, but no songs from that disc are included.

"Peace Pollution Revolution" is included (which is on Street Level) but the version here is from the MGM single, released in connection with the MGM album, So Long Ago the Garden. However, the single wasn't on the album, nor on some versions of the CD Norman himself released on his own Solid Rock label (I like the rougher Street Level version a lot better). Street Level, however, was released as a record in two versions, with one side entirely different. The first version, which Norman later released on CD, consists of songs from his rock operas (which were originally slated for Broadway), which are great songs, and which could have filled a collection like this one.

According to the liner notes, all twenty songs on this CD come from five albums: Upon This Rock, Only Visiting This Planet, So Long Ago the Garden, In Another Land, and Something New Under the Son (with one exception, People's cover of the Zombies' "I Love You"). That may be true of the songs, but not of the included versions. Upon This Rock was released on Capitol, but Norman remixed some songs when it was re-released on Impact. The songs on this CD listed as from the Capitol version are from the Impact version (which I think is a lot better than the Capitol one). You can hear the difference on the two disc collector's CD of Upon This Rock. The second disc includes a radio show called Powerline, and has the Capitol version playing in the background.

"Ha Ha World", I think, is a great song. There are other versions, including one on a two record set, later released on CD, called Bootleg. "Rosemary's Baby (the Omen-666)" was recorded by Frank Black and the Catholics as just "666", in a very different version than heard here. "Nightmare no. 71" Norman says is one of a series of "nightmare songs" (like Bob Dylan's series of dreams songs). This is the epic version from So Long Ago, which also had a better known (and shorter) nightmare called "Be Careful What You Sign", also known as "38 Thornton Special" which is highly worth tracking down. There's also a nightmare on Something New, the underrated, little-heard album that inspired Frank Black while with the Pixies.

Norman left behind a canon of at least seven great albums (and many more great songs): Only Visiting This Planet, So Long Ago the Garden, In Another Land (known together as the Trilogy), Upon This Rock, Street Level, Bootleg, and Something New Under the Son. The tributes will be coming from unexpected places, like Frank Black and Modest Mouse, but bands looking for great songs to cover may want to check out the late, great Larry Norman.

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