Monday, July 13, 2015

The truth about Larry Norman...and Robert Johnson

I ran across an April 8, 2014 post, written by Allen Flemming, at a site called "The Truth About Larry Norman." It began like this:

The United States Library of Congress has chosen Larry Norman’s album Only Visiting This Planet album to be deemed a National Treasure. The only other Rock album was U2’s Joshua Tree (an album depicting U2’s vision of America).

When I first read that, I questioned the statement's accuracy, since it was hard to believe that only two rock albums were culturally significant. It turns out that the statement was correct - sort of. These were the only two rock albums in the 2013 class of inductions (source: Variety). For the 2013 class, non-rock albums such as Isaac Hayes' "Theme from Shaft" were included, and rock songs such as Creedence Clearwater Revivals' "Fortunate Son" were included.

If you look at the entire Recording Registry, however, you can find a lot of rock albums that were included in the years before and after 2013, ranging from "The Velvet Underground and Nico" to "OK Computer." And there's a lot of other stuff also.

So, why is Larry Norman in there? The Library of Congress explains:

"Only Visiting This Planet" is the key work in the early history of Christian rock. Norman was a veteran of the American rock scene of the 1960s (as well as a street corner evangelist) and his songs were musically assured and socially aware. Many earlier efforts in this genre concentrated on joyful affirmations of faith, but Norman also commented on the world as he saw it from his position as a passionate, idiosyncratic outsider to mainstream churches. "Only Visiting This Planet" was recorded at George Martin's AIR studio in London with a group of top studio musicians that included John Wetton of King Crimson (and, later, Asia) on bass. The album set new production standards for Christian music. For some, Norman and his work are still controversial, but, regardless, his influence remains strong. Selected for the 2013 registry.

On the other side of the spectrum is this culturally significant recording. This is another man who was only visiting this planet, but the common impression is that this man ended up in a different place than Norman did:

"The Complete Recordings." Robert Johnson. (1936-1937)

The recordings made by Delta bluesman Robert Johnson in 1936 and 1937 had a significant impact on fellow bluesmen, as well as on such rock musicians as Eric Clapton and Keith Richards. Considered by some to be the "King of the Delta Blues Singers," Johnson's emotive vocals, combined with his varied and masterful guitar playing, continue to influence blues and popular music performers to this day. Selected for the 2003 registry.

I encourage you to visit the registry list. I may revisit it again in this blog.
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