Larry Norman: Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music

Religious music is a good source of examination for the effects of modernization by virtue of the fact that it is one of the longest enduring musical styles that has persisted and adapted. As a genre, it has evolved into something different from its ancient origins. Religious music has been around for a long time and it is therefore difficult to pinpoint its exact beginning. During the time of classical prodigy’s, Mozart and Beethoven, the church served as inspiration as well as financial sponsors.

Though Christianity is a very conservative religion which has worked to preserve its musical form, it is possible to see how society brought on changes to the genre by the recent proliferation of more contemporary styles. Gospel was virtually unchanged prior to the influence of more radical Christian worshippers and the movement of Larry Norman (known as “the father of Christian rock”). Traditional gospel’s main accompaniment was the piano. Prior to the 50’s, music from artists like Bill Gaither, graced churches globally. His style represented the typical conservative Christian music. Prior to Bill Gaither, poets and seminary students wrote pieces that would then be translated into Christian church songs. Amazing Grace was written by a clergyman, John Newton in 1770’s.

Indeed Christianity’s conservatism was reflected in the music. Guidelines were even imposed by religious organizations to give distinct meaning to laws in the Bible as to what Christian music should sound like. According to the Fundamental Evangelistic Association, Christian music should be set apart from secular music. It should not involve syncopation, and should be strictly for the glorification of God.

Christian rock, and other contemporary types of music, has caused major debates in churches worldwide. Pastors and members faced great difficulty accepting Christian rock songs. There is a stigma associated with the difference in the musical style of Christian music. It still is not accepted or preferred in some churches today. However, contemporary Christian music, Christian rock and Christian metal thrive amongst the younger generations at churches.

Larry Norman broke the mold of traditional Christian music making this a moment of historical importance. He included electric guitars and drums to the mix. He said at a concert that he created music to reflect the style of Elvis Presley because all his friends at school were into Elvis. He included his Christian belief in his music. Christianity was getting in on the fun too. He faced great opposition from Christian radio personalities and some Christians. In the midst of all his opposition, he wrote the song “Why should the Devil have all the good music.” The song retells his situation.

He explains that being a Christian does not have to mean you are boring. In his first line of the song, he states I want the people to know that He saved my soul, but I still like to listen to the radio.” He starts singing in a non-traditional, rock and roll type tone. The electric guitar and drums join the vocals halfway through the first line.  The guitar continues strumming once on the second beat of every four notes. The guitar stays on the A-chord for the entire verse. The music is very “hype” and as Norman’s second line states, it makes you want to “get up and dance.” It sounds almost like the stereotypical organ music we hear in Southern churches. Larry’s style of singing makes the song rock-n-roll.

The drums start a much more elaborate piece as the chorus chimes in. Norman reaffirms people of his faith, and repeats a question to his critics. In a higher D-chord, he starts almost talking to the audience saying “I know what’s right, I know what’s wrong, I don’t confuse it. All I’m trying to say is Why should the devil have all the good music.” He poses a good point to critics. The song was copyrighted in 1972. He said at a concert that the song was a product of years of condemnation from the Christian community, denouncing his music. The last line of the chorus, Norman states “Jesus is the rock, and he rolled my blues away.”

Norman was revolutionary attempt to popularize Christianity. He sported long hair and in his early music career, opened for artists like The Doors, The Who, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix. The only chords used in this song were A, E and D major. No minors were used, making it a very high energy song.

The elaborate drum sequence cools down in the second verse. The electric guitar and bass continue the single strum effect similar to the first verse. He jokes about the conservative’s opinion on his appearance by stating in the second verse “They say to cut my hair, they’re driving me insane, I grew it out long to make room for my brain.” Again, the Christian persona was very conservative, and appearing like Larry Norman was unheard of in the church at that time. He tells of his rejection from the Christian community by saying “But sometimes people don’t understand, what’s a good boy doing in a rock-n-roll band?”

Christian songs were not supposed to invoke movement on the body according the

FEA. This notion did not sit well with the younger church goers. Norman says

there is nothing wrong with the older hymns, but he much rather something he

can move his fingers to. “I ain’t knocking the hymns, just give me a song that

has a beat, I ain’t knocking the hymns, just give me a song that moves my feet.

I don’t like none of those funeral marches, I ain’t dead yet!” There is a musical

interlude, including an electric guitar solo. After the solo, Norman goes on to

preach the message of Christianity, completing the song. “Jesus told the truth,

and Jesus showed the way. There’s one more thing I’d like to say. They nailed him

to the cross and they laid him in the ground, but they should have known you

can’t keep a good man down.” Norman is known as the “father of Christian Rock,”

for paving the way for other artists like Flyleaf, Pillar, Skillet, Stryder,

Fireflight among others.

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7 Responses to “Larry Norman: Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?”

  1.   karina Says:

    Ahh! why is my last paragraph messed up? Cannot seem to get it aligned.

  2.   Amy Herzog Says:

    You do such a fantastic job framing this song, and this genre, historically! From your description, it sounds like he integrates a gospel sound into the mix– something I think Elvis did, often in a secular way. This was a real eye opener– thanks!

  3.   dperry100 Says:

    I really enjoyed reading your take on Christian music. Being raised Catholic, I grew up to believe rock music, secular music, and Christian music were all separate entities-and were supposed to be independent of the other. Growing up in the south, I began to see a lot of churches breaking down this wall. Just because one labels a band as “Christian Rock” doesn’t mean it is preaching. I have never heard of Larry Norman but I appreciate what he did for Christian music.

    Just as churches found it hard to accept Christian music in a rock format, we also find rock artist not being as accepting of a band if they talk about religion in their songs. For example-Creed. They are a very popular Christian Rock band. However, many mainstream rock musicians do not respect them as a band for whatever reason. I’m saying this only because I know a lot of musicians and they see Creed as a joke. Yet, there is a huge market for bands like them. The key is not to seem like they are preaching. I remember a band in the late 1990’s named Jars of Clay. Their single, Flood became a hit. Not only did it play Christian radio stations, but also on: alternative, rock and adult contemporary stations as well. Even Christian-punk became popular with bands such as MxPx and Relient K.

    So, now I can pay tribute to the man that made Christian music possible. Thank you Larry Norman!

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