So Long Ago The Garden*
1973 | Solid Rock Records
Q: What do you get when you put together:
- A songwriter whom Billboard magazine referred to in the 1970's as "the most important writer since Paul Simon."
- An album recorded in London by George Martin
- Contributions from some of the hottest session musicians of the time as well as drumming from King Crimson's own Mike Giles.
A: An album as unknown and underappreciated as its author, Larry Norman.
The second of a trilogy of conceptual albums, Norman's So Long Ago The Garden is a masterpiece of musical talent and raw spirituality. Sandwiched between the impressive Only Visiting This Planet (1972's Pt. 1 of the trilogy) and In Another Land (1975's Pt. 3), So Long Ago The Garden contains Norman's last work for a major record label (MGM at the time). Soon after the completion of the album, Norman would establish his own label, Solid Rock Records and, thus begin his slow disappearance from mainstream consciousness…
This seems bizarre. We're talking about an artist from whose music Pete Townsend received inspiration to write Tommy (a claim later recinded by Townsend), and who has rung up an impressive list of self-proclaimed fans such as Bob Dylan, Frank Black, U2 and Van Morrison. Is Larry Norman's relative invisibility starting to seem bizarre to you too?
So Long Ago The Garden is a truly personal and passionate album. Songs about shame and isolation flow in and out of one another, forming a classic rock album that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of its day. The ballad "Lonely By Myself" is the thesis statement of the album with Norman's shrill voice pleading for companionship in the midst of deep loneliness. It is a dynamite track that has all the aspects of a should-have-been hit (however superfluous that sounds).
Other notable tracks on Garden are downright get-up-and-dance rock anthems such as "Fly Fly Fly" and Baroquen Spirits, both showcasing Norman' brilliant writing and musical arrangments.
The conceptual climax of the album occurs in the exchange between the songs "She's A Dancer" and "Soul Survivor". The former, laced with signature George Martin strings, has Norman painting a picture of his own struggle with personal expression. The lamenting song winds down with a chord progression that is immediately picked up in the introduction of the latter which proceeds to explode into a soulful tirade. Norman seems to be lashing out at his circumstances of self-inflicted isolation bellowing out:
"I'm the sole survivor of this tragedy
Oh yes I need somebody's sympathy
Don't leave me here alone, don't let me be
The soul survivor of this tragedy"
One odd aspect to So Long Ago The Garden is the inclusion of an out-from-left-field song about Christmas in the center of the album. "Christmastime" makes you think, though, and, at the very least, is good for a chuckle.
At the end of the day, this album should be heard and enjoyed. It's a real treat for listeners that are hungry for sincere vulnerability and exposed humanity. There is a universal quality to the songs on Garden that beckon listeners to find themselves therein.
Indulge in a classic rock album missed by many (particularly today). So Long Ago The Garden has everything needed to satisfy; emotion, electric performances, compelling vocals and a bountiful supply of "hidden gem" cool factor. Should you connect with this record, do not hesitate to purchase the bracketing albums in Norman's trilogy.
Below are the key songs of the album:
- The Same Old Story (track 2)
- Lonely By Myself (track 3)
- Baroquen Spirits (track 5)
- She's A Dancer (track 7) Soul Survivor (track 8 )
*This album is not easily found on iTunes or Amazon (though you can give it a try). The best place to track it (and any other Larry Norman records) down is at: