Sunday, September 28, 2008

The World's Most Confusing Discography

Last time out, I went on about how completionist music collectors like me (although I'm either a bit lapsed or beginning to recover) like to be able to identify what they need for a complete collection of an artist's work. First all the original official releases, then any compilations with recordings different from the aforementioned albums, then into the real rarities and unreleased stuff (which is where torrents and trading websites shine).

For my money, the Ventures have the second most confusing catalogue in the world. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of collections with similar titles from a variety of dubious sources have muddied the waters to the point where it's hard to tell where any given recording originally came from or when a collection is complete.

I've found one artist whose discography is even more confusing. Making matters worse, this artist, unlike the Ventures, is compelling enough to make me (and a lot of other people) want to hear his entire output.

Larry Norman, who died recently at age sixty, is widely considered to have been the first real Christian rock-and-roller. He's had tribute albums to his work recorded, there are plenty of websites dedicated to him (no links because there are too many to choose from; feel free to Google to your heart's content in a new tab), and pretty much everybody who's aware of him respects his work immensely.

That said, the man's catalogue is a nightmare, and it's largely his own fault.

A web search for "Larry Norman discography" will get you plenty of hits, and I've read the first several pages' worth. None of them seem to be comprehensive enough to satisfy. One of the best I've seen is the two-part PDF version by Dougie Adams, available for download here, but even it doesn't go into enough detail and seems to be missing a lot of releases that I've seen.

Larry suffered a severe head injury in 1978, which he later blamed for some of his subsequent professional decisions. From the early 1980s onward, dozens upon dozens of officially sanctioned Larry Norman compilations and live albums were released, sometimes with one or two new studio recordings tacked on. Even on those without new songs, there were endless variations in the recordings - edits, remixes, and even alternate takes were included without acknowledgement. Trying to figure out a list of Larry's officially released, studio-recorded songs is almost impossible, and trying to figure out where to find the initial release of each such track is even worse.

Here's what I'm still hoping to find: a Larry Norman discography that's arranged chronologically by year (Larry often pumped out several releases per year; I'm not worried about what order they came in within the year) that lists each album track-by-track, with notes on the recording. Something like, "Album Title: 1. (Title of song) - Studio recording, first release. 2. (Title of song) - Studio Recording, originally released on (album title, year). New remix. 3. (Title of song) - Live version. (source if available, even if it's just something like "Probably from 1988 tour"). 4. (Title of song) - Studio recording, originally released on (album title, year). Same version.", etc.

There are plenty of sources for this kind of information for many major artists, Bootlegzone being the gold standard. I'd love to find one for Larry Norman. Hopefully one of his rumoured biographies will actually be published and include something like this. I'd also just like to read a thorough biography of him. He was a very interesting guy. Deeply flawed, perhaps, but then he never claimed otherwise.

Basically, I'd like to know when I've got at least the original studio version (or best live version, if Larry never recorded or released a studio take) of each song. I don't need as many minor variations of each song as Larry saw fit to release.

Making matters worse, from the earliest days of his career Larry was pretty casual about minor details like the names of songs and album lineups. The same song may have different titles on different official releases, and albums got re-released with variant mixes and edits, or even different song lineups, throughout his career. Just because you have all of Larry's albums doesn't mean you've got all the music, if you know what I mean. It may depend which version of each album you have.

I'm not giving up hope of finding this sort of information. I'm also not going to do what I would have done not so long ago and decide to start compiling it myself. I came in late to the Larry Norman party, only really taking an interest in the wake of news coverage about his death. I'll leave the serious research projects to the guys - and let's face it, they will be guys - who have spent years poring over the intimate details of Larry Norman's recorded output.

Enough rambling. Here's another picture from our our recent church-sponsored afternoon of trap shooting.

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