There’s a recurring debate about who the first Christian rocker was. It’s very often touted that Larry Norman was the “godfather of Christian rock.” And if we mean by that that he was the first artist to really capture the essence of the genre with a wide influence, you’d have a pretty decent argument. However, if we’re talking about who was first, it wasn’t him. Not by a long shot.
Larry’s first Gospel album dropped in 1969, after an impactful encounter with the Holy Spirit led him away from a substantial career in famed rock group People! 1969 is certainly early for Gospel rock. However, a whole host of artists were already making beat-style music with Gospel lyrics 3-4 years earlier–especially in Britain: The Overcomers, The Forerunners, The Crossbeats, The Joy Strings, and The Pilgrims to name but a few. Many of these were contemporaries with the Beatles, Beach Boys and other artists of the mid-60s. In fact, the Pilgrims released singles as early as 1962 (by some accounts), a full 7 years before Norman recorded Upon This Rock.
(Now a little side note: if we want the real truth of the matter, the first Christian rocker was also the first rocker–Sister Rosetta Tharpe. But that’s another post for another day.)
Outside of Tharpe, it’s difficult to pinpoint the first Christian rock band, by virtue of the fact there was no such thing as “Christian rock” back then. No industry, no labels, nothing. Rock and roll artists who had faith were simply writing about their experiences and beliefs through the medium that came natural to them–or in other cases, they were Gospel artists improvising and pioneering new techniques in sound and playing styles, especially in the case of Tharpe.
I’ve chosen “Thank You Lord” by The Pilgrims, as it is seasonally appropriate, having just set aside a day for giving thanks. Sure it’s different from the punk, hardcore and emo normally covered on this site, but it’s worth appreciating our roots. If you got no roots, you got no tree. Members of The Pilgrims later joined/formed Out of Darkness, who went in more of a psych rock direction, but are equally worth checking out.