on May 12, 2000
Andrew Lloyd Webber's showtunesy, over-orchestrated bombast is nowhere to be found here. This is the original London Concept recording featuring Deep Purple's Ian Gillan as Jesus, and Murray Head's wonderfully anguished (and sometimes downright unsettling) performance as Judas Iscariot. This is not the hippy dippy passion of St. Matthew as told in "Godspell", but rather, much darker, much more intimate, and conveys the story of Christ as a man, who doesn't really want to die.
The incredibly loud orchestra of the stage performance is toned down a bit, showcasing the excellent rock songs that made this album a #1 hit in 1971. I first heard this album when I was about 4 or 5 years old, and still, even today, there's a chill that runs down my back when Judas sings "Heaven on Their Minds" or when Jesus screams "just watch me die!" in "Gethsemane". Not one of the endless movie soundtrack, or broadway versions can hold a candle to this interpretation. It's the only Jesus Christ Superstar one needs to own.
Believe it or not, I first heard "Jesus Christ Superstar" when it was played for us in my freshman English class in high school (I think our student teacher was trying to show he was cool, because there was no assignment to go with spending two days listening to the album). I also remember trying to remember how the theme for the title song went so I could keep it in my mind and thinking that this really was an opera because the two main characters are both dead at the end, certainly a traditional ending in many operas. The controversy over this two-album studio production was like a firestorm and focused on two key issues:
First, there was the uproar that rock music was being used to tell a religious story; you have to remember that this was a time when having a folk mass or service was seen as being cutting-edge radicalism in Christianity. But Andrew Lloyd Webber's music involves much more than rock, although certainly the guitar that opens the "Overture" is a definitive statement. "I Don't Know How to Love Him" is a traditional pop ballad, as Helen Reddy proved with her cover that hit the charts, while "John Nineteen Forty-One" is a classical piece for strings. "King Herod's Song" stands out as one of those stylistic pastiches that Lloyd Webber loves (as we would later see in "Cats" and "Phantom of the Opera"). More importantly, it seems to me that the rock music is used strategically. Certainly Judas has songs that are more rock oriented (e.g., "Heaven on Their Minds," "Damned for All Time") when compared to those for sung by Jesus (e.g., "Gethsemane"), which makes sense in terms of character dynamics. Rock music is also used selectively within songs, most particularly "Everything's Alright," where the pop chorus by Mary Magdalene and the other women finds a dramatic counterpoint in the rock style versus of Judas and Jesus. The whole controversy on this score is certainly moot now because within a few years many denominations offered new liturgies with "modern" music, which certainly did not go as far as rock music, but certainly shifted the music to the 20th century and away from classical music in the mode of Bach.
Second, there was a charge that "Jesus Christ Superstar" presented a secular version of Jesus as man, rather than as divine (a similar charge was leveled against Zefferelli's television mini-series "Jesus of Nazareth"). It is certainly true that Jesus does not perform any miracles during the story being told, but then neither do the Gospels for the last week of the life of Jesus, which is the time frame of this rock opera: It begins Friday night in Bethany and ends pretty much one week later as the body of Jesus is lain in the tomb. Miracles aside, the Tim Rice libretto is as faithful to the Gospels as any other dramatic account of these events I have ever seen, whatever the religious beliefs of Rice and Lloyd Webber. Some took the show to task for ending with the "Crucifixion" rather than the Resurrection, but I find it powerful to ask audiences to make a judgment on the divinity of Jesus on the basis of how he lived and died (Note: I was in production of the show in which we actually did the Ascension at the end as the music ended). I would also point the end music of "John Nineteen Forty-One" and have people go back and pay attention to what lyrics that same music is used for in "Gethsemane" as a way of assessing what is ultimately being emphasized in this rock opera.
Ironically, "Jesus Christ Superstar" created a resurgence of interest in both Jesus and Christianity among youth. The concept album, as it came to be known, was turned into a Broadway show that offered outlandishness that made "Hair" look like a Medieval mystery play. It might be insightful for you to compare the concept album of "Evita" with the Broadway version to ponder what would have happened if someone had enforced a similar revision on "Jesus Christ Superstar" (the production I was in had to find creative ways, such as having banners unfurl with quotations from Scripture, to deal with the problems of songs that fade out). Purely from a listening standpoint my preference remains for the original concept album with Murray Head and Ian Gillian as Judas and Jesus. I know part of this is the residue of the excitement that was generated when this came out, but I happen to thing everything is alright with that.
on March 15, 2000
After thirty years, this is still moving. The performances nothing less than spectacular.
Murray Head as Judas steals the performance, to my mind. The rest of Deep Purple never got from Ian Gillian what Rice and Webber were able to, but maybe portraying Jesus will do that for a Brother. Hearing Yvonne Elliman's positively angellic voice as Mary singing "Everything's Alright" would tempt even a Saint. I cannot recall who portrayed Ciaphas, but the depth of his voice is awsome.
Aside from the great music, the story is much more multi-layered than I recall from Sunday School. The characters, including Jesus himself, seemed to be much more reachable. I remember listening to "I Only Want To Say", and marvelling about whether there was ever any doubt that came with being the Son of God. I saw Judas for the first time as a man who just had to do the things he did, and the disciples not as saints, but men with uncertainties too.
Even if you don't like the fabulous music (I'd bet against it), it is nothing if not thought provoking. One of those attributes alone would suffice. Both make it a great a couple of discs as one could want.
on January 12, 2000
The question is not whether or not you should purchase the soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar, but which recording to get. There are a variety of recordings from which to choose, so do your homework. I wrestled with this issue, but ultimately settled on this remastered recording for a number of reasons. Firstly, the performances are the best of the three that I would include in the set of legitimate possibles (this original cast recording, the movie soundtrack and the 20th anniversary London Cast). Ian Gillian as Jesus and Murray Head and Judas are spectacular. Secondly, they did a great job remastering this recording as the music is crisp and clear--much more so than you would expect from a 25+ year old reel. I weighed the fact that this recording does not have "Can We Start Again, Please", which was added to the score later, against the vibrancy of the performance and decided to go with this one. If you're going to get a recording of the full musical, this is the one to get.
on April 16, 2003
There are musicals, there are operas, and then there is Jesus Christ Superstar.
It is different than anything else you have ever heard, and anything else ever made. It's even different than anything else Andrew Loyd Webber or Tim Rice ever did again. While both of them went on to be famous and produce other respectable pieces, neither of them ever touched the heavans again. This was their moment of truth.
This album represents one of those rare times in history when talent, inspiration and magic clashed in a way that goes beyond music, into politics and into spirituality that affected the entire generation that listened to it.
The lyrics tell a story that we all know, and yet they tell it in such a human way that one cannot help but be drawn into the story on a more personal level. How jaded we become looking at that crucifix at the front of the church and that unknown unknowable God upon it. This album will remove all that, and confront you with a divinity that is reflected in humanity--our awfulness and the beauty we are capable of.
The performances are haunting and raw. Intense. Did I saw raw? So raw, primal and powerful that you will not be able to tolerate any other rendition. These people had to have known what they were doing--had to have known what they had stumbled over, because they give the performances of their lives. Voices that will stay in your head and figure into your thinking about God and mankind, even if you are an atheist.
You will cry at the whips. You will cry as the nails are driven in. You will cry when Judas hangs himself. You will identify with Pontius Pilate's unfathomable rage. You will find yourself laughing at Herod's song, and feeling guilty for it.
There has never been a time since I was a child that I have listened to this album and not been profoundly moved.
on April 27, 2001
In 1970, a young composer still in his 20's named Andrew Lloyd Webber, and his equally young lyricist partner, Tim Rice, had just had their first minor success with their first musical together, "Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," a pleasant-enough show that was originally written for and performed by children (but has long since expanded quite nicely into a family show performed by adults). For their second collaboration together, the duo decided to set their sights much higher and do something VERY bold & daring---a rock opera based upon the last week in the life of Jesus Christ, as seen through the eyes of Judas Iscariot, the Apostle who betrayed Christ. The duo would christen their show, "Jesus Christ Superstar." The concept was certainly a risky one---who, in 1970, would even *dare* to stage such a controversial piece of musical theater? Very aware of this, Lloyd Webber & Rice decided to head into the studio with professional singers & musicians and make an album out of "Superstar" first, and if the album was successful, THEN go ahead with the full-fledged staging of it. As it turned out, the original 1970 album of "Superstar" didn't sell diddly in the duo's homeland of Britain. But in America, it went through the roof, hitting #1 on the pop album charts, and paving the way for the hugely successful run of "Jesus Christ Superstar" on Broadway, sending the rock opera on the road to fame, fortune, and a 1973 feature film. Over 30 years later, "Superstar" still endures in popularity, and is still widely performed somewhere in the world to this day. And it all started here, with the original 1970 "Jesus Christ Superstar" concept album. Just WHAT, exactly, makes the original "Superstar" album---and "Superstar" in general---so good? First of all, the music. It's passionate, powerful, memorable, and it rocks. This is easily the best composing work of Lloyd Webber's long career. It's really too bad he doesn't write rock scores anymore, as I truly believe that that's what he's best at (his late 70's album, "Variations," is another great example). Secondly, the timeless story of Christ and Judas is told here in a truly unique way, anchored by Tim Rice's excellent lyrics. And third, the performances by the original cast and musicians are incredible. Ian Gillian's Jesus & Murray Head's Judas have great emotion to them, and Yvonne Elliman's Mary---including her classic rendition of "I Don't Know How To Love Him"---is quite lovely. Barry Dennen is a very strong presence as Pontius Pilate, as is Victor Brox as the deep-voiced Caiaphas, to name but a few of this stellar cast. The assembled musicians, too numerous to mention, play Lloyd Webber's score with tremendous fire & chemistry. Finally, there's Lloyd Webber & Rice's first-rate production work on the album itself. It's still the best-sounding recording of "Superstar" to date. Granted, "Jesus Christ Superstar" does have it's share of detractors. Back in 1970, the controversy surrounding the show was mostly about the show being "blasphemous" (which it isn't). These days, the non-believers mostly complain about the very *idea* of setting the Bible to rock music, as well as the charge that "Superstar" is a very dated musical, stuck in a 1970 hippie-era time warp. First of all, there's NOTHING wrong with telling Christ's story in a way that's different from the traditional method, and furthermore, many people, especially young people, got turned on to the life & teachings of Jesus *because* of "Jesus Christ Superstar." And as for the so-called "dated" music, obviously somebody likes it, as "Superstar" is still being performed 30 years later! Besides, what's wrong with music that has a 70's vibe to it? If it still appeals to people many years later, it's timeless. And the music in "Superstar" is absolutely timeless. The longlasting popularity of the show greatly attests to that. "Jesus Christ Superstar" may not be for everybody, but for the open-minded & the young at heart (like me), it's a masterwork, a classic rock opera that truly rocks, and will still be enjoyed by many people all over the world many years from now. Do pick up the original 1970 recording of "Superstar" and discover for yourself the power of this legendary musical.
on October 10, 2005
I am a HUGE Jesus Christ Superstar fan and grew up listening to this soundtrack and unfortunatly lost my copy a while back. When going to buy a new one, the only versions at the record store were the Original Movie Cast and the Broadway Revival. Not knowing which to choose I picked the Movie Cast and was disappointed. Although I love the 1973 film, the vocals just don't stand up to the original concept album. The most obvious change to me is in Judas, who is absolutely mesmorizing on this album. I'm not totally sorry I purchased the movie album, it contains the song "Could We Start Again Please?" which I've always loved, but I knew I had to buy the concept album. If you're confused about which version to purchase, look no further, the performances on this are awe-inspiring and worth every penny.
on January 29, 2002
I was only two years old when,in 1970, my parents purchased this album and played it non stop for several years until I had memorized every word and note--so to say this soundtrack has had an enormous influence on me would be an understatement.(I can still remember my father performing Harod's song in his pajamas and bathrobe on a Saturday morning.) So for me to be impartial in my review--well, it's just not going to happen. So you can take this for what it's worth
Growing up, I listened over and over to this album (not to mention reading and re-reading the lyric book that came with it) until I left home as a teenager. I left it behind with all the other stuff from childhood (think Garfield the cat )and never really regretted it because surely it meant so much to me at the time because I was just a kid.
Recently, at the age of 33 (yikes) I came across it again and I was floored by the power of the recording. Not only was it as I remembered-- but as an adult I appreciated it on an even deeper level.
Is it 70's corny? I don't think so...okay, so I think I heard an organ in the mix and those saxes do get funky but in my opinion it's a classic. It's no more dated than the Door's 'Light My Fire' or Aerosmith's 'Dream On'. (Which if you feel are dated then feel free to disregard this review entirely and by the way does your mother know you're on the computer?).
How does the Original Recording compare with the movie soundtrack and the newer 20th Anniv. recording? I've listened to several selections of both of the other recordings. While I liked the Anniv. recording better than the Movie soundtrack(and believe me I loved watching the movie too),EVEN SO...no contest. Its the Original Recording all the way. Gillan's and Head's clean performances accompanied by a much fuller and richer score win hands down. Noticably absent are the vibratoes and empty flourishes that annoyed me in the other two recordings--instead Gillian and Head deliver their character's emotions to you in a powerful full-on assault.
Murray Head, as Judas, has one of the most charasmatic voices I have ever heard. Why he wasn't a mega rock star ala Rod Stewart I don't know (Does the song "One Night In Bancok" count?). The closest (inadequate) description of his voice that I can give you is that it's as if you combined Stewart's voice with Peter Gabriel's and then crammed the result so full of resentment, hurt and self hatred that each note the voice delivers seems about to crack apart over your head (no pun intended). A good example of Head's virtuosity comes at the end of "Heaven on Their Minds" when he twist's what would typically be a rock singer's scream into a beautifully realized facsimile of agonized sobbing.
Ian Gillan is in his own catagory of good. One word. GETHSEMANE. I am not a crier...I hated the end of Titanic because I saw it as manipulative drivel...yet his rendition of this song still makes me cry. From the anger and dispair as he launches out the scream "Why should I die?/..." to the utter bone deep emotional weariness of "Then I was inspired/ Now I'm sad and tired." Ian Gillian grabs you around the heart and holds you-- not shaking you loose until the last note of "Kill me/ Take me now/ Before I change my mind" dies off.
Add to these two, a phenomenal Pilot (Barry Dennen) whose voice is a menacing slithery drawl that facinates me; Mike D'Abo...the original and, in my opinion, the best Herod; and a Caiphus who has been imitated but not surpassed and I think the choice is clear...Buy the Original Cast album and download "Could We Start Again Please" (like I did).
on August 1, 2002
I have been a fan of this rock opera since early childhood. Of the numerous recordings of this classic masterpiece this 1970 original edition with Ian Gillan in the lead is still without doubt the best. Having heard several other recordings and seen the show live twice I can also highly recomend of the many versions, the 1996 Steve Balsamo production and the new stage production with Glen Carter in the lead.
However due to the sheer power of Ian Gillan and in my opinion the even greater voice of Murray Head as Judas, with Yvonne Ellimans exceptionl Mary Magdalene And Barry Dennen as Pilot (both of who were the most compelling parts in the original 74 Motion Picture that suffered from the lack of Gillan and Head in its cast) this has to remain the most enjoyable and superbly crafted version EVER! and will probably never be topped.
The cast do not just give you the enjoyment of great voices but like a true opera their voices act out the parts of this story conjuring up a great mental scene.
What more can I say other than - Simply the best of all JCS Recordings available.
on October 19, 2004
This album introduced many of us oldsters to Weber-Rice in general and the masterpiece of "Jesus Christ Superstar" in particular. The album was many things to us in 1971: dark, brooding, profoundly moving and religiously subversive all at once. Just the thing to challenge a generation emerging -- in the wake of the Vatican II reforms -- from centuries of rigid, unimaginative and uninspiring religious teaching. During the early 1970s, works like JCS became the unofficial replacements for the thought of Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine.
JCS represents a somewhat blind groping for something relevant and vital in the Jesus story. At the time, some in Christian circles were certain that there was something to Jesus that had eluded us. We instinctively rejected the notion that our loving Savior was a distant, cold and heartless judge. Listening to JCS helped us to rehabilitate a Jesus who was more human, who got tired and brooded and lashed out. This is hardly a new image. The Gospel of Mark also portrays Christ as emotional and vulnerable.
For all our belief in its subversiveness, JCS follows the gospels rather closely. We get the same cast of gospel characters: clueless disciples, reactionary Jewish leaders, elitist Romans and devoted women. Jesus is a pious, miracle-working popular "superstar" who runs afoul of Temple and secular authorities after causing a disturbance in the Temple. He is captured, tried and executed by crucifixion. The main departure from the gospels is the sympathetic portrayal of Judas, a man who admires Jesus but can't understand (and fears) others' feeling that Jesus is divine. In many ways, Judas is a stand-in for contemporary listeners who can't grasp Jesus's otherness. The album ends with the death of Jesus. For its time, this was a daring departure from the gospels, continuing the work's agnostic stance toward the divinity of Christ.
Artistically, this album is a masterpiece. The orchestral arrangements and performance are complex without being inaccessible. The singing has depth, range and broad emotion without being sappy -- mostly due Deep Purple's Ian Gillan's brilliant performance as Jesus. Murray Head as Judas is as good as it gets, alternately raging, self-pitying and cockily assured. Yvonne Elliman's Mary Magdalene is notable, though her whiny delivery (though not nearly as bad as in the movie!) can be grating.
Theologically, of course, believers will have a bone to pick with the creators. On the other hand, the album lets us decide about Christ on our own. It presents the facts (mostly) and lets us make our own conclusions. Just like the first disciples.