Jesus Christ Superstar

1970: MCA MCAD2-10950

Disc 1:

  1. Overture
  2. Heaven On Their Minds
  3. What’s the Buzz
    Strange Thing Mystifying
  4. Everything’s Alright
  5. This Jesus Must Die
  6. Hosanna
  7. Simon Zealotes
    Poor Jerusalem
  8. Pilate’s Dream
  9. The Temple
  10. Everything’s Alright
  11. I Don’t Know How to Love Him
  12. Damned for All Time
    Blood Money

Disc 2:

  1. The Last Supper
  2. Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)
  3. The Arrest
  4. Peter’s Denial
  5. Pilate and Christ
  6. King Herod’s Song (Try It and See)
  7. Judas’s Death
  8. Trial Before Pilate (Including the 39 Lashes)
  9. Superstar
  10. Crucifixion
  11. John Nineteen Forty-One

An absolutely staggeringly magnificent recording. Honestly I can’t imagine a stage production ever actually living up to this benchmark. Murray Head is especially outstanding as Judas, but the entire album is so stellar that it hardly matters to highlight individual performances.

I’ll expand this “review” sometime with further appreciation of the various tracks, but for the moment I’ll just note that “Simon Zealotes” and “Superstar” are iconically mighty in my musical pantheon, and the latter benefits gloriously from the successive superimposition of “angelic choir,” orchestral might, “soul sister” backup vocals (who WERE those two girls billed as the Trinidad Singers, anyway???), and (like the cherry on top of this huge cake) Murray Head.

“Don’t you get me wrong—only wanna know—”

And, as a former French horn player, Thank You Andrew Lloyd Webber for giving the horns such a fine and concise theme to slam throughout various songs! It kicks ass as the spine of “Simon Zealotes” and gets solid background command in “Superstar.”

Oh, those rapturously beautiful sonic overlaps of “Superstar”’s final stages…triumphal, tragic, mighty, soulful, righteous, explosive—it’s a hell of a combination of musical moods, all piling like a musical bonfire of rapturous focus around Jesus. One needn’t be Christian to appreciate its glorification nor secular to appreciate its diverse roots of expression. This is a track that combines (and maybe unites) disparate assessments of Jesus and gives that moment of combination an unforgettable and mighty form—soul and angel choirs and ringing fanfares all interacting and interlocking like a laser light show.

I have yet to hear a high-profile recording of this music come even close to the excellence of this original one (although I must note that thanks to YouTube I’ve encountered some smaller-scale ones that are faithful, so to speak, among them Swedish and Japanese translations), but I do check new versions out from time to time just in case someone’s gotten it right. However, every version I’ve heard botches the challenge by getting sidetracked with stylistic gimmickry and completely unnecessary additions. If any of them could just let the music speak for itself, we might get a great new take on the artwork…but alas, ’tain’t the case. Consider “Simon Zealotes”—a quick bit of encapsulation of one or two of the “Superstar” themes, with a rejuvenating and thrilling edge both in music and storyline: the 1973 film utilized some good camera work (and a nice bit of special-effects trickery) but diluted the music by extending it for superfluous dance sequences, and the lead vocal was recorded as a relatively calm and intimate solo rather than the exuberant and stage-ready raucous one here…and the 2000 “Millenium” version squandered the music (and played it too slowly to be energizing) on excessive scene-setting which then devolved into Janet Jackson cheerleader-group choreography. And in both of the latter cases the perfectly good as-written music was unforgiveably polluted by gratuitous ornamentation and mediocre vocal filler. Small wonder that the title song itself has yet to be be done better than this original version, if nobody can even get three minutes of “Simon Zealotes” right.