Let’s Look at the Record: Jesus Christ Superstar


This is the US cover to the original recording of the rock opera that kicked off the careers of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice and boy howdy did I listen to this.

My father was heavy into opera, an interest I made some game attempts to share, but which didn’t take. But he also had this “rock opera” and this one I liked. Maybe it was that it was in English. Maybe it was that it was more like music I was familiar with (even if it’s heavy on the screaming early 70s rock). Maybe it’s the fact that it’s so damn catchy, but this grabbed me and held on.

I can remember many a day sitting on the floor, listening to this double album with big 70s headphones on, eating beef-o-ghettis, doing Star Wars or Peanuts jigsaw puzzles. There was a skip at one point that I still mentally hear to this day: “It’s what he told us you would do / I wonder how he knew–ew–ew–ew…” And I mentally hear it because I know every single word to this musical. Honestly. I can sing the whole thing from start to finish (I often get Herod’s verses out of order, though.) The Crucifixion always scared me (it could seriously double as a track from the Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House), and I usually just stopped after the actual “Jesus Christ Superstar” song.

My family’s love for JCS extended to other Webber/Rice jams. While watching the Tony awards on TV one year (this was before they all went to musical versions of movies) we found out about their newest collaboration, Evita, and within days we owned a copy of that. I enjoyed that one as well, though I don’t know nearly as much of it by heart. When they released Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat that was also a favorite.

For each of these the first versions I heard are the definitive versions for me. In the case of JCS, I’ve seen the movie version and I’ve seen a live performance, and I’ve heard some of the other productions, but none of them sound as good to me as this one. I’ve never bothered with anything but the original cast recording of Evita. As for Joseph, whatever album we had was nearly impossible to find on CD, as that one became very popular in the US and every single recording was all Buh-ROADWAY!!!, each one more absurd than the last, to the point where I now believe all you hear on a recording of Joseph is someone like French Stewart shrieking while elephants ride unicycles around a fountain and fireworks spell out “D-R-E-A-M”.

Webber and Rice and I soon parted ways after that. I never got into Starlight Express, Cats, Phantom of the Opera, or Chess, or any other bits of their respective catalogs, and out of all of it the only one I’m really interested in hearing is Chess. Nor did my love of their three collaborations engender a long love of either opera or just plain musical theater; few other works of this type interested me. I don’t know why these three and no others did the trick.

Out of the three, Jesus Christ Superstar is the one that’s stuck with me the most, which is explained by and explains the fact that I have it all solidly committed to memory. Back when I believed I might be a Thoughtful Christian instead of a Failed one, I thought I liked the treatment of the New Testament it provided, but these days I couldn’t care less about any of that and still enjoy it, which indicates to me that all along it was just the music and lyrics doing all the heavy lifting. Originally this entry was going to be about Joseph, as I thought of it this weekend, which inspired me to post, but I realized that if I was going that way, JCS was the real star of the show here. It’s strange that something which was so huge for me at such a formative age should also be a dead end in my mental landscape (I’m the only person who was 14 in 1982 who has never listened to The Wall all the way through) but there you go.

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