on June 12, 2004
My daughter asked me for a CD of "Jesus Christ Superstar" for her birthday. I explained to her that there is one version that is in a class by itself; the original London Cast version. The elements of the orchestration as well as the quality of the singing add up to an unforgettable performance. The orchestra moves the musical story along with elements of feeling that really adds to the emotion of the "rock opera" and does so with the fullness that a mere stage orchestra cannot match. I have seen the Broadway version twice and I can sing its' praises. However, that was a visual experience and the recording is different. This is the best in the audial experience. The problem with most popular music is that we always seem to focus on a song as being best presented in the way we first heard it. I hope I'm not caught up in that trap with promoting this version. I really feel that there is a special quality to this version.
I guess, for those unfamiliar with the subject matter, a few words about the content would be in order. "Jesus Christ Superstar" is a sort of elongated passion play put to music with new "interpretations" on the original story. A modernized version, if you will,done poetically, thoughtfully and with often challenging results. In that sense, there was a degree of controversy when it came out. However, the "noteriety" was nothing compared to other works such as the play "The Deputy". What the authors seem to be trying to say is that the message of Jesus Christ was so important to the world. Therefore, why did He appear in such a backward place at such an obscure, otherwise-forgotten place in history. "Israel...had no mass communication" was one of the many puzzlements the authers bring out. Most characters go through at least some degree of revision although some of it was intentially done for comic relief. This is NOT "The Passion of Christ" nor is it necessarily an attempt at theological revisionism. Some people will recoil at perceived "heresy" but I suspect most mainstream Christians will find it enjoyable and complementary to their own faith.
on February 12, 2004
Overall I was happy with this recording of one of my favorite musicals. It's basically all there (fans of the movie may be surprised to find "Could We Star Again Please" left out), and the music/singers are pretty much on par with their characters.
I only have a few negative things to say: as for the cast, I had a problem with one of the Pharisees, who was fairly good except for some reason his first note in every line sounded scratchy. I got used to it after a while, but it caught me offguard at first and I kind of smirked at it. The guy's a good singer, I don't want to sound belittling to him at all, just that those first notes always seemed off...
My other problem was that the editor/tracker/whatever must have been poorly paid for this production. Some songs come too soon after the last one as if the cast were rushed. Also, some of the songs don't end before the next track, but rather after the next track begins (for example, "I Don't Know How to Love Him"). I think it was only for three or four songs, but surely some one should have picked up on that before this thing went into market. Tsk tsk!
However, this is the copy I currently own, and its the copy I currently listen too. Its still a good musical.
on August 13, 2011
My brother had an 8 track version of Jesus Christ Superstar that I listened to incessantly. I had forgotten just how much I loved it until making the decision to purchase it as part of my 'turning 50' package. I have been listening to it over and over in my car for the last month, appreciating it anew on a whole new level. What a great piece of storytelling! This is the definitive version, no doubt about it.
This classic rock opera was Webber and Rice's second hit after "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat". Unlike "Joseph" which was originally made for children, "Jesus Chris Superstar" took the controversial subject matter of Jesus Christ, set it to music rich in electric guitars, drums and screeching vocals. But what made it even more daring was the treatment of Judas Iscariot. Considered a selfish traitor by millions, he is seen as a sympathetic character here.
Whatever one thinks of Rice's interpretation of the Gospels, it is Webber's fantastic score that has made this rock-opera such an enduring classic. There really isn't one bad song in the bunch. From the fantastic opening number "Heaven On Their Minds" to the relaxing melody of "Everything's Alright", to the glorious ballad sung by Mary Magdalene "I Don't Know How To Love Him" and the epic "Gethsemane". But the musical goodies don't end there. "What's The Buzz", "Hosanna", "The Last Supper", "Pilate's Dream", "King Herod's Song" and the title track are all catchy and exquisitely performed. Tim Rice's lyrics are also interesting and although sometimes it might seem too campy or on the verge of ridiculousness, it all comes together successfully. Interestingly enough, this album topped the Billboard Album Charts in the early 70's.
The performances on this CD are solid. Murray Head is good as Judas. There is a lot of emotion in his vocals although at times it appears he is straining a bit. Deep Purple's Ian Gillan turns in a great vocal performance as Jesus and possessed a voice that was perfectly suited for such an iconic role. Like Head, Gillan's voice is hard-core, screeching notes at the top of his range but tones it down for the more mellow moments of the score. One of the CD's highlights is the emotionally charged confrontation between Judas and Jesus during "The Last Supper". "Gethsemane" soon follows and it is one of the best renditions of this great song on record. Several of these songs, in typical Webber fashion, cover an enormous range. Both Gillan and Head are required to sing notes at the top of their vocal registers, and since "Jesus Chris Superstar" is not meant to be sung classically, we can forgive these unconventional styles and it set the tone for future recordings (and performances) to come.
The singer with the loveliest voice on this CD is Yvonne Elliman who plays the tormented Mary Magdalene; a part she would later play on film. Elliman's voice is soothing, soulful, extremely pleasing to the ear. Her poignant performance may tug at the heartstrings and is in sharp contrast to the 2 male leads.
Overall, this is a great musical. The entire cast is first-rate. Their impressive hard-as-nails voices are the perfect instruments to tackle Webber's glorious tunes and Rice's clever lyrics. There are many reason why this scandalous rock-opera about the last days of Christ has stood the test of time. Time to listen to it and try to figure this out for yourself. Get it.
on July 13, 2004
I watched the movie before, but this is my first recording of JCSS. I must say that I love it even more so than the movie! This is a stunning rock opera that chronicles the last week (or few days... I'm not sure) of Jesus Christs' life. You see the story through the eyes of Judas (Murray Head), the tortured friend of Jesus who can't seem to understand why Jesus does things the way he does. Won't people start talking if he hangs around the dirty whore Mary Magdalene (Yvonne Elliman)? Judas just can't understand Jesus, and he feels that maybe Jesus is not the man he thought he might be. Why is Jesus saying things like he is the Son of God? If he doesn't watch out, trouble will come! I think that Murray Head is a marvelous Judas because he puts so much emotion in the part, and you actually wish you could hug and comfort Judas when he realizes that he has caused the death of Jesus and can't turn things around. He realizes that it was his fate to be the man to turn Jesus over and is tortured with guilt and confusion. "Superstar" sounds fun and is excellent, but it actually examines the deep question of why it was Judas that had his name bloodied and dragged through the mud of history. Ian Gillan plays Jesus, and I prefer him over the man in the movie because Gillan has more compassion in his voice, and it's not as shrill as some actors make it. "Gethsemane" will bring you to tears because it is so beautifully done! Yvonne Elliman has one of the most beautiful rock voices out there and is perfect for the part of Mary. "I don't know how to love him" is perfectly done! Barry Dennen is also the perfect Pilot. You can hear his frustration when he sings, and he is a wonderful voice actor. Mike D'Abo is a much better Herod than the one in the movie. I highly recommend this recording because of how beautiful it is. Get this album!
on April 28, 2004
If I could give this 10 stars, it still would not be able to describe how amazing, moving and powerful this recording is. Ian Gillan is the ONLY Jesus; do not even attempt to put Ted Neeley in the same galaxy as Ian. As everyone before me has agreed, noone has EVER equaled his performance in Gethsemane. Murray Head's Judas is a complex and tragic character; a victim of God and of fate. I realise that this will rub some of you the wrong way, so I will bring up something in this review that has really stayed with me since I was able to comprehend the sick idea of fate and "God's will". The last words of Judas and Pilate's dream.
Judas' last words:
"My mind is in darkness now! My God... I am sick, I've been used... and you knew all the time!!! My God, I'll never, ever know why you chose me for your crime?! Your foul, bloody crime! You have murdered me! You have murdered me, murdered me, murdered me, murdered me, murdered me, murdered me, murdered me!!!"
In his last moments on Earth, Judas realises that his sole reason for existance, the reason he was born was to betray a man whom he really did love. The same fate with Barry Dennen's Pontius Pilate. If you listen to the last verse of "Pilate's Dream" it sends a chill down your spine:
"Then I saw thousands of millions crying for this man; and then I heard them mentioning my name and leaving me the blame..."
Pilate DID NOT WANT to have Jesus die. He saw that He was innocent; but, God intended Pilate to sentence Jesus to death and even a dream could not change God's will and so, now and forever, Pontius Pilate will be considered the man who killed Jesus. Pretty disturbing if you ask me. I realise that I have probably ruffled alot of feathers or gotten a few proverbial goats. If any one would like to discuss this with me, I would be happy to talk and philosophise with you. My email address is email@example.com and I welcome all people for a friendly discussion. Thank you.
on July 7, 2003
When I mention Jesus Christ Superstar to people who have never listened to it, they tend to have the impression that it is something for religious types, or have visions (thanks to the movie version) of hippies singing and dancing. This is unfortunate, since JCS is a remarkable work. One can argue that this rock opera is not really rock, nor is it really an opera but more of an oratorio. And it is true that late 60's trappings do somewhat date the album, but it does so in an endearing rather than kitschy way.
For years, the original recording and motion picture soundtrack were the only mainstream versions available. Since the 20th anniversary of JCS, a number of new versions have come out, but the original concept album is still the best for a number of reasons.
The vocals are outstanding. Ian Gillan is very good in the title role. His smooth voice projects a calm yet determined personality. There are times, however, that he lacks the emotionalism required, such as his less-than-inspired version of Gethsemane (Ted Neely's movie version is far better in this respect). Murray Head's Judas is wonderful as the antagonist. His rough voice is a counter to Gillan's Jesus, and Head manages to present his character as someone whose rational justification just barely masks a turbulent and troubled personality.
Excellent supporting characters fortify the lead roles. Victor Brox's rich baritone resonates with power in the role of the Machiavellian Caiaphas. Brian Keith, as Annas, compliments Brox, without turning his voice into a forced falsetto, as it often seems to be done these days. The remaining characters, including future disco diva Yvonne Elliman's Mary Magdalene, and Barry Dennen's brooding Pilate, do well to flesh out the story.
The other strong point is the wonderful music. The emphasis is on electric guitar, drums, and keyboard, which firmly ties this version of JCS to the rock genre. Subsequent versions of JCS, particularly the soundtrack, approach the music from an orchestral standpoint, with lots of strings, brass, and woodwinds. This tends to alter JCS from a rock opera (emphasis on rock) to a stage/movie soundtrack. As such, the original version remains quick and sharp rather than being ponderous and heavy.
Finally, the sound quality of the original album is crisp, and it is a joy to pickup the musical and vocal nuances in the recording. I have the original Brown Album, so the remastered version could only be better. If you listen carefully, you can also hear an occasional cough by a castmember.
JCS has become a beloved staple of the stage, and rightfully so. But it is the original concept album that is the definitive version of this great work.
on June 2, 2003
The original recording of Jesus Christ Superstar is by far the best version of this outstanding masterpiece. As a huge fan of JCS, I can say this with sure.
By far the best Jesus is Ian Gillan, of Deep Purple. His voice is rich and powerful, and this production shows him at his best; he sings much better than in Purple. He is outstanding at Simon Zealotes, The Temple, The Last Supper. But his superb performance of Gethsemane is enough to put him in the lead of all Jeasuses. It is the best version of this song, by a long, long shot. This is probably not only the finest Gillan performance, but one of the best vocal performances of modern music. It is sad that he rejected to participate at the film production.
While Gillan is, with no doubt, in the lead of all Jeasuses, the competition of the best Judas is very "tough". The best three roles of Judas are played by Murray Head (in this version), Carl Anderson (in the moovie version) and ... Zvezdomir Keremidchiev "Zvezdi" (in the recent Bulgarian cast). Probably the readers will be sceptical to see the name of unknown (outside Bulgaria) artist, Zvezdi. I was sceptical to his performance, too, but he did one of the best roles of Judas ever!!! Back to Head, he sings amazingly, especially in Heaven on their minds and Judas' death. However, Carl Anderson is better at Damned for all time, and he makes outstanding Heaven on their minds, too. So I think that Murray Head and Carl Anderson are equally great.
Other highlight is Yvonne Elliman, who is the best Marry Magdalene, with no doubt.
This masterpiece is great not only from listening point of view, but it also has deep lyrics by Tim Rice, which suggest a new interpratation of the character of Judas that impressed my a lot.
In conclusion, I highly recommend this recording as the very best rendition of JCS.
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.
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.