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Various Artists (Concept albums & Themed compilations) - Jesus Christ Superstar CD (album) cover


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Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
5 stars Everything's alright

It is fair to say that Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's ambitions were always to succeed in the stage musical arena. On their way to that success though, they created what is undoubtedly one of the finest rock opera albums of all time. Released in 1970, this studio recording of Jesus Christ Superstar formed the original version of the work, preceding the stage show by at least a couple of years.

A quick look at the list of musicians who perform here will demonstrate that this was a huge project, which captured the imagination of many of the stars of the day. The part of Jesus is undertaken by Deep Purple's Ian Gillan, who gives his finest performance outside the confines of that band. Among the many other notable singers are a young Yvonne Elliman, Mike D'Arbo, Murray Head and even Gary Glitter (before he became Gary Gilitter). On the musicians side, we have a plethora of distinguished artists including Henry McCulloch, Blue Weaver, Chris Spedding and Kenny Wheeler.

The album describes the events leading up to and including the crucifixion of Christ. The viewpoint is largely impartial; although this is a religiously themed album it is not Christian rock. Gillan's portrayal of Christ vividly describes his vulnerability and uncertainty about the path he is on. The Gethsemene soliloquy is particularly moving, with Gillan's characteristic screams seeming entirely appropriate as he cries Alright I'll die.. nail me to your cross and break me.

The real strength of this album though is in the quality of the music. While some themes are reverted to at various points, they are adapted and transformed to fit the mood required. The melodies are strong, the arrangements bringing out their power and emotion to the full. While there is a clear intent that the music will ultimately form the soundtrack to a stage show, that does not compromise the rock foundations on which the album is built. Although for obvious reasons this is primarily a vocal piece, the album includes some fine, if often overlooked guitar work and other instrumental passages.

Jesus Christ superstar was not the first rock opera. It may however just be the finest rock opera ever recorded. Even today, bands such as Ayreon are clearly influenced and inspired by the creativity and originality which was first seen with the release of this album.

A landmark recording, and a highly enjoyable album too.

Report this review (#173064)
Posted Thursday, June 5, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars Well, first I have to say that I`m not a Fan of Musical Theatre works. In fact, I despised some of the Musicals. I also have to say that I saw this work done by an unknown theatrical company, in 2003, without paying a ticket because it was a free presentation. I also saw last year "Victor Victoria" with a "courtesy ticket" because the girlfriend of one of my brothers works promoting theatrical works. This last time I saw "Victor Victoria" with first level actors, actresses, dancers, and a very good orchestra. It made me appreciate how much hard work is behind the presentation of this kind of works. So, I don`t despise them, but I`m not a fan of them, still after seeing them live.

Well, this release has a very impressive list of very good Rock musicians, like Ian Gillan, John Gustafson, the members of the "Grease Band" (which were part of Joe Cocker`s touring band), etc. It seems that Rice and Webber really spent a lot of money trying to give a lot of credibility to their Rock Opera in 1970! Well, I also have to say that I think that I only listened once to this release a very long time ago, so my commentaries are not exclusively in reference to this release, but mostly are in reference to the content of the music and lyrics. I saw the Film too, once or twice. I really laughed sometimes seeing this kind of semi- Hippie Rock Opera. But something changed my mind in late June 2003:

In those days, one of my brothers, who is a guitarist and who has a friend who plays the keyboards (very well too), phoned me asking me to go for a a chat with them, so I went to see them. They told me that a theatrical company, which were using backing tapes then, asked them to learn some songs from "Jesus Christ Superstar" to gradually help the company to substitute the backing tapes and with the band later to learn to play the whole Rock Opera live! I laughed a bit, and I said: "Well, why not? How much they pay?" We had only a month to learn those nine or ten songs. They gave us some cassettes of the Spanish version of this theatrical work. The keyboard player called one of his friends to play the bass. But the "formal rehearsals" with the band started badly because everybody had day jobs and family obligations, so for two days I was the only one who appeared at the place (my brother`s house) for rehearsals. I listened to the tape several times. I even played the drums along the musical pieces, and... I found that it really wasn`t very easy to play this kind of music! The songs have several changes in time signatures, heavy orchestral arrangements, etc. We were only a quartet to play all these orchestral arrangements! So, I started to have doubts about learning the material in just one month, with that month including rehearsals with the whole theatrical company! I realized then that it wasn`t as easy as we thought, and with the lack of time for rehearsals due to other obligations, even if I found the lyrics with the musical notes for the songs in some JSC Fans`s websites, I said to them that we needed more time and compromise to play the work properly and better organization with the teatrical company, so I finally said "I`m not going to play it if there is not enough time to rehearse it properly". The other three musicians realized that too, so they also say "No", and I really realized then that they were not very much motivated to play the "Jesus Christ Superstar" Rock Opera because they really didn`t like it!

After this long paragraph, the conclusion is that this Rock Opera really has very interesing music, very well constructed, with very good orchestral arrangements, variable time signatures, etc. I could call some of these arrangements as "Progressive". So, I don`t despise anymore this theatrical work. I really don`t like the film and some parts of the music, but this kind of works really represent a hard work for everybody involved in the proper presentation to the public.

Report this review (#173282)
Posted Sunday, June 8, 2008 | Review Permalink
Chris S
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This is one of the earliest progressive rock opera ' Musicals' released and may well have been Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's first contribution. A very solid double album which is continuous play throughout each side to it's end on 'John 19:41'. The album opens with the highlight song IMO being ' Overture' sung by Murray Head who plays Judas Iscariot. There is an array of fine artists contributing to vocals on Jesus Christ Superstar, namely Ian Gillan, Murray Head, Yvonne Elliman ( what has happened to her?), and other names such as being Chris Spedding lending musical input. The story of Jesus Christ and his impending downfall is well delivered in this fine rock opera musical. A rock opera release when the flower power scene was still alive and the older generation frowned on this hippie like rendition of the scriptures. Thankfully this great work was embraced by the majority and it holds up well with a strong cult following the this present day.

Yvonne Elliman singing ' I don't know how to love him' is an extraordinary affirmation of love for Jesus. Probably better conveyed in this medium too. Other great excerpts are ' Pilates Dream', The Last Supper' , ' Gethsemane and 'Judas's death'. A much praised and sadly sometimes overlooked classic from 1970. But if you like the idea of a progressive musical' as a concept then I can think of no better way than starting with Jesus Christ Superstar. Excellent material and highly recommended.

Report this review (#173425)
Posted Tuesday, June 10, 2008 | Review Permalink
Easy Money
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars This album tends to get very positive reviews from people who love classic progressive rock concept albums and 'rock operas', and for good reason. Superstar does have a lot in common with albums like Tommy and Foxtrot, but there is one important difference; this isn't really a rock album, it's a musical based on rock and there is a difference. Just as in any other musical, the emphasis in Superstar is on the vocals and the story they are telling. Although the vocal/band mix is occaissonally rock-like, usually the vocals are a bit louder which is what you would expect in a musical. Also, don't expect any jam sessions, guitar solos or drum solos ... OK, nobody misses the drum solo.

Rice and Weber are no slouches and their lyrics and music on here are top notch, but I don't know if very much of this really sounds like progressive rock. Instead the musical styles range from 70s sophisticated pop, Vegas style funky RnB and those type of dramatic melodies that are typical for musicals. There is this one cool acid rock riff that comes around now and again and when Ian Gillian goes of on it it sounds like an outtake from Deep Purple's In Rock album.

If you are interested in a progressive rock influenced musical with a very insightful and dramatic look at the last days of Jesus then you cannot get better than this, but keep in mind this album is very much a product of it's time. It's so hippie it drives a patchouli powered VW bus with hemp curtains and a strawberry flavored waterbed in back, which is a good thing of course.

Report this review (#176351)
Posted Tuesday, July 8, 2008 | Review Permalink
The T
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars I didn't know this recording was listed here in ProgArchives, but now that I've seen a review of it, I just feel the need to say a few words about this masterpiece that has been a favorite of mine for a long, long time!

I'm not a big musical-theater fan. In general, I'm not a big fan of music created for stage purposes. Even in what we wrongly call "Classical" music, I only like a few Operas. In Broadway-style musicals, I've never been a fan of the work of the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein or Stephen Sondheim (even though I love his collaboration with Leonard Bernstein in "West Side Story"). As for Andrew Lloyd Webber, he's always been the one out of the "big three" whose music I've liked the most. I can tolerate "Evita" (though only to a certain degree), I can enjoy (and at times, a lot) his work in "The Phantom of the Opera", and I can usually listen to his music with less problems than I have with that of his peers.

But when it comes down to his first masterpiece, this original re-creation of the passion of Jesus told from Judas' perspective, I have quite a different view of things, and just a few words would suffice: "Jesus Christ Superstar" is the greatest rock-opera of all time, bar none. Period. And this, the original recording of the play, is without doubt the best.

I just heard this recording a few months ago. I had heard other recordings of "Superstar" long ago, including the legendary one by the original London cast with Paul Nicholas as Jesus, and another one with Alice Cooper as Herod (?!?) When I learned that the original album was more rock-oriented than its stage-centered successors, I rushed to my online store and bought the CD. I put it on my player, and enjoyed every single minute of it.

Gillian as Jesus is just fantastic, the best Jesus of them all. His rock-persona shines though the music, with a power but also a conviction (as reflected in "Gethsemane") that few have had after him. Murray Head is a fantastic Judas, and all the rest of the cast are excellent in their respective roles. Regarding the music, as I mentioned earlier, this time around things were more rock-oriented: melodies, rhythms, the style of playing, the riffs, everything sounds more like a true rock-opera album than a NY's Broadway or London's West End production recorded in a disc.

But the glory of this music is here, and in even higher amounts. The fantastic melodies, the incredible catchiness and beauty of the tunes, the contrasts between characters, the use of fixed themes for the most important of them, the energy and the passion, the sadness and the melancholy, all is highlighted by a group of skilled musicians that, together with an impressive cast, present Lloyd-Webber's masterpiece as none has done afterwards. That this album even managed to get huge sales and score in the charts is just an afterthought, or maybe another example of how much more-refined people's taste was back then. Anyway, this is a fantastic work, and all fans of good music should give it a try.

As for the religious content, don't be afraid. This is actually quite a rational view of things, without any of the "preachiness" of "religious" rock music. This is a pagan, more intelligent tale, where Jesus is allowed to be a man and Judas raises some good questions. But believe me, the music and some melodies are so beautiful, that for an instant even unbelievers will feel a higher presence.

I did. And I know whose presence it was: the presence of good music, great art.

Report this review (#176359)
Posted Tuesday, July 8, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars I don't know how to love him...

Andrew Lloyd Webber's famous Jesus Christ Superstar. And possibly my favorite of all his work. This is a rock opera, and a solid one. With Guest Ian Gillian as Jesus. The songs tell the story of Jesus before Jerusalem, to his Crucifixion. The album isn't religious, either. IT tells the story as if Jesus were a normal man, and as Judas being a normal man. I prefer this, actually. Some of you might not.

The songs are piano, rock guitar, and vocally driven. With recurring elements, and an (understandably) over the top Broadway feel. From the hard rocking of Heaven on their minds, to the emotive I don't know how to love him, Jesus, Judas and Mary are all brilliant in their vocal delivery. The lyrics are well done, and the compositions are strong. Some of the songs will feel a bit bare, though. And some of the melodies are questionable, but an overall loving affair. If your religious convictions are of a certain manner, this album might not appeal to you, but I ask that you be open minded, because this is an overall rewarding album.

Four stars.

Report this review (#210843)
Posted Thursday, April 9, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars When I was a child I saw late on TV the movie version of JCS. It came deep on my mind and never really got back. Although I'm not a Christian I have a solid interest in the Christian movement (even to defend myself for the most radical ones) and particularly in the study of the origins of Christianity. And If I had to present to a regular guy (a normal one, who can't stand to philosophy, theology and Hystory of Religions) a balanced, single view of what the fantastic work of the criticism in Christian Theology has produced I'd show them Jesus Christ Superstar.

This is a work with a thesis behind it, and a good one. If there was a Jesus what he felt as a human person when confronted to death? What is friendship, loyalty, kindness, love all about? The Jesus Semynar in the 0's tried to answer some of these questions, concerning to what they called at the time the "historical Jesus". And this piece talks about it too. Of course the work is idiosincratic when presents the full story by Judas' point of view, but Tim Rice's lyrics are so good that I can believe that even an evangelical christian could be hypnotized by their power.

And the music? Ah, solid r' n' r 70's style. Of course the pieces are vocal-oriented, but the fantastic Overture shows to us all the power of this opera. A rock opera in full sense.

The original studio version is by far the best one. From this group only Yvonne Elliman and her sweet-so-sweet Mary Magdalene can be viewed on the screen, what is a pity. I really like the artists that appeared in the movie and the Carl Anderson' Judas is by far the greatest movie competitor to the studio cast' roles. But here you have a young Ian Gillan. In Rock phase, and it summarizes the power of this record.

This work isn't in any way prog rock. It's a rock musical, probably the greatest. Better than Tommy. Better than The Wall - studio. But not prog rock IMO. So with my heart trespassed I can't give more than 3 stars to this record, a piece that holds a special place in my heart and will never grow old on me. At least for one time Andrew Lloyd Webber hit the point!

Report this review (#218113)
Posted Sunday, May 24, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars The last reviewer, moodyxadi, summarized how I think about this album, about it having a strong theological thesis behind it. I even would go as far as proposing it for study in schools, to start some debate about Christianity and how it isn't dead and celestial, but it's also down-to earth and applicable to life. It sure got me interested, because after discovering the album I started reading the bible with a new perspective. Whenever I hear a reading of the passion of Christ, I start playing the corresponding song in my head! It has made such a strong impact in my life, that I consider it one of the top 5 if not my favourite album of all time. I remember I discovered the album around the same time that Mel Gibson's Passion of Christ was the "hottest" movie around and I thought that this record was superior in so many ways.

As others have remarked, the music is very vocal-oriented (since it's an opera) and is also quite diverse. The whole album flows nicely, but it has some stronger parts. The beginning combo of Overture and Heaven on Their Minds is very strong, revolving around an instantly recognizable guitar riff. Another high point is the songs Simon Zealotes/Poor Jersusalem and Pilate's dream, since they share a melodic theme which is very nice. The Temple has nice riffing with good rhythm.

The pinnacle of the album, IMO is The Last Supper and Gethsemane. The first one because is a full-blown prog song with many well-done changes in mood and structure. The second one because of Gillan's performance, which makes me feel the pain that the historical Jesus would have felt facing his imminent death. Side Four is also quite good, with the reprise of the Overture and the theological pop-funk of Superstar.

One thing that I've noticed is that some melodies and chord progressions of this album are the same as some gospel songs that I've heard in church. I don't know who copied who, but I'm sure this album was influenced by and influenced many works that are considered progressive. I don't think Jesus Christ Superstar is overtly progressive per se but, I'm going to look past that and give it five stars (I would give it four stars being this a prog site).

Report this review (#230739)
Posted Sunday, August 9, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Jesus Christ Superstar is an absolutely phenomenal and groundbreaking rock opera. Andrew Lloyd Webber's third show is just spectacular. A true Rock Opera in every sense, the album gives a very interesting perspective on Christ and grabbed my interest even though I am not religious in the slightest. It depicts Jesus as a man, where he is usually shown as a sort of god, and it shows the struggles of biblical characters.

Although the story is excellent, the music is the best part of the album. The album is an endless flow of various emotions, catchy tunes and overall great music. My personal favourite songs are "The Temple" and "The Last Supper" but you can't go wrong listening to this album.

I have been listening to Jesus Christ Superstar almost non-stop for the past week and have no intentions of stopping, truly an incredible album.

Report this review (#254814)
Posted Monday, December 7, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Not the first rock opera ever, and not the last but...Possibly the best rock opera ever made (sorry Tommy). This work has not a dull moment or a poor performance. Ian Gillian and Murray Head make this a pleasure to listen to. Their voices seem tailor made for Jesus Christ and Judas Iscariot. I have heard some other stage and movie versions of this but none hold a candle to the original and best. There are some over-the-top perfectly wonderful tracks such as "Heaven on their Minds" and "Trial Before Pilate", but they only stand out from the rest barely- the rest is excellent. I have had a love affair with this album since I was a youngster, and still play it at least once a month. AND still sing along! 5 stars.
Report this review (#282524)
Posted Tuesday, May 18, 2010 | Review Permalink
Errors & Omissions Team
5 stars Jesus Christ Superstar, the album, is one of the most intense pieces of work released in the music history!

Written by Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) & Tim Rice (lyrics) the first and original release of the Rock opera was in 1970 and had Ian Gillan as Jesus Christ.

The album is divided in two Acts and it was a double LP when themes and history are linked in a perfect and sensational way. All the way through the first album you have the constant 'battle' between Jesus and Judas (played by Murray Head). In fact, this album, as Tim Rice mentioned in interviews, is the vision of Judas on the whole thing.

'Heaven On Their Minds' is the perfect track here. 'This Jesus Must Die' is one of my favorites with the conversation between the high priests and especially the different vocals of Caiaphas (Victor Brox) and Ananias (Brian Keith).

Also have to mention 'Pilates Dream' where Pontius Pilate (Barry Dennen) talks about the dream he had. In 'The Temple' all the hell break loose on Chris attitude. To finish the first album we have 'Damned For All Time/Blood Money' where once again we have the pleasure to listen Judas, what a great voice.

In the secon act we have the final part full of suffer. 'The Last Supper', 'Gethsemane', 'The Arrest', 'Peter's Denial' tell the story of Christ going down betrayed by Judas Kiss.

'King Herods Song' is a bit different from the rest, cabaret, rock and roll, queer.

When 'Judas' Death' comes around we all know what it means. We still have 'Superstar' where Judas question many things and finally 'Crucifiction' and 'John Nineteen Forty-One' closing the whole thing,

From the first time I heard this album I was pretty much obsessed with it and still am. One of the greatest works in modern music.

Report this review (#476227)
Posted Tuesday, July 5, 2011 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
4 stars Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid - John 19:41.

One of the first prog rock operas is also one of the greatest with stirring vocal performances all round and stunning musicianship. It captures an early 70s sound and features some of the best vocalists at the time. Although there have been many versions over the years the 1970 version is the most progressive utilising prog artists and very progressive music. Murray Head is a fabulous presence as Judas Iscariot and the unmistakeable rasping vocals of Ian Gillan are incredible as Jesus Christ. Yvonne Elliman is beautiful as Mary Magdalene on songs such as the memorable melodic 'Everything's Alright'.

Other artists featuring including Victor Brox as Caiaphas, Brian Keith as Annas, John Gustafson as Simon Zealotes, and Barry Dennen as Pontius Pilate. The appearance of Paul Raven, better known as glam rocker Gary Glitter, as the Priest is an iconic performance.

There is a story that is followed based on the Biblical gospels, where Jesus healed and taught the thousands and led his 12 disciples changing the world. The album captures some of the Bible and it climaxes with the trial of Christ and subsequent crucifixion.

There are some fantastic performances throughout. The 'Overture' is majestic opener mixing orchestrating strings with prog rock time sig changes and riffing guitars. This along with 'Heaven on their Minds' is a titanic start with awesome guitar riffs, and powerhouse vocals from Murray Head. 'Whats the buzz' ("tell me what's happening") is a song about people wanting to know about the future. "Why should you want to know, why are you obsessed with fighting?" The style reminds me of "Hair" that came out around the same time.

This is followed by 'Strange Thing Happening' which is a moderate song with eclectic heavy guitar and a strong progressive time change. The musical arrangements are compelling and there is never a dull moment on the album. 'Simon Zealotes/Poor Jerusalem' is a rocking brassy piece with accomplished harmonies in the chorus. It segues straight into the acoustically driven dreamy 'Pilate's Dream'. The Ian Gillan led 'The Temple' is a definitive highlight. There are many time sig shifts and Gillan screaming up a storm make this one to seek out for Deep Purple fans. By this time the album has hooked me in and I am drawn to the well known story of Christ's 3 year

One of the showstoppers is Elliman's version of 'I Don't know How To Love Him', a song which has become a stage standout every time the opera is performed. Her voice is easier to take than Helen Reddy or others that followed in endless cover versions. Andrew Lloyd Webber's arrangement is nothing short of genius and he has made a name for himself with these types of rock operas.

'Damned for all time' features an excellent fuzz guitar intro and chiming flutes. It breaks into a fast tempo with tons of brass and Murray Head's emotional vocals. Chris Mercer's tenor sax on this is divine and the way that the time sig breaks with various parts montaging together to tell a potent part of the story on 'Blood Money'. The music gets darker in this number segueing into the awesome powerful 'The Last Supper' where Judas betrays Jesus. Ian Gillan is towering on this and 'Gethsemane ( I Only Want To Say)', better than Ted Neeley replacing him in the movie version, and he sings beautifully phrases such as "I want to know, why should I die, can you show me now that I should not be killed in vain, see how I die." As Jesus contemplates this and weeps blood in the garden the Romans are on their way and Judas betrays Christ with a kiss.

'The Arrest/ Peter's Denial' leads to the terrific duet between Gillan and Dennen on 'Pilate and Christ'. The slow measured dramatic music is dominated by electric organ and woodwind. This is followed by a humorous piece sung by Mike d'Abo, the quasi-rocking 40s throwback 'King Herod's Song'. It sounds like the Chicago show tune 'Mr Cellophane' and features serious content but sung in a jester-like manner; "aren't you scared of me Christ, mr. wonderful Christ, you're a joke you're not the Lord, take him away he's got nothing to say, get out you king of the Jews." Not a bad version but Alice Cooper performed an incredible version of this in 1996.

This leads to the rock out guitar heavy 'Judas Death, then the ominous 'Trial Before Pilate (Including the 39 Lashes)', the well known radio favourite 'Superstar' and finally the apocalyptic sounds of 'Crucifixion'. 'Superstar' was famous and certainly is recognizable on all versions of the rock opera. The chorus have a commanding harmony and lift the music to a crescendo. It is a stirring song that has an infectious chorus. The closer of the album is 'John 19:41' which ends it on a powerful uplifting note. This is an amazing rock opera akin to "Tommy" and never preaches but simply presents incredible music to the greatest story ever told.

Report this review (#603324)
Posted Thursday, January 5, 2012 | Review Permalink
Prog Sothoth
Prog Metal Team
4 stars Good Lord, this rock opera is seriously good.

First of all, it's not some cold sermon or a wrathful warning. Jesus is actually quite the dude in this particular gospel, and man can that dude sing. Voiced by the amazing Ian Gillian, Jesus lets it rip during "The Temple" in grand fashion, and his singing in "Gethsemane" is almost as otherworldly as the Man himself. The album's storyline doesn't divulge in miracles and resurrections, giving the musical a more universal appeal that parallels and sympathizes with the sort of anti-authority vibes of the year this recording was released. Jesus wasn't a war-hungry, wealthy lad with a crewcut; he was quite the opposite, and this album displays that important aspect quite well.

Musically it's rock & pop music with a ton of orchestration in the mix, and a far different beast than the previous year's big rock opera offering, Tommy. Whereas The Who's album was very much a rock album with a storyline, Rice & Webber's creation here leans far more towards a more orchestral based musical while still retaining enough rock elements to separate it from the Thoroughly Modern Millie crowd. The production also pushes the vocals rather up front in the mix to emphasize the importance of the narrative, which is fine since the singing by all performers is generally superb, but consequently some of the rock pieces feel a bit neutered by not having the guitars or drums engineered with a bit more volume.

Song-wise, there's a number of showstoppers, in particular the title track, which initially had some fundamentalists more than a bit peeved, as well as the calculated AM Gold classic "I Don't Know How To Love Him", in which by not stating Jesus by name in the lyrics, the song becomes a sort of stand-alone love ballad that sits comfortably between Linda Ronstadt's early solo material and Carole King. My personal favorite tunes are "Heaven On Their Minds", boasting Murray's passionate delivery and elevating the character of Judas with a tragic and uncommonly sympathetic aura, and the ultra groovy & funky "Simon Zealotes/Poor Jerusalem". The variety of musical styles is appreciative as well, from rockers to folk numbers to swingy jazzy tracks like "Everything's Alright", and I would like to give a shout out to Victor Brox, whose introduction in "This Jesus Must Die" scared the crap out of me as a young bugger when I first heard his super low octave & menacing pipes.

There will be those that avoid this because they believe it to be preachy. There will also be those who avoid this because they believe it to be blasphemy. It's really neither, so enjoy the grooves & great vocals and impassioned story-telling and chill.

Report this review (#612792)
Posted Wednesday, January 18, 2012 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This is music that has been a part of my life since my middle school years. I've heard many versions of these songs over the years and, though the original cast album is classic, I have to admit to having heard better versions of some of the highlight songs on other albums than this one. Still, this one set the pace--Andrew Lloyd Weber's temporary take over of the world (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Superstar, Evita, Cats, Song and Dance, Starlight Express, and The Phantom of the Opera dominated box offices for years and years). Though it was thought that it would launch careers of its principle stars, Murray Head, Ian Gillan, and Yvonne Elliman's careers sparked and fizzled. But many of the songs--like, "Superstar" (4:15) (10/10), "I Don't Know How to Love Him" (4:07) (9/10), "Everything's Alright," "Hosanna," and others--have become imbedded in the musical lexicon for a couple of generations. I can't deny it: It's great music, great lyrics, great performances to tell a great story. How can one give it anything less than five stars? I guess cuz it's not truly progressive rock music . . . or is it? (Someone convince me, please!)
Report this review (#843813)
Posted Tuesday, October 23, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars With today being Passion Sunday in the Christian calendar, it seems like a perfect time to glance at JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR.

First off, I ought to note to those who might not know that I will approach this concept album from two angles: one would be the proggy perspective that members of PA are used to, and the other would be from a musical theater approach. I have become a fan of musicals and Broadway within the last year and a half, so the prog audience is going to get a little different take on this album.

While not naturally my style, with musicals, an understanding of the plot, characters and story is quite vital to enjoying the musical. Yes, the musical largely focuses on Jesus's last days which correlate to the Gospel readings on Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter). However, the man who betrays Jesus, Judas Iscariot, has as large of a role in this story as does Jesus. Also, instead of the traditional Christian telling of Jesus and Judas as two men (one the Son of God, the other a disciple) accepting divine destiny, the musical explores the two men from a more psychological, humanist and perhaps secular angle. There are other figures throughout like Mary Magdalene, the high priest Caiaphas, etc. that have a fair role in the story while traditional ''go-to'' names like Peter and Pontius Pilate are kept to a minor stance. This musical saw the writing team of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice hit their creative stride (started with JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT in '68), providing memorable tunes with a few offbeat melodies with a story that is very well known, yet told in a slightly different context, but not enough to sound too disrespectful or blasphemous.

My understanding of the classical music term ''recapitulation'' is where a theme in one part is reused elsewhere in the piece albeit in a slightly different setting. Webber (the musical force here) does this quite well here; despite the laundry list of tracks, many themes are recycled and reused throughout the musical, giving a unity effect, almost as if this was one giant prog epic about the last days of Jesus. But this isn't a rare thing in musicals as many have reprises and finales that borrow or shorten themes from the more memorable numbers. A specific other example is Stephen Sondheim's COMPANY, where the opening title number is cued very often at various points in the show.

One thing I like to hear whenever I listen to a musical is a memorable lilt that I can't get out of my head. Good musicals have at least one instance of this, and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR offers several. There's the shuffle in ''This Jesus Must Die'', the opening fuzzy guitar riff in the orchestra reused in ''The Thirty-Nine Lashes'' (how do we know it's 39? They count it in the music.), the gentle melody of ''Everything's Alright'', the chanting of both ''Hosanna'' and ''The Temple'', and the grand bombastic finale that could only be described as ''Superstar''. There's a ton of melodies going for this musical.

This particular show emphasizes the characters, and I want to spend a few words on how well the actors pull off the characters. For starters, the chorus is one of the best I've heard from any musical; if you think the ensemble means nothing, listen to both ''The Temple'' and ''The Arrest'' as the chorus carries both numbers. The men who played Caiaphas, Annas and King Herod must have had fun portraying them as it shows in their demeanors. Yvonne Elliman sounds like the right Mary Magdalene as a sweet, gentle yet emotional restrained woman. The rub can set in with the two main leads, Judas and Jesus. Yes, I know it's Ian Gillan as Jesus Christ, and for the most part, Ian taps into to a humanistic Jesus rather well. When the tender moments need to shine like on ''Gethsemane'', Ian can really bring powerful emotions and truly make the character come to life outside of a true religious context. However, Ian finds the need to use his trademark high-pitched screams here; it works in Deep Purple, but here it's miscast. I find the same level of balance with Murray Head as Judas; he can work the frustration of the character very well, but he also butchers ''I Don't Know How to Love Him'' (in ''Judas' Death'') in the worst way. Still, the acting is convincing to the point where even with the success of Mark II Deep Purple, this is Ian Gillan's crowning achievement in singing.

How does prog fit into this story? For starters, the band Quatermass is heavily associated with the project with singer John Gustafson portraying Simon Zealots and keyboardist Peter Robinson being the main keyboard player. Also, 2/3 of the classic Nucleus lineup have bits in here. There are the constant shifts to 5/4 (notably ''Everything's Alright''; sounds like a hybrid of Dave Brubeck's ''Take Five'' and the church hymn ''Sing of the Lord's Goodness'') and 7/8 (''The Temple'') as well as the epic nature of the story itself (the Passion of Christ is a big portion of the basis of Christianity along with Jesus's Resurrection). Really, listening to the music almost reminds me of a Nucleus or an If or a Soft Machine; there's plenty of fuzzy guitars and Hammond organs flying about, and Webber himself actually manages to sneak a Moog line into the Overture. Not to mention the very avant-garde ''Crucifixion'', which is quite creepy and unorthodox for a musical, let alone one where Jesus Christ is a fulcrum in the story.

This is one of the greatest musicals I have come across, and the bounty of prog similarities helps in my enjoyment of this. Prog fans will gravitate towards the more rock-based approach to the music and tricky time signatures, and musical fans will find the great character portrayals, snappy melodies and abundance of singing appetizing.

Report this review (#934766)
Posted Sunday, March 24, 2013 | Review Permalink

Being Holy Saturday and a Christian, it seemed appropriate to review my favorite musical and a favorite movie also since they are this movie/musical. First I'd like to say that I love the music from this recording! Even though I love the movie and truly like the song (Can We Start Again Please) that is in the movie but not on this, the concept album production, I do prefer this recording to the movie soundtrack. The cover of the this album has a brown leather-like look to it with two gold fanciful angel renditions meeting at the bottom giving a slight horse shoe effect. I hope you, the reader, don't mind if I refer to the movie as well as the recording here in question. I find it virtually impossible to separate one from the other. I've always felt that the music and the movie went hand-in-hand. The stark middle-eastern setting with minimal stage sets, set upon existing antiquity sites always seemed ideal for the production. A good amount of artistic license was used making this movie but I think that if you watch it with an open mind listening to the fantastic music IMHO, realizing that symbolism plays a major role in it's story telling, that you can be moved by it. I know that I have been many a time.It never seemed too difficult to me to interpret. Whether my interpretations were correct, well I don't know that, but I feel satisfied with them. Before I forget, I'd like to mention one of my favorite symbolic moments in the movie. It is just prior to the 'Damned For All Time/Blood Money' scene when Judas Iscariot is crouching in the dessert and, in slow motion a line of 5 or 6 military tanks rumble over the top of a small hill directly behind him. Now I've always interpreted that as the tanks representing evil which drives Judas to his appointed role in Jesus' betrayal. But it's just one of those scenes that make this movie and it's music so special to me. I love all the music in this musical and it's a hard call as to say whether or not or to what extent of a recommendation I can make. If you love 70's era rock and very good musicals and if the fact that the story told is a religious one and that doesn't bother, offend or annoy you then I think you'd appreciate the music from this movie/musical. I think I recall hearing back in the early 70's the local rock radio station actually playing the track 'Jesus Christ Superstar' on the air once and a while. Sadly, radio stations these days couldn't play anything like that today. It was a time when freedom of expression in music and not only hype for record sales was respected. Oh well. that's about it. Take care, and enjoy God's gift of music.

Report this review (#937096)
Posted Saturday, March 30, 2013 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
4 stars I will try a perilous exercise in reviewing both the original rock opera album and the movie that was shot a few years (two or three) later in the same text, while trying to refrain my atheist verve. A relative unknown, Tim Rice came up with the idea and the main JCS musical theme (with an mesmerizing descending chord riff), and through a certain course of events, he was put up with the well-known Andrew Lloyd-Webber and the rest is history. JCS is among the most famous rock opera ever written and one of the few that got ts successful adaptation on film. In my book, it ranks up there, with The Who's Quadrophenia and Tommy operas, and the amazing Broadway musical Hair (written by Rado, Ragni and McDermott). Unlike the two Who pieces, JCS also had a long career as live on-stage musical, along with the afore-mentioned Hair.

As far as the music is concerned, the rock opera and the film soundtrack are fairly close to each other (well side 4 is rather different, since the original score was modified for not being cinematic enough), the main difference residing in the singers being totally, if you'll except that Yvonne Elliman (in Magdalene's role) played/sang on both versions. But you won't find prestigious names like Ian Gillan (JC), Murray Head (Judas) Mike d'Abo (Herod) or John Gustafsson (Quatermass) as Simon, Madeleuine Bell (Stones The Crow) and many other characters were staged by equally good singers on the scene. This hardly means that the movie's singers (but dancers as well) are any less worthy, though. On the purely instrumental/musical side, the average proghead will be happy to find Soft-Nucleus man Karl Jenkins, Chris Spedding, Jeff Clyne and John Marshall, a few of the UK jazz-rock horn-men stalwarts (such as Harry Beckett and Kenny Wheeler) and the rest of Quartermass' line up. Other names include Mercer (Mayall), Hubbard (almost everyone on the scene) and Tony Ashton (G&D) and many more.

Progheads will also be pleased that JCS' music is very much progressive rock (the full-blown kind) with plenty of time sigs, complex interplay and plenty of mood changes, and while the vocals must remain clearly intelligible for the public to follow the storyline, but it doesn't hinder the general "prog" qualities of this ambitious oeuvre. If not familiar with this "opera", one could've feared that the music would veer outside the rock sphere, but outside the ridiculous and goofy King Herod piece (for obvious "villain" reasons), it remains "rock", and extremely enjoyable. Even the evil priests parts and Roman authorities are treated with full respect, whether in the opera and in the movie; this, despite the priest's sinister very low-range vocals, and Pilate's relatively twee vocals. Special attention was carried out with and to Judas' parts; both in the story (it was written from his point of view) and Murray Head's vocals are at least as impressive as JCS' Gillan vocals. However, in the movie, the Judas part is carried by a great black actor/singer/dancer, which probably nowadays would raise a few objections (black = traitor?) from the equal opportunity inquisition tribunals. But nothing of that was intentional in such innocent times, as the blessed early 70's' Love & Peace era.

The movie was shot on a very low budget with no real decor but a desert and oasis close to old temple ruins. Only the fortress and city gates/entrances had some kind of scaffolding structure, the whole set being made-believe that all material needed was transported in a single school bus, but obviously the filming ware and crew was not taken into account. The choreography is overall very interesting, modern and slightly acrobatic. The setting is very much a Palestinian one, maybe even slightly anti-Zionist, as evidenced by the law forces being represented with the apparition of supposedly Israeli tanks to break festivities and repression. In that regard, the Pilate and King Herod pieces (better in the original opera than in the movie) maybe served as inspiration to Roger Waters' The Trial piece on his own conceptual Floydian tour de force The Wall.

All of the movie's images are of course based on the original score, but a lot of the talent of the director is that the movie's images simply magnify the power of the music. In that regard the two Who opera/movies don't manage this stunt nearly as successfully, though Milos Forman's movie adaptation of the Hair Musical manages it better than JCS, IMHO. Of course, Rice's main JCS theme, repeated sporadically throughout the course of the opera, plays a magical and spell-binding role, the descending riff helping in the hypnotic and enthralling mood.of the project. This repetition of the theme helps out a lot, while the Hair opera doesn't and must rely on pure new musical highs like the opening Aquarius and closing Sunshine/Flesh Failures. However, to JCS' merit, the actual music remained the same on the movie and album (or remained faithful) while the Hair movie saw a full funkier revamping of the music, while the vocals were more or less faithfully respected. In Hair's defence, there was more thazn a decade between, the creation of the musical and its movie adaptation.

Despite being an uncompromising proghead, I'd also tend to admit I prefer the version without the "prog" singer and prefer the movie, because the images carry the opera during its inevitable weaker moments, because there are a few, because of its all-too wordy storyline , something The Who avoided with some brilliant instrumental passages. Enough vain (and totally subjective) comparisons: despite my fairly-uncompromising atheism, I am forced to recognize that this JCS thingie is a very successful one, whether in its original vinyl form or its filmed version.

Report this review (#1044491)
Posted Thursday, September 26, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars Musicals. Now there's a genre. Pompous and overblown. Doesn't that sound alot like progressive rock? In the case of ye olde Jesus Christ Superstar it couldn't be a more fitting description than that. I would not say, however, that it is a musical. For me, musicals are stories told through the musical medium, just like any concept album in the world of prog. I am not stating that prog and musicals are equals, simply that there are similarities. Jesus Christ is not, I say, a musical. Rather it is a supreme rock opera of huge proportions.

The birth of rock operas is debatable but this one, being released in the year of 1970, do belong to the first ones. Maybe Kinks was first. Or The Who. That is not the point. The point being that this opera is a seminal and awesome piece of progressive rock, bound together by the most cohesive pieces of music ever written. The theme, the last days of Christ, is also fantastic. No matter your religious beliefs it is a great story ande makes for a wide range of variety in moods, structures and psychological evaluations of all the concerned parties.

Each song is impressive in itself but the great thing is the way themes and songs are revisited and used again to great effect. For instance, "I don't know how to love him" is great sung by Mary Magdalene but dramatic and heart wrenching when Judas sings the same song. The angst portrayed vocally are moving, really.

The cast makes for great performances. Gillan makes a perfect Jesus, torn by his fate and destiny on the cross. Murray Head is fantastic as Judas and his vocals are really extraordinary acting through singing. The way he portrays Judas as torn between his destiny and beliefs, doubts and fears is truly wonderful to hear. I feel moved everytime he sings.

This edition, the first recording of many, is by far the best in my opinion. It is vibrant, alive and really raw, rough and hard rocking. A true masterpiece of early progressive concept rock. Easily five shining stars.

Report this review (#1238307)
Posted Friday, August 8, 2014 | Review Permalink


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