As we close out 1970, we look at one last album released in 1970 that has been included on the list as it is the number one selling album of 1971. Yet another album that was in my parent’s early 1970s record collection, today’s selection is the original soundtrack album to the rock opera turned Broadway musical turned film production, “Jesus Christ Superstar”. I have always had a passing knowledge of this music at best, and am glad I took the time to learn more about it. Focusing on the last week of the life of Christ, leading up to his trial and crucifixion, it is a pop culture interpretation of this segment in the New Testament.
Unable to secure funding for an actual musical show to begin with, this musical was created by two theater legends, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. That pedigree alone got my attention. What also surprised me greatly when listening to this album was who they had singing some of the main roles. Jesus Christ was actually performed by Ian Gillan, who at the same time was the lead singer of Deep Purple. Yes, from “Smoke On The Water” to walking on water, quite the dual career for Mr. Gillan. Mary Magdalene’s role was sung by Yvonne Elliman, who would rise to fame again later in the 1970s singing “If I Can’t Have You” on the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack album.
After listening to this album twice, musically I can see why it was popular. Several of the songs are pretty catchy, in the vane of a rock-based musical theater manner that is intended to grow on you. Aside from the very recognizable “Overture” and main theme of the show, other songs I appreciated the most included “What’s the Buzz/Strange Thing, Mystifying”, “Hosanna”, “The Temple”, and “Everything’s Alright”.
Culturally and historically, I can easily see why this entire project to include the subsequent show and film were so popular. In the early 1970s, the “hippie” rock culture continued to look for answers on their quest for peace in the turmoil of civil strife and the Vietnam War, and the safety and idealistic legacy of the Christian faith gave many a safe space to blend their teachings on Christianity and their innate family values and background with their modern love for rock and roll and anti-establishment fashion and rhetoric. Who better to represent the aspiration for love and peace than one of the world’s most celebrated religious figures? I’ll let others debate that, but the connotation and association of these two seemingly opposite worlds appears pretty natural to me. It was definitely an interesting listen, if slightly on the long side, but given it’s long and successful run across many venues worldwide, it is an important piece of performance art history.