“Nothing could convince me that any show that has sold two and one-half million copies of its album before the opening night is anything like all bad,” wrote The New York Times‘ Clive Barnes on October 13, 1971 upon the New York debut of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar. Indeed, the original Jesus Christ Superstar album was a sensation long before it ever hit Broadway’s Mark Hellinger Theatre. A true hybrid of rock and theater, it was introduced as a record but destined for the world’s stages. The once-controversial rock opera has since inspired countless international productions, three Broadway revivals, film and television adaptations, concert tours, and well over 100 recordings from around the world. Now, the original 1970 album is celebrating its belated 50th anniversary with a reissue to be available in a variety of formats. On September 17, UMe will revisit Jesus Christ Superstar as a 3CD expanded box set; 2LP standard and deluxe editions; and a 2CD edition. All versions have been newly remastered by Miles Showell and Nick Davis at Abbey Road Studios.
Written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, Jesus Christ Superstar was the pair’s third musical together after 1965’s The Likes of Us and 1968’s Joseph and Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. But those two shows hadn’t achieved much success with The Likes of Us going wholly unproduced and only several smaller productions of Joseph, a musical version of the Biblical tale. An album of the latter was recorded by Decca, however, which was a step in the right direction. The two soldiered on and returned to the Bible for their next show which would be a musical dramatization of the last week of the life of Jesus Christ. But they were unable to secure a backer for a staging so it was decided to record an album of the show first.
The 1970 concept album composed, orchestrated, and co-produced by Lloyd Webber with lyrics and co-production by Rice starred Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan as Jesus, Murray Head as Judas Iscariot, Yvonne Elliman as Mary Magdalene, and Manfred Mann’s Mike d’Abo as King Herod. It featured equally impressive talent among its musicians (Chris Spedding, Mike Vickers, Wings’ Henry McCullough) and supporting vocalists (P.P. Arnold, Madeline Bell, Lesley Duncan). Gillan recalled Superstar with fondness to Phil Sutcliffe in MOJO, describing it as “top-notch stuff” and a “career highlight.” He even described being greeted on a 1980s tour of the USSR by fans who had “certainly never heard of Deep Purple, but they knew all about Jesus Christ Superstar!”
But while classic status has long since been attained, Superstar initially earned the ire of many religious groups, and was a frequent target of protesters. Even the BBC got into the act, initially banning the double-album set on grounds of being “sacrilegious.” In the U.S., the album hit No. 1 on the Billboard chart in 1971, with Murray Head’s single of the title song reaching No. 14 Pop and Yvonne Elliman’s “I Don’t’ Know How to Love Him” not far behind at No. 28. Helen Reddy’s simultaneous cover of the ballad made it all the way to No. 13.
The first authorized concert production of the musical arrived in the U.S. on July 11, 1971, with Elliman reprising the role of Mary Magdalene opposite Jeff Fenholt’s Jesus and Carl Anderson’s Judas. The 1971 Broadway staging featured typically idiosyncratic direction by Hair‘s Tom O’Horgan and a star-making performance from Ben Vereen as Judas. Fenholt and Elliman again took part, as did Barry Dennen, the concept album’s Pilate. The Broadway show ran for a healthy 711 performances. The 1973 U.K. staging bested that, however, with director Jim Sharman’s production (starring Paul Nicholas as Jesus and David Bowie pal Dana Gillespie as Mary) lasting a then-record-breaking eight years in the West End. Carl Anderson, Yvonne Elliman and Barry Dennen all took part in Norman Jewison’s 1973 film version, which cast Ted Neeley as Jesus, a role he would revisit in the ensuing years.
Around the time of a 2012 CD reissue, Lloyd Webber indicated that the original master tapes – and with them, the possibility of unreleased material – had been lost. That reissue was sourced from a copy of the original master tapes found in Lloyd Webber’s personal archive. The new 50th anniversary reissue is presumably happening thanks to some recent audio discoveries. All versions are newly remastered and the 3CD box set will feature a disc of previously unheard tracks, said to be an impossibility in 2012.
The slipcased 10 x 10″ box features guide vocals of “Blood Money” and “King Herod’s Song,” and scat vocals and an unreleased instrumental of “This Jesus Must Die” as well as the original single edit of Yvonne Elliman’s “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” (a top 30 Billboard Pop/top 15 AC hit) and Tim Rice commentary on the song. The bonus disc is rounded out by a two-part 1970 interview with Lloyd Webber and Rice. Nick Davis has mixed the unreleased tracks. The box also features a 100-page oral history book edited and compiled by journalist Lois Wilson featuring new interviews with key personnel as well as essays by Matt Berry and CHIC legend Nile Rodgers. The slipcase features the U.S. brown cover, with the U.K. “psychedelic” cover within.
The 2CD and half-speed mastered, 180-gram 2LP versions have the remastered original album only. Two 2LP editions are available: a standard version with the U.S. art and a 12-page booklet, and a deluxe edition exclusive to uDiscoverMusic.com which features a fold-out sleeve and artwork replicating the first U.K. pressing and a 12 x 12″ print.
If you’re interested in revisiting this piece of musical theatre and classic rock history, all of the remastered editions of Jesus Christ Superstar arrive from UMe on September 17. You’ll find the track listing and pre-order links below.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, Jesus Christ Superstar (MCA MKPS 2011/2, MAPS 207 5/6, 1970 – reissued UMe, 2021)
3CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada Link TBD
2CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada Link TBD
2LP Standard: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada Link TBD
2LP Exclusive: uDiscoverMusic.com
- Heaven On Their Minds
- What’s The Buzz? / Strange Thing Mystifying
- Everything’s Alright
- This Jesus Must Die
- What’s The Buzz / Strange Thing Mystifying
- Simon Zealotes / Poor Jerusalem
- Pilate’s Dream
- The Temple
- This Jesus Must Die
- I Don’t Know How To Love Him
- Damned For All Time / Blood Money
- The Last Supper
- Gethsemane (I Only Want To Say)
- The Arrest
- Peter’s Denial
- Pilate and Christ
- King Herod’s Song
- Judas’s Death
- Trial Before Pilate (Including The 39 Lashes)
- John Nineteen: Forty – One
CD 3: Bonus Tracks
- Blood Money (Guide Vocal)
- Herod’s Song (Guide Vocal)
- I Don’t Know How to Love Him (Tim Rice Commentary)
- This Jesus Must Die (Scat Vocal 1)
- This Jesus Must Die (Scat Vocal 2/Unreleased Instrumental)
- I Don’t Know How to Love Him (Single Edit) (Decca (U.S.) single 32785, 1971)
- 1970 Open End Interview with the Creators of Jesus Christ Superstar (includes Superstar, Heaven On Their Minds, and I Don’t Know How to Love Him)
- 1970 Open End Interview with the Creators of Jesus Christ Superstar (includes Gethsemane, King Herod’s Song, and Superstar)