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Jesus Christ Superstar - Rock Opera as Life Soundtrack
Viva la Vinyl!
Early musical influences
Music is something very spiritual to me, something I revere. I know its the same for everyone who ever had a favorite song, a theme song, pretty much that's everyone else right? I pride myself in the music I enjoy (because there's really a lot you just don't care to bother with). While I've mentioned somewhere in my other hubs that I am a rocker by heart, rock is not all the music I grew up to. I come from a family where music is such a big deal. In our old neighborhood we were the first ones to have a stereo system that plays vinyl. We had the 3 piece (the gramophone and the two speakers) National model c. 1960s about 3 feet high and 4 feet long, housed in hard wood so it can double as a counter top of sorts. The turntable has a door that you pull up and next to it is a place for the long playing albums. It has a detachable little round thingie to play 45s and the arm that holds the needle, which while automatically moves to the record, can also be manually operated. It was in perfect shape up until the late 1980s.
So who built our record selection and what was in it? Let's see, there were quite a lot but off the top of my head I know we had Ray Coniff, The Carpenters, the Christmas album of the Chipmunks, these were my parents' music or at least some of it. It was a few of my sisters' collection that I remember more distinctly due in part to the pictures in the album sleeve but mainly because I would play them over and over and took great pains making sure they don't get scratched.
Of course in the late 70s and early 80s, I took it for granted that we had in our possessions such masterpieces as MFSBs “Mysteries of the World”, Earth Wind and Fire's “All 'n All”, Noel Pointer's “All My Reasons”, Chuck Mangione's “Feels So Good” and Christopher Cross' self-titled debut that one the Grammy's Album of the Year award in 1981. One album I really got to internalize (because it has the lyrics to all the songs in the album sleeve) is the Manhattan Transfer's “Mecca for Moderns”. Now this one really stuck to me so much so that I still know the words to each and every song in the album.
The soundtrack to the Norman Jewison film “Jesus Christ Superstar” is my very first brush with rock music. This is the film version of the Webber and Rice rock opera of the same title. This was a double album with about 23 or 24 tracks. Listening to the album then was “the” ultimate trip for me and I did finally scratch the record. Before, we would only play it during Lent but when I figured out how to work our stereo, I played it all year round till my sisters' ears ached. Every time they see me hovering on the stereo they'd roll their eyes heavenwards and say “there she goes again”. This went on until the stereo broke down and we threw or gave away all our vinyl collections including JCS. We would of course mentally kick ourselves some twenty years later when vinyls became collectors' items and their prices skyrocketed tenfold.
After the stereo, I would only get to listen to JCS on the radio during lent and watch reruns also during Lent much to my sisters' relief. I only got reunited with it three or four years ago when bootlegged copies of the film came out. I have yet to locate a copy of the album either on vinyl or CD. Reading all about it now on the net I am even more impressed because Andrew Lloyd Webber was 21 when he composed the opera and lyricist Tim Rice was 23 or 24 back then. What were they thinking right? I mean stuff like this really takes some genius.
Of course I never got to watch the original play where Ian Gillan (Deep Purple) played the role of Jesus. After sometime Gillan bowed out of the stage play and did not want to even be associated with it as he concentrated on his band. As expected, he refused to do the film version so they picked Ted Neely (and what a wonderful pick he was!), keeping Carl Anderson (Judas) and Filipina singer Yvonne Elliman (Mary Magdalene) from the original cast. I discovered much debate on who was the better Jesus between Gillan and Neely so I searched and listened to Gillan's version of “Gethsemane”. I'm sorry Gillan fans but I like Neely better, besides the guy is still touring until now (age 64 I think) with the play (Carl Anderson has passed away though so they have another Judas). Now imagine a 64-year-old man belting “Gethsemane”, don't imagine, just catch it on You Tube! I wish they'd retire the guy because his performance now takes away so much from his glorious rendition in the film.
So it's pretty obvious I'm still as fixated on the JCS music and film as I was about 30 years ago and the Internet all but diminished this fixation. I have the entire collection from the album in my pc, my ipod and the 1gig memory card of my cellphone. I have a DVD and a VCD copy of the movie as well. I know Webber has created better musicals than this but I love him only for JCS. For me this is the best collection of voices and melodies ever assembled. I know I shall not tire of listening to it. Please allow me to share with you the main songs from the rock opera, this could just be the most legit mix of rock and religion ever, at least that's what I think.