Sunday, August 7, 2016

God Rock Sunday: The "Jesus Christ Superstar" hit parade

One forgets that the Jesus Christ Superstar rock opera was a Tommy-esque concept album first, with the stage production and movie to follow after. Composed by two fledglings named Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, the double LP focused on the last week of Jesus's life and presented a reimagination of the interpersonal relationships between Jesus, Judas Iscariot, and Mary Magdalin. It appeared in September 1970, buoyed up by considerable hype and a brisk-selling 1969 leadoff single by Murray Head and the Trinidad Singers.

Among the album's participants were Deep Purple's Ian Gillian, members of Joe Cocker's Grease Band, the Hair alumnus Head, and an unknown Yvonne Elliman. The project at once fed off of and stoked the Jesus revival you could hear burgeoning in numerous early seventies radio hits, all of which jibed nicely with the era's soul-searching and its eye for long hair and beards.

A 1971 Billboard story by Elliott Tiegel on the trend ("Jesus Christ, Are You Here Again? Or, Rock Meets the Guy from Above") mentioned that Los Angeles MOR mothership KMPC played the entire album on Thanksgiving 1970 and on Easter 1971. And although the occasional story would surface that a given outlet had banned the album for being too sacrilegious, the consensus would echo Tiegel's assertion that Jesus Christ Superstar was the "granddaddy" of all the era's "Jesus stories."

Here's a chronology of all the JCS-related singles to appear in Billboard:

Murray Head - "Superstar" (Billboard #74, entered 1/31/70; Billboard #60,
     re-entered 1/2/71)

Percy Faith - "Everything's Alright" (Billboard easy listening #31, entered
     2/6/71)

Helen Reddy - "I Don't Know How to Love Him" (Billboard #13, entered
     2/20/71)

The Kimberlys - "I Don't Know How to Love Him/Everything's Alright"
     (Billboard #99, entered 3/20/71)

Murray Head - "Superstar" (Billboard #14, re-entered 4/10/71)

Yvonne Elliman - "I Don't Know How to Love Him" (Billboard #28, entered
     4/24/71)

Jose Feliciano - "I Only Wanted to Say (Gethsemane)" (Billboard #122,
     entered 5/29/71)

Yvonne Elliman - "Everything's Alright" (Billboard #92, entered 9/25/71)

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