Classification: Original Concept Recording
Nickname(s): The Brown Album
Year of release: 1970
Type: Official release, Studio cast
Alternate Album Covers
Jesus of Nazareth…………Ian Gillan
Judas Iscariot…………Murray Head
Mary Magdalene…………Yvonne Elliman
Pontius Pilate…………Barry Dennen
King Herod…………Mike D’Abo
Simon Zealotes…………John Gustafson
Maid by the Fire…………Annette Brox
Other Singers (Apostles, Priests, Roman Soldiers, Merchants, Crowds, etc.)…………Pat Arnold, Tony Ashton, Peter Barnfather, Madeline Bell, Brian Bennett, Lesley Duncan, Kay Garner, Barbara Kay, Neil Lancaster, Alan O’Duffy, Tim Rice, Seafield St. George, Terry Saunders, Sue & Sunny, Andrew Lloyd Webber
On “Overture”…………Children’s choir (under the direction of Alan Doggett)
On “Superstar”…………The Trinidad Singers (under the leadership of Horace James)
Additionally…………Choir (under the leadership of Geoffrey Mitchell)
(Electric & Acoustic) Guitar: Henry McCullough
(Electric) Guitar: Neil Hubbard
Bass Guitar: Alan Spenner
Piano, Electric Piano, Organ, Positive Organ: Peter Robinson
Tenor Sax: Chris Mercer
Drums, Percussion: Bruce Rowland
Guitars: Clive Hicks, Chris Spedding, Louis Stewart, Steve Vaughan
Bass Guitars: Jeff Clyne, Peter Morgan, Alan Weighall
Pianos: Norman Cave, Karl Jenkins, Mick Weaver, Andrew Lloyd Webber
Organs: Mick Weaver, Andrew Lloyd Webber
Moog Synthesizers: Alan Doggett, Andrew Lloyd Webber
Drums: John Marshall
Trumpets: Harold Beckett, Les Condon, Ian Hamer, Kenny Wheeler
Bassoons: Anthony Brooke, Joseph Castaldini
Horns: James Brown, O.B.E., Jim Buck Sr., Jim Buck Jr., John Burdon, Andrew McGavin, Douglas Moore
Trombones: Keith Christie, Frank Jones, Anthony Moore
Clarinet: Ian Herbert
Flutes: Chris Taylor, Brian Warren
Strings: Strings of The City of London Ensemble (Principal: Malcolm Henderson)
Percussion: Bill LeSage
Heaven On Their Minds
What’s The Buzz / Strange Thing, Mystifying
This Jesus Must Die
Simon Zealotes / Poor Jerusalem
Everything’s Alright (Reprise)
I Don’t Know How To Love Him
Damned For All Time / Blood Money
The Last Supper
Gethsemane (I Only Want To Say)
Pilate And Christ
King Herod’s Song (Try It And See)
Trial Before Pilate (Including The Thirty-Nine Lashes)
Audio Production Information
Produced by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber
Chief Sound Engineer: Alan M. O’Duffy
Engineers: Jeremy Gee, Anton Matthews, Martin Rushent (Advision), Stephen Vaughan
Cutting Engineer: Tony Bridge
Production Management: Don Norman
Orchestration and Musical Direction by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Principal Conductor: Alan Doggett
Moog synthesizer by kind permission (and under the direction) of Mike Vickers
The Opera was recorded at Olympic Sound Studios, Barnes; Advision Studios; Island Studios; and Spot Productions Studios on 16-track tape.
Historical Notes from a Fan
This is the very first recording of Jesus Christ Superstar, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s second attempt at a rock opera, their first being a popular but then-less successful work called Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. With Jesus Christ Superstar, or JCS as it’s become known by fans, the two (who, at the ages of 25 and 21 respectively, were just embarking on what would become extraordinarily long and successful entertainment careers) were thrust firmly into the limelight, partly because of the innovative and beautifully crafted songs, and partly because of their often controversial handling of this sacred story.
The songs, as in all versions of JCS, recount the seven days leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus, as told from the perspective of a confused, frightened, and ultimately remorseful Judas. Rice was reportedly inspired by the Bob Dylan anthem “With God On Our Side,” from his seminal 1964 album The Times They Are A-Changin’, which features Judas in its penultimate verse. As Rice says in his autobiography: “From a very young age I had wondered what I might have done in the situations in which Pontius Pilate and Judas Iscariot found themselves. How were they to know Jesus would be accorded divine status by millions and that they would as a result be condemned down the ages?”
Pitching the groundbreaking rock double-album in its early days was no mean feat. Already rejected for production as a stage musical (says Webber, “No-one was interested in doing Jesus Christ Superstar on stage when we started, so Tim Rice and I did it as a record”), record labels — Webber and Rice’s usual home turf, as both songwriters and producers in the pop world — found it hard to get behind such an unusual piece.
Oddly, the later process of shopping the finished album around may have led, in a roundabout way, to the future involvement of the stage and film version’s producer, Robert Stigwood, who Rice and Webber signed with at the end of 1970. (The boys and their manager David Land, by then being approached for the film and stage rights for JCS thanks to the success of the album, signed a management deal with the Robert Stigwood Organisation because, as Tim put it, “all these people made the mistake of getting us to ring them or sending round a minion whereas Robert sent round a Cadillac and we zapped round to his place and we liked him.”) One of the first labels JCS was offered to was The Beatles’ (in)famous Apple Records. Tony Bramwell, former Fab Four employee, elaborates in his book Magical Mystery Tours: “Many things slipped through the net in [Allen] Klein’s reign [as the Beatles’ manager], including a big stage musical that ran for years and years. The first big musical in London after Hair was Jesus Christ Superstar, the first of a dynastic series of musicals from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Jesus Christ Superstar was brought to Apple as a new project because Ian Gillan from Deep Purple sang on the demo and another friend, Johnny Gustafson, the bass player from Liverpool’s The Big Three, played on it. I can remember hearing it around the building at the time, with everyone singing snatches of the very catchy big theme song. But it was Robert Stigwood who ended up producing it. […] I’ve always thought that when Klein threw Peter Brown [the Beatles’ personal assistant and day-to-day manager following Brian Epstein’s death] out, Peter must have popped the tapes in his briefcase when he cleared his desk and took them with him to Stiggie’s place on the basis that there wasn’t a lot of interest in them at number 3 Savile Row. If he did, he was right. In fact, Peter Brown is still Andrew Lloyd Webber’s PR man in the States. If Klein had kept his eye on the ball and hadn’t been too concerned with feathering his nest, Apple could have signed Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice up and produced all their other big musicals after Superstar, like Evita, Cats…”
In order to get the concept album of Jesus Christ Superstar off the ground, Decca first gave Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice money to make this single and begin the album. They wanted to release the single first, which caused uproar within the MCA board at the time. The title song “Superstar” — which kicked off the songwriting process for the album; Webber wrote the melody down on a napkin in a restaurant on London’s Fulham Road — was recorded by Murray Head, a singer Tim knew of from his days working at EMI who had left an impression when performing with his band, The Blue Monks and Their Dirty Habits. Backed by MCA, Andrew and Tim spent a small fortune on the recording, including using a full orchestra and the backing vocals of The Trinidad Singers. The Grease Band, Joe Cocker’s backing band and one of the best rhythm sections in the world at that time, were brought in as the foundation of the ensemble. Chief engineer Alan O’Duffy, an Irish 22 year old, committed the song to 8-track tape at the renowned Olympic Studios in Barnes, London.
With an early version of the instrumental finale “John 19:41” on the B-side, “Superstar” was released as a single in 1969 (November 21 in the UK, December 1 in the US). Martin Sullivan, the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral and former Archdeacon of London, supplied liner notes for the sleeve of the single. “There are some people who may be shocked by this record,” he wrote. “I ask them to listen to it and think again. It is a desperate cry. ‘Who are you Jesus Christ?’ is the urgent inquiry, and a very proper one at that…The singer says ‘Don’t get me wrong, I only want to know.’ He is entitled to some response.” In the UK, it was featured exclusively on David Frost’s famous TV chat show and sold as many as 3,500 copies in one day, but it met with even bigger success outside its home market, rocketing to #1 in Holland above Led Zeppelin and Elvis, and also in Belgium and Brazil, and making the Top 10 in Australia and New Zealand. In the US, it reached #14 and the single “Superstar” was #27 in Billboard’s Top 100 Songs of 1971, above hits such as George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” The Carpenters’ “Rainy Days and Mondays,” and “Proud Mary” by Ike and Tina Turner. The international performance of the single meant Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice had permission from MCA to go ahead with the rest of the album.
(A later single from the album would meet with similar unusual success: Yvonne Elliman’s version of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” was released in 1971 and then overtaken by a cover version from the then-unknown Helen Reddy, which peaked at #13 in the Billboard charts compared to Elliman’s #28. It remains one of the few instances in modern music where two versions of the same song have charted in the Billboard Hot 100. The song has of course gone on to be covered by many more artists in dozens of versions recorded over the years, including Shirley Bassey, Cilla Black, Bonnie Tyler, Peggy Lee, Elaine Paige, and Sinead O’Connor, who launched her 2007 album Theology with her cover.)
Casting for the album began in earnest, and not without attention from the press. Following on from their involvement in the single, The Grease Band and Alan O’Duffy were all brought back in to record the rest of the album. Head continued to sing the part of Judas, and introduced Barry Dennen to play Pontius Pilate, as they shared the same management. Casting Mary Magdalene proved slightly trickier; Andrew discovered a young 19 year old called Yvonne Elliman singing in the Pheasantry in London, but (as Tim Rice noted) her manager at the time pushed for a high upfront fee, which they agreed to pay only because she was “so good.” (More about this later.) Off the back of the single’s success, tabloid newspapers got in on the act, linking John Lennon to the project; no less noteworthy a periodical than Time magazine reported that there were rumors John had said he would only do it if Yoko Ono played Mary Magdalene. (Other unfounded rumors suggested Marianne Faithfull would appear in that role.) Ultimately, Ian Gillan from the band Deep Purple was brought in to sing in the role of Jesus.
The recording process had its interesting footnotes; for example, Paul Raven, a priest in the background of Caiaphas and Annas’ numbers, later went on to fame (and, far in the future, infamy) as Seventies glam rock star Gary Glitter. Recording was often an exercise in experimentation as well, as this story from Ellis Nassour’s in-depth early Seventies account Rock Opera puts it: “When it came time to record the thirty-nine lashes bit for the passion sequence, Webber was not happy with the sound — it had to be harsher. Someone volunteered that the reason the sound was soft was because the studio was padded. ‘Then let’s do the bloody thing in the hall,’ Rice replied. The engineers set up microphones there, then those present were placed in various locations to provide crowd noises, and Rice, armed with a long, flat piece of board with another smaller section hinged on it, flapped away providing the lashes and doing the counting. ‘That was great,’ Webber called from the studio booth. ‘We got a good echo!'”
However, the recording process also had its trials and tribulations. According to Brian Keith, “One of the things that happened during the recording was that they ran out of money before they finished recording, so they couldn’t afford to pay us […] so they started offering a percentage of the royalties as payment. We were all skeptical about it, ’cause if it didn’t do well, we’d be out of money.” According to Rock Opera, Murray Head, a believer from the very beginning (indeed, he sometimes pitched in on background vocals, crediting his choral work to his middle name[s] “Seafield St. George,” and at one point did his best Barry Dennen impression on “this unfortunate” when Webber and Rice discovered, to their horror, that a small part of Dennen’s vocal on “Pilate and Christ” had been erased from the master tapes), was the first to leap into the breach and opt in on the risky profit-share plan. On the other side of the spectrum was Yvonne Elliman, who later lamented having already been paid a flat fee of £100, and thus missing out on the (eventual) huge royalty payout: “I was advised just the night before I reported to do my songs, ‘Don’t take a royalty. This record isn’t going anywhere.’ If I had taken the royalty I’d be like $100,000 richer now.” (According to the Tim Rice interview on the Special Edition DVD of the 1973 film, however, the authors eventually gave Yvonne a royalty “out of the kindness of our hearts.”) Others who were initially skeptical changed their minds after hearing more of the work at hand. Brian Keith again: “[After hearing some of the completed album] I said right there, ‘I’ll take the percentage!’ I knew this was gonna be big as soon as I heard [it]. I still get money today from that ’cause it keeps selling.”
By the following year (some sources incorrectly date the album’s release to 1969, likely due to conflation with the initial single’s release date in the memories of older fans), the album was completed and released in October 1970. And to say that it was hugely successful is a vast understatement. The album’s popularity rocketed with thousands of plays on FM radio. It became a #1 hit on the USA Billboard album charts four months after its release. In the U.S., a Time magazine review of the album said: “What Rice and Webber have created is a modern-day passion play that may enrage the devout but ought to intrigue and perhaps inspire the agnostic young.” Meanwhile, according to Tim Rice’s autobiography, mail from all over the world flooded in, most of it thanking the young writers “for making the Gospel story clearer and more relevant.” (As Murray Head would later put it in 2012, “When Jesus Christ Superstar reached American shores the timing was perfect. They were desperate for a new way, for a new translation of the Bible, and Tim’s shrewd idea of angling it from everyman’s perspectives — through the eyes of Judas — worked a treat.”)
At this point in the review, a fan’s thoughts are almost immaterial, but this fan will endeavor to offer a few anyway, hard as it may be. After all, what can one say about the very first recording, the benchmark by which all others are measured? “It’s a pleasant listen”? One can start by saying that, no matter how many times one listens, it is impossible not to marvel at the skill that went into this album, and that Rice and Webber produced the album themselves long before sophistication and adjusting the show for later audiences had set in speaks for itself. Listening to this or that performer’s portrayal, words like unusual, interesting, and virtuosic come to mind, but the one word that rends and tears anything else one would put to paper is “right.” Even though it’s only audio, everything – voices, musicians, production – is just right for what it needs to be, the perfect fit.
(Case in point for this reviewer is the apostles’ closing verse of “The Last Supper.” The lyric is, has been, and hopefully always will be “Look at all my trials and tribulations / Sinking in a gentle pool of wine…” After having no doubt imbibed their fair share throughout Jesus and Judas’ argument, the last round before they fall asleep should sound more than slightly intoxicated, if one is telling the story properly. More “careful” productions have them sound slightly unsettled, which is fine; the concept album sounds like they closed down the pub and are staggering home on the least steady of feet. Tiny details sometimes yield massive pluses, and that’s exactly what makes this album work so well.)
Listen To This Recording!
If you would like to own this album after listening (thanks to our friends at Spotify, we are able to provide it in two versions — the white cover is the 1993 release, the brown one the 2012 remaster, which is also available for streaming in Russia through Yandex Music), you can purchase it through Amazon, Google Play, or iTunes.