Rock Chronology #155: Superstar


“Superstar”, Jesus Christ Superstar (Murray Head), 1970.

The year 1970 was certainly a time to reflect back on the 60’s. When Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice reflected upon the huge cultural movement caused by 60’s Rock, it reminded them of another huge cultural movement that happened back during the 1st century. Namely, it was the cultural transformation that was caused by Jesus Christ.

Now as someone alive in 2014, I find this musical more interesting in what it says about the 60’s rather than what it said about the 1st century. The impact of Rock during the 60’s was so dramatic, that the closest thing they could compare it to was the birth of the largest religion in the world. In fact the word “Superstar” is really an idea to come out of the 60’s. During the 50’s they would have used a different world: “Elvis”. Elvis was really the only musician that was a superstar in the 50’s, but in the 60’s there were lots of superstars: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Doors, etc…. And the music transformed the whole culture from “Leave It To Beaver” to 400,000 hippies sitting naked in a field at Woodstock.

Here let me say it another way. Check out this graph. It represents the average amount a person in the US spent on music during any given year (adjusted for inflation and population).

Music sales graph

Notice that the graph begins near the bottom during the 50’s. That represents the US music industry when Elvis was a superstar. From 1957 to 1959 it grows from $22 to $27 (about $5 growth per person). That represents the cultural impact Elvis had along with 50’s Rock and Roll in general. Now look where the graph is during the 70’s. It’s hovering around $50 per person. Basically spending on music doubled compared to where it was at the end of the 50’s. And of course this is an average. In reality adults weren’t buying more, but the kids were buying records like there was no tomorrow.

So there were lots of musical superstars at the time, because music was having the huge impact upon the culture. The closest thing I can equate this to today is the Internet. During the 60’s music transformed the culture. In the 21st century, the Internet transformed the culture.

Now here is the really weird part about “Jesus Christ Superstar” (to me at least). The album (and the play and the movie) was really meant to be a commentary on the 1st century religious movement, but it really ended up being a commentary about the Rock stars at the time. In a strange case of life imitating art, several of the Rock stars ended up dying and ending their careers early. In a sense Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison did become like Jesus Christ Superstar.

Anyway, the video I’ve posted is from the movie. If you want the version of the song from the album, you can find it here. While the film version is sung by Carl Anderson, who plays Judas, the album version is sung by Murray Head and backed by an orchestra and The Grease Band (the band that played back-up for Joe Cocker in “A Little Help From My Friends”).

The album Jesus Christ Superstar went to #1 on the US charts. The song “Superstar” managed to chart several times, the highest being at #14 on the US singles chart in 1971. The single did not chart in the UK, and the album peaked at #23. This is largely because the album was originally banned by the BBC because it was seen as sacriligeous.

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