Afternoon Snack: Jesus Christ Superstar, “Heaven on Their Minds”

Diane and I, as noted here before, don’t have a lot in common musically.

Surely, my partner has a shuffle, and a bunch of tunes she likes to listen to when she is running, but virtually none of the songs are ones that interest me. She likes hip hop, and dance songs from the 90’s, mostly, although occasionally an AC/DC (Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap) or Boston (Foreplay/Long Time) song will sprinkle into her play list.

Not so, JCSS, which, when we discovered we each loved, caused me to download the original 1970 version from Amazon. Diane also was most familiar with that version, that featured Ian Gillian and Murray Head, although she also likes watching the movie when it appears at Easter (kind of like I enjoy watching Ben Hur at Christmas time).

What is also funny, was shortly after we both discovered a mutual love for JCSS, I was at our local recycle center, where in addition to dumping cardboard and styrofoam peanuts, there is an area where folks dump books and old records and DVDs (well, more like VHS tapes), and what was on top of a stack of vinyl but a copy of the original album (no liner notes, though). So, I grabbed it, and played it last week going through my vinyl binging.

When that album first came out, in 1970, I confess that I knew virtually nothing about Jesus historically. Having grown up as a nice Jewish boy in Suburban Sacramento, the subject just didn’t come up.

But, I did buy the cassette for some reason back then, and at least learned the Rice/Lloyd Webber take on the final week of Jesus’ life. And, I thought (and still do) that the whole work–vocals, lyrics, arrangements, and the musicianship–are just fantastic.

In particular, that body of players who delivered the guitars and bass and drums were indeed the part that has intrigued me most. Culled largely from the Grease Band, who toured behind Joe Cocker (check them out at Woodstock: killer) the principle rock musicians in JCSS play so beautifully, and appropriately, that it is almost sick.

Led by Henry McCullough (the Grease Band, and Wings) and Neil Hubbard (the Grease Band, and Roxy Music) on guitars, bass player Alan Spenner (the Grease Band, Mick Taylor, Alvin Lee, and Roxy Music), and drummer Bruce Rowland (Fairport Convention, and the Grease Band), Jesus Christ, Superstar is arguably the best of that oddity known as the rock opera. That means I like it better than either Tommy, or Quadrophenia, both of which I love to pieces, meaning this is high praise.

I do puzzle, though for usually rock’and’rollers don’t sight read symphonic charts, which I would guess is what was produced, and conversely, I have a hard time with Rice/Lloyd Webber thinking in terms of bending an “A” to a “B” starting on the seventh fret of the fourth string, with a little bit of reverb for a fill, so I do wonder just where the collaboration starts and stops.

Fortunately, it is simply a philosophical question, and in no way interferes with just how dead on the drums are, how the strumming and guitar play just enhances the words (which are very good), and how the bass interplays with both.

You can look down your nose at this work, and it might not even be your cup of tea, but no doubt these guys can seriously play.

4 thoughts on “Afternoon Snack: Jesus Christ Superstar, “Heaven on Their Minds”

  1. My 7th grade Sunday School teacher used to play this over the course of several weeks annually for a period of years back in the day during Lent. All the older kids’ classes would gather in his class for the event.

    I always liked “39 Lashes” the best. Riffage means a lot to me.

  2. I knew you were a church goer (no disrespect meant at all) so I was curious how you felt about the work.

    All I got was Hava Nagila in Sunday school, and the knowledge that Dick Dale (and later Paul Westerberg) were members of the tribe. Sandy Koufax, was more who pushed me through my youth along with Al Goldstein.

    The album has a shitload of good riffs, though.

  3. I found a program from the 1962 World Series (SF Giants v. NY Yankees) at the same recycling center in El Cerrito. The program was – and still is – in great shape.

  4. I’ve loved this album since I discovered it in my parent’s gigantic stack of albums 15 yrs ago. Now, at 28 I still gravitate to that album. How could someone say ‘The Temple’ isn’t a badass piece of music??

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