Sir Tim Rice celebrates 50 years since Jesus Christ Superstar concept album was released
Written by Hitmix News on 25 September 2021
The revered musical Jesus Christ Superstar turns 50 this year.
The rock opera about Jesus and his face-off with Judas has toured the world, with huge productions on the West End, Broadway and beyond.
But before it became a global hit on stage, it started life as a concept album – something Sir Tim Rice called a “godsend”.
Image: The album has been remastered 50 years on
Speaking to Sky News amid the launch of the album’s repackaged rerelease, Sir Tim, who along with Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber was the brains behind the project, said that the record allowed the pair to do more than they could do in a theatre at the time.
“We were trying to get our idea into a musical on the last few days in the life of Jesus, as seen through the eyes of Judas Iscariot.
“That was our ambition… but no theatrical producer showed any interest at the time, so we were kind of forced to make an album.
“But this turned out to be an absolute godsend, because we were able to use greater forces – we were able to make it more rock, we could have a huge orchestra, we could do wonderful things, even back then in 1970, wonderful things in the recording studio that you couldn’t do in a theatre and that made it a contemporary piece of music.
“Had we gone to the theatre straight away, it might have been okay, but it wouldn’t have been possible to have had a rock band in those days and an orchestra and all that stuff in a theatre, and we probably would have started out of town where the facilities would have been even less for this new sort of show.
“So we put out the record and the record was an almost overnight hit in America.”
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It was this album, with the likes of rock legends Ian Gillan (of Deep Purple fame) as Jesus, Manfred Mann’s Mike D’abo as King Herod and American singer Yvonne Elliman on it, that Sir Tim and Lord Lloyd Webber went on to score one of the first major stage successes of their careers.
“We had this thumping great hit record, a hit record of a show’s score without a show, and of course all the producers who said they [did not] want to do the show, now did want to do the show,” Sir Tim told Sky News.
“Superstar then grew in 1970, 1971, 1972 from an album, which became a hit all over the world, and only rather belatedly in Great Britain, and it became a show on Broadway first and then Australia and around Europe.”
But even before the album, which was recorded in the unassuming Olympic Studios in Barnes, southwest London, it was an idea Sir Tim had when he was growing up at Christian schools.
“I wasn’t sure if I was a believer or not, but I often thought when I was 15 or 16, Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, these guys were around at the time but they didn’t really have their views put forward, particularly Judas in the Gospels.
“Judas is just like a cardboard figure of evil whose role was to betray Christ, and I often wondered if I were in that situation and did not believe Jesus was God, even if I thought he was a terrific guy, what would my reaction be?
“Would you feel that he was a danger to other people… and that really was something that I found very intriguing.”
Image: Sir Tim Rice wrote the show with Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber. Pic: Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP
Sir Tim and Lord Lloyd Webber were also fresh off the back of their first biblical success – Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat – and had carved themselves out as people who could turn the story into something more exciting.
“This was something Andrew and I talked about to the dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, because he’d seen that we could do something from the Bible and make it fun and entertaining and also keep it serious… and he said, go for it – it’s a good idea.”
The album features tracks like Gethsemane (with that piercing high note), I Don’t Know How To Love Him, and of course Superstar, with Sir Tim saying it would be difficult “to take anything out of it without harming the whole piece” – a testament to the soundtrack’s importance on the story.
Image: (L-R) Tim Minchin, Ben Forster, Melanie C and Chris Moyles were in the 2012 arena version of the show
Reflecting on his memories of recording the album, Sir Tim said: “It was quite nice at the end… when we sent copies of the album out to all the people who’d been on it, and most of them hadn’t really heard very much of it.
“They heard their own songs, often unmixed, but they hadn’t heard the whole thing and in some cases weren’t quite sure what the whole thing was going to end up like at all – but when we sent the album out to them… everybody they called up and said, this is actually great.
“It was a very hot summer, I remember in 1970, and we were sometimes a bit annoyed at having to be stuck in a studio for most of that summer – but it was actually really a very good experience and it was because it was our first major recording sessions”.
The special anniversary editions of the Jesus Christ Superstar album are available now, featuring demos, commentaries, interviews and more.