In the Beginning

Mike "McBeardo" McPadden (Author) on Jesus Christ Superstar: Original Concept Album

Andrew Lloyd Webber, 'Jesus Christ Superstar: Original Concept Album' (MCA, 1972)

Come the advent of my early 1970s Catholic education, the church's uplift-through-intimidation days of smoldering incense, mirthless black-clad clergy, and mystic rituals in dead languages had been supplanted by uplift-through-regular-uplift tropes such as friendly nuns strumming acoustic guitars through "folk mass" and felt banners emblazoned with cut-out fish and "Jesus is Groovy" slogans.

So I really missed out on the cool, scary stuff. Salvation of sorts, then, was rendered unto me via Jesus Christ Superstar, the original, pre-Broadway (and movie) 1971 concept album, a blazing, blistering, psychedelic-scorched, heaviest-of-cosmic-trips acid rock opera in which Judas Iscariot is the hero—that's right, the hero—and the wailing, flailing, blood-sweating, God-doubting title messiah is ferociously vocalized by Deep Purple (and future Black Sabbath) frontman Ian Gillan.

In opposition to affably hippie-dippie tambourine-shaker Godspell, JCS kicks off with Judas epically bad mouthing the alleged Light of the World ("All your followers are blind/too much heaven on their minds") and ends with a terrifying tape-loop crucifixion and not, pointedly, a resurrection.

Hard highlights along the way include a booming doom conspiracy of execution ("This Jesus Must Die"), the Son of God raging pure power metal at the Old Man ("Gethsemane"), a burlesque of Roman empire decadence ("King Herod's Song"), passionate bullwhip play ("Pilate and Christ," expertly covered as "39 Lashes" by Acid King), and the familiar title track, which remains Top 40 radio's sole foray into discrediting the divinity of Western Civilization's primary deity—complete with a fun sing-along chorus.

Blessed as I was with long-haired, pot-puffing older relatives, the double-record Jesus Christ Superstar set turned up in every vinyl collection I pawed through as a prepubescent rock scholar. While not the first album I ever purchased, JCS was the first album I ever taped, setting up an old-school rectangular Panasonic recorder next to Uncle Bobby's mammoth speakers and capturing the entire sonic saga on a couple of cassettes.

The music-related tattoos I sport today paint a succinct picture of my overall taste: Alice Cooper, Meat Loaf, the Melvins, the Butthole Surfers, and King Crimson. My journey to discovering each of those crackpot giants (and countless more) can be traced very directly to the sounds, ideas, and reckless, radical, hyper-theatrical, apocalyptic might and madness of the original Jesus Christ Superstar.

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