Ian Gillan & ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’

October 12, 2017

Ian Gillan was on his way to being a superstar with Deep Purple when, on an album released on 12 October 1970, he became one in the lead role of a musical. It was the Decca album version of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar.

gillanThe recorded incarnation of the musical was the original, created before the show became a smash hit stage show. Its cast list is fascinating, as it contained a number of artists who went on to considerable success in their own right, and some others who were enjoying success elsewhere at the time.

As the Superstar album emerged in the autumn of 1970, Gillan was in the charts as Purple’s frontman, with the ‘Black Night’ single and In Rock album. He played Jesus Christ opposite the young Yvonne Elliman as Mary Magdalene, a role she reprised for four years in the stage version.

Yvonne Elliman

Yvonne Elliman

Elliman had modest success in early 1972 with a version of the show’s ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’ and then hit her chart stride in the second half of the 1970s, with hits like ‘Love Me’ and ‘Hello Stranger’ and, of course, a place on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack with ‘If I Can’t Have You.’

Murray Head, who played Judas Iscariot, made the charts in America and Canada with the album’s near-title song ‘Superstar.’ He went on to a prosperous acting and singing career that continues today, and included the huge 1984 hit ‘One Night In Bangkok.’

Former Manfred Mann frontman Mike D’Abo was already pursuing a career as a songwriter and part-time actor, making him ideal for the album role of Judas Iscariot; bass player John Gustafson, who played Simon Zealotes, was a veteran of groups such as the Big Three, and later reunited with his colleague from this record in the Ian Gillan Band. Other notables on the LP included soul singer P.P. Arnold, British singer-songwriter Lesley Duncan and rock keyboardist Tony Ashton, who was enjoying a major UK hit with ‘Resurrection Shuffle’ as a member of Ashton, Gardner & Dyke, even as Superstar hit the US summit.

The Jesus Christ Superstar album reached No. 23 in the UK but fared considerably better elsewhere, hitting the top ten in Australia and some European markets. But its great triumph was in America, where it spent three non-consecutive weeks at No. 1, interrupted by Janis Joplin's Pearl. 

Purchase Jesus Christ Superstar here.

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  1. Toad

    Yep, the album version was pretty great. My Christian parents bought this album when I was a kid, and they lived to regret it. I used to sing the opening Judas song in the bathtub, and they could hear their little boy howling throughout the house, “Jesus! You’ve started to believe/These things they say of you/You really do believe/This talk of god is true-ue-ue…” My mother actually spoke to me about it: “Son, some of those songs, out of context…” I think I could still sing that whole thing from memory, these many decades later.

    1. Graeme

      Listening to it right now, on Xmas day ironically. I am also singing along to almost all the lyrics 30 years later. Brilliant music throughout the entire album.

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