Ian Gillan was on his way to being a superstar with Deep Purple when he played 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. Released on October 12, 1970, it reached No.1 in the US on the February 20, 1971 chart.
Listen to Jesus Christ Superstar right now.
The 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.
Gillan’s rise and rise
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.
Elliman had modest success in early 1972 with a version of the show’s “I Don’t Know How To Love Him.” She 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 immortal 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 has continued for decades, 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, and took 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.
A notable supporting cast
Other notables on the LP included soul singer P.P. Arnold, British singer-songwriter Lesley Duncan and rock keyboardist Tony Ashton. He 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.
The original Jesus Christ Superstar cast album can be bought here.