Jesus Christ Superstar—the album—preceded Jesus Christ Superstar—the Broadway show—by a year or so. Somewhere in the bins of goodies from my youth stashed away in the basement there’s a program from a traveling production we saw in Cincinnati in the early 70s—I’m thinking that was 73 or thereabouts. But my main recollection of exposure to the music of JCS came in junior high.
Mr. Gayle was my English teacher in both 7th and 8th grades (he was also the homeroom teacher who would discuss the pop hits of the day with me). He must have been mighty good, since I can recall so many of the assignments he gave us: a ten-entry journal where we were required to employ a variety of writing styles, penning a play to be performed on stage in front of the class, reading Watership Down and then creating a story featuring its characters. (I’m realizing as I write this how much creative writing we were asked to do—that’s pretty cool. Maybe it’s why have fond memories?) A number of us were also involved in putting together a periodically published junior high “newspaper” he helped supervise called Echo.
In 7th grade (76-77) we spent a week or two listening to Jesus Christ Superstar on a portable turntable Mr. Gayle had brought to the classroom. Given what I wrote above, it’s a little surprising I don’t really remember exactly why that happened, but I think we were concentrating on lyrical analysis—we got ditto sheets of typed lyrics to follow along and take notes as we listened to several of its songs. While I wonder if doing a unit on JCS could possibly pass muster now in public school, I didn’t sense there was any proselytizing going on (while there was very little in the way of religious diversity in my school, JCS wasn’t exactly regarded as orthodoxy). I enjoyed a number of the pieces, particularly “Everything’s Alright,” “Blood Money,” “Hosanna,” and “Superstar.”
Three songs on this week’s show were from Jesus Christ Superstar, all from newcomers who one day would return to the charts: competing versions of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” from Yvonne Elliman (Mary Magdalene) and a cover by Helen Reddy, and “Superstar,” by Murray Head (Judas) and the Trinidad Singers. While it’d still be several months until JCS opened on Broadway, its presence on the singles chart was very near an end. Elliman (#35, falling from a peak of #28) and Head (#22, reached #14) are in their last weeks on; Reddy (#23, down from a #13 high) lasted one more show.