Superstar

Album: Jesus Christ Superstar (1969)
Charted: 14

Songfacts®:

  • This song is sung by the character Judas on the evening before the crucifixion at the end of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. Judas, self-tormented by having betrayed Christ, has killed himself and come back as an angel to ask Jesus many questions about why he did what he did, and did he really think that it would do any good.

    Although it is the last song of the rock opera, "Superstar" was the first song written. In the 1973 Ellis Nassour/Richard Broderick book, Rock Opera: the Creation of Jesus Christ Superstar from Record Album to Broadway Show and Motion Picture, composer Andrew-Lloyd Webber recounts the writing of the song. After being awake all night working up ideas for a song, "The melody came to me and I jotted it down on a napkin." Tim Rice's lyrics were written one Sunday while he was waiting for his mother to make lunch. The word "superstar" had been lodged in his brain due to the fact that many pop stars of that time were calling themselves "superstars."
  • This song was released as a single even before the rest of the rock opera had been written. Murray Head ("One Night In Bangkok") sang on the single, which was released with the jazz improvisation piece "John 19:41" on the B-side. "John 19:41" would be the piece that played during the crucifixion at the end of the production.

    The song hardly made a blip on the radar at the time of its initial 1969 release, reaching just #74 in the US, but in May 1971 it made it to the #14 spot when it was re-released.
  • In a Songfacts interview with Tim Rice, he explained: "For a long time, I'd had a great interest in Judas Iscariot, whom I thought was a fascinating character. Even before I met Andrew, I thought it would be great to write a play about Judas in which Jesus is only a minor character. Or tell the story with Jesus as a major character but tell it from Judas' point of view. If you study the Bible, which I did as a result of writing Superstar, you'll find that the character of Judas doesn't really have any motives. He doesn't say anything, and he's only mentioned a couple of times. The Gospels were written some time later and it was convenient and easy to make Judas 100 percent bad. It was obviously helpful to the story to have it blamed on one guy, but I couldn't believe that this was plausible. After our first success with Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, one realized that one could mix modern music and the Bible, so we thought, let's have a go at writing a play on Judas."
  • While many in the Christian community protested the song - and still do - it was used by many others requesting lyrics for them to teach in their Sunday School classes. Priests and ministers even used it as the basis for sermons.
  • When Webber and Rice pitched Jesus Christ Superstar to MCA Records, the label balked at commissioning a whole album, but agreed to pony up for a single as proof of concept. Webber and Rice wrote "Superstar" in the summer of 1969, and while there was no guarantee it would ever be produced, they worked on an outline for the play at the same time.

    When the "Superstar" single was released, it didn't make a dent in the UK and had only minor impact in America, but it proved very successful in Brazil, Belgium and Australia, giving it enough worldwide sales to convince MCA to green light the album. By then, most of the play was written, but the songwriters had another challenge. "We had the colossal job of actually getting people to sing on the album," Rice told Songfacts. "That almost took longer than writing it. It was like a military operation."
  • The Story of "Jesus Christ Superstar" is Tim Rice's interpretation of the last week of the life of Christ. He explains that his goal was to make the characters as humanly relatable as possible, in both how they related to each other and with the audience. The live production and later the movie have been protested since the very beginning, and even 40 years later people still show up with signs to picket. In our interview with Ted Neeley, who portrayed Christ in some of the stage versions and in the movie, he said that he used to invite picketers to come and watch the show, and says they would ultimately change their minds about it after having opened them enough to see the production for what it was: human beings portraying other human beings, telling a story, but certainly not people claiming to actually be Christ or Judas incarnate.

    The story is told from the point of view of Judas, through his love of Christ, and was written to show his conflict and perhaps the reasons he felt he needed to do what he did, which was betray Christ and give him up to the Romans for arrest and ultimately crucifixion and death.
  • Murray Head, who had sung on the single of "Superstar," also performed the other songs of Judas on the original double album.
  • "Jesus Christ Superstar" was the first Broadway show that began as a record.
  • In the 1973 movie version, this song was performed by Carl Anderson, portraying Judas, on the stone steps of the Roman amphitheatre in Bet She'an in Israel. The amphitheatre, built around the year 200, was uncovered after a massive earthquake in 749 that decimated the ancient city, but lured architects to begin digging. Since then a bathhouse and Roman temple have also been discovered, and many, many underground catacombs. The amphitheatre itself was built to hold around 8,000 people and was probably used for dramatic productions.

    Anderson had been cast in the original West Coast version of Broadway's "Jesus Christ Superstar," and he and Ted Neeley (Jesus) became great lifelong friends during that run and the film shoot in Israel. Anderson died in 2004 of leukemia after being diagnosed during a 2002 live tour of the show. He gamely continued for three months with the show after his diagnosis, but was forced for health reasons to eventually bow out.
  • Before working together on Jesus Christ Superstar, Webber and Rice wrote another biblical play, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which was just a 30-minute performance for use in schools. When the Superstar soundtrack proved successful, they expanded Joseph to a full 90 minutes.
  • "Superstar" was a bit of a buzzword around this time. In 1971, The Carpenters released a hit song with that title.

Comments: 2

  • Josh from Champaign, IlGoof: references Muhammad, who wasn't born until centuries after Christ.
  • Sim from Cleveland RocksJudas steals the show. A great record.truely underrated.
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