‘Ho-Sanna, Hey-Sanna . . .’

Tracks from iTunes were running randomly the other evening as I puttered on one thing or another, and up popped the tune “Everything’s Alright” by Yvonne Elliman from the 1970 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar.

The inclusion of that track and three others from the Andrew Lloyd Weber/Tim Rice creation – the Overture, “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” by Elliman and “Superstar” by Murray Head (with The Trinidad Singers) – in iTunes and the iPod was a recent thing. During my most recent stocking of the iPod after the crash of my external hard drive, I idly saw the folder for Jesus Christ Superstar in the J folder and without much thought pulled into the iPod those four tracks.

They’d been on the digital shelves for a long time. I likely found the 1970 rock opera offered at one blog or another not long after my 2006 discovery of music blogs. Its acquisition was a small portion of my lengthy project of replicating digitally my record collection from the early 1970s, but once the JCS mp3s were safely tucked away on my digital shelves, I never purposely listened to them. I imagine that one time or another a track or two might have popped up while the RealPlayer was rolling on random, but I don’t recall. I think my view of the production – an album I played frequently back in the basement rec room during the early 1970s and on occasion during the years since I left St. Cloud in 1977 – was that it was nice to have on hand but no more than that.

And then came “Everything’s Alright” the other evening, except the track began with a clank or a clunk or a thunk, some kind of sound that did not belong there. Nor was the sound the result of poor splitting; the clunk or thunk did not belong to the end of the preceding track, “What’s the Buzz/Strange Thing Mystifying.” But as I listened to that track, I noted other noise that marred it, too. Irritated, I deleted the entire album and decided that, once we’ve finished moving, I would buy the CD set online.

Then I wondered, do I really need it? Would I still enjoy it? Or was its attraction one of time and place, the era of Hippie Jesus and my first years of listening to rock and pop and all their relatives?

So I borrowed the set from the library and began listening to it in the car as I ran a lengthy set of errands Saturday and went to and from church on Sunday. I’m not quite finished – “Trial Before Pilate (Including The 39 Lashes)” was playing as I got home from church Sunday – but one thing is apparent: Even twenty or so years removed from my last listening and forty-some years removed from repeated listening, I still know every line and every instrumental turn of the album.

That in itself is not surprising; the album imprinted itself on my brain when I was seventeen. How, though, does it sound at sixty-four? As was pointed out by critics when the album came out, its grasp on theology and history is spotty, and Rice’s lyrics can still startle one with modern-day references and still sometimes land smack in the middle of hippie mysticism. I recognize without too much concern the historical and theological fuzziness, and I don’t mind the modern vernacular or the hippie mysticism one bit. As to the music, it’s better than I remembered, superb instrumentally and vocally.

So is it essential? Well, it’s been 48 hours since I last heard any of the album, and for most of my waking hours in that time, the album’s instrumental themes and motifs as well as bits and pieces of the lyrics have been tumbling through my brain:

What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s a-happening . . .

I dreamed I met a Galilean, a most amazing man.
He had that look you very rarely find, the haunted, hunted kind . . .

Ho-sanna, hey-sanna, sanna-sanna-ho . . .

You have set them all on fire.
They think they’ve found the new Messiah
And they’ll hurt you when they find they’re wrong . . .

Will no one stay awake with me? Peter? James? John?

Listen to that howling mob of blockheads in the street!
A trick or two with lepers, and the whole town’s on its feet . . .

If you knew all that I knew, my poor Jerusalem . . .

Every time I look at you, I don’t understand
Why you let the things you did get so out of hand.
You’d have managed better if you’d had it planned.
Why’d you choose such a backward time and such a strange land?

So, yeah, when we get settled on the North Side, I think I’m going to add the CD set to the collection. (As it happens, the vinyl is still on the shelves; it survived last year’s sell-off.)

Back in the early 1970s, of course, Jesus Christ Superstar was a massive hit. The rock opera – the stage and screen versions came later – spent 101 weeks on the Billboard 200 starting in November 1970 and was No. 1 for three nonconsecutive weeks during the first half of 1971. The album was the source of three singles in the magazine’s Hot 100: Elliman’s “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” went to No. 28 in the spring of 1971; her follow-up, “Everything’s Alright,” stalled at No. 92 that autumn. And Head’s “Superstar” went to No. 14 in early 1971 as a reissue; it went only to No. 74 when first released in early 1970, before the album came out.

Here’s Head and The Trinidad Singers with “Superstar.”

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