Certain Songs #1214: Murray Head & The Trinidad Singers – “Superstar”

Album: Jesus Christ Superstar
Year:1969

“Don’t let me stop
Your great self destruction
Die if you want to
You misguided martyr
I wash my hands
Of your demolition
Die if you want to
You innocent puppet”

That is, of course, what Pilate says to Jesus just before “Superstar” fanfares itself in on the Jesus Christ Superstar album, and to me, it’s always seemed like an essential prologue to a song that has always been the most public face — if not the best song, which is of course “Everything’s Alright” — of a pop-culture juggernaut that’s been going on for nearly fifty years now.

That said, the first time people heard “Superstar,” the album hadn’t even been finished yet: it was released as a single in late 1969, nearly a full year before the album came out.

Which makes some sense, as “Superstar” is a fantastic song that doesn’t quite fit the plotline of Jesus Christ Superstar — after all, it’s sung by Judas, who had already killed himself — but of course none of that matters, because bassist Alan Spenner and drummer Bruce Rowland are funky enough to be responsible for Jesus’ eventual resurrection all by themselves, and Murray Head’s call-and-response with the Trinidad Singers remains a master class.

(Don’t you get me wrong)
Don’t you get me wrong
(Don’t you get me wrong, now)
Don’t you get me wrong
(Don’t you get me wrong)
Don’t you get me wrong
(Don’t you get me wrong, now)
Don’t you get me wrong

(Only want to know)
Only want to know
(Only want to know, now)
Only want to know
(Only want to know)
Only want to know
(Only want to know, now)
Only want to know

And in fact, that pre-chorus build — and the massive chorus itself — totally make up for the clunkiness of verses. I mean, I understand the point of rhyming “mass communication” with “reached a whole nation,” but even in 1969, the whole world would be reached, not just a single nation.

And that’s not even as bad as the last verse, where Judas asks Jesus about Buddah & Mohammed, the latter of whom wouldn’t even be born for a few hundred years and the former or whom would have only been known about if there was mass communication in 4 BC, which the song clearly establishes there wasn’t!

Of course, none of that mattered to young Jim, whose liberal parents subverted the Catholicism in which he was being raised by going to a church where a goddamn hippie would sing Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young songs during the liturgy as well as by having the controversial “Rock Opera” in their home. Controversial, of course, among many other things, by its sympathetic treatment of Judas Iscariot, who had become such a cultural touchstone for betrayal that the mere invocation of his name was enough to make Bob Dylan scorch the earth with an otherworldly version of “Like a Rolling Stone” just a few years earlier.

So while I’ve always been dubious at the claim that Jesus Christ was my personal lord and savior, I was damn certain He was a helluva singer, especially on Made in Japan.

In the end, “Superstar” is a masterpiece of excess, with the a massive orchestra reaching for heaven and a choir singing the chorus majestically while an overdubbed Murray Head and the Trinidad singers repeat “I only wanna know” and “tell me, tell me” over and over and over until the fade.

And yeah, damn straight I watched the 2018 Jesus Christ Superstar live in concert on Easter — what was once sacrilege becomes sacrament — and enjoyed the hell out of it.

Video for “Superstar”

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