We recently published our Ultimate TQS Springtime Playlist to help us all conjure up those warm weather feelings. While it was clear that we all felt generally good about our song choices, one entry in particular stuck out as, well, devoutly passionate. As promised, please welcome Emily’s husband, Mike Olek, to the stage to present his thesis: Jesus Christ, Super Stars, and the Rousing Rabbles of Followers, Deadbeats, and Jealous High Priests.
Spring’s great for bringing out some of my favorite sounds – chirping birds, barking squirrels, and buzzing bees. There’s one special buzz that religiously makes it’s way on to my spring playlist: “What’s the Buzz?” off the Jesus Christ Superstar (Original Motion Picture) Soundtrack. I’m an unabashed zealot for this rock opera / lifestyle. And now every spring you, too, can be a disciple of all things Ted Neeley.
Ted Neeley – doesn’t ring a bell, you say? Picture the uglier half brother of Barry Gibb and Gordon Lightfoot, and then add in the vocal range of a psychedelics induced American Bald Eagle (see Diagram 1 below). That’s Ted Neeley. Neeley will now hold a place in your soul as the unassuming Jesus who’s introduced in “What’s the Buzz?”
Much like spring sets the stage for summer, “What’s the Buzz?” sets the stage for the whole rock opera to bloom and heat up. Over the splashy Doors-esque organ and bass lines, the apostles immediately question Jesus with their opening lines laced with political and social unrest and future travel plans. Jesus bites back in his signature 1970s vibrato with carpe diem reprisals, “…save tomorrow for tomorrow, think about today instead.”
Preach! The song escalates as the apostles continue to push for news. They keep elevating Jesus’ blood pressure until Mary Magdalene (Yvonne Elliman) steps in. Mary brings some water to quench Jesus’ boil and subsequently drives him to use the word ‘prattle’ against the apostles. This sick burn douses their uproar and remains a word I have yet to hear again in song.
What else is happening in this tight 2:35 number? Judas is missing from those harassing Jesus. Could there be trouble brewing?! And while Neeley doesn’t make it up to his full vocal range – the G over high C in this song (see Diagram 2 below) – some overachieving disciple tries to get up there with 8 seconds left in the song. This nameless understudy is tucked back into the mix, but a funny find when you hear it.
The movie is also a great visual accompaniment to the soundtrack. Shot by award winning cinematographer, Douglas Slocombe (Indiana Jones Trilogy), this scene in particular showcases a beautiful, naturally lit cave, the subtle warmth and grain of classic celluloid film, and the unfortunate overdubbing mistakes that come from the limits of 1970s recording and playback technology.
Heed this warning! The 1973 soundtrack and motion picture are the only versions in the JCS canon you need to know. There are various earlier soundtracks and later revivals that are down-right blasphemous. Looking at you, NBC.