Did William Shatner ever really visit any stranger universes than that of pop music, or at least his own interpretation of it?
1968 saw the release of his first foray into this often over the top world with The Transformed Man- somewhat bizarrely this featured the man most knew as Captain James T Kirk giving spoken word readings of Shakespeare alongside covers of the likes of The Beatles' Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds....
During a Desert Island Discs appearance George Clooney would say of Shatner's take on the psychedelic track that
“If you listen to this song, you will want to hollow out your own leg and make a canoe out of it to get off the island.”Perhaps cruelly/inevitably it was voted the worst Fab Four cover of all time in a 2003 poll!
The Transformed Man also featured a cover of Bob Dylan's Mr Tambourine Man...
In an interview in the September 21, 2004 issue of Newsweek, Shatner was asked "Doesn't it bother you that your version of 'Mr. Tambourine Man' is a camp classic?" He replied,
"Yes, in the beginning it bothered me that people singled it out and poked fun at it. They didn't know what I was doing. The album The Transformed Man is much more extensive than that song. But since people only heard that song, I went along with the joke."It would take Shatner nearly a decade before his Difficult Second Album reached the public. A 1977 live release saw Bill wisely sticking to spoken word on William Shatner Live. As he put it in his liner notes-
"The idea of a one man show had intrigued me for a long time. It's a well known fact that the film is a director's medium and the stage belongs to the actor. Once the curtain goes up nobody yells "cut."
But the one man show is the ultimate of the actor's medium and it was this thought that led me back again and again to what I could do, alone, on the stage. It would be merciless, I knew. If I were good, it would be the actor's dream-- but if it failed I would be alone.
Alone up there with thousands of eyes peering at me -- opera glasses raised for a closer look, and the unasked but heavily felt question "what's he going to do?"
All this was going through my head as I learned the lines -- all this was in front of my eyes as I lay down at night -- and when the day came that I was to open at Texas A&M University I was filled with fear.
A very primitive fear -- the fear of the actor. The nightmare that all actors have from time to time is appearing naked in front of an audience -- not knowing the lines, not knowing the play -- I was living the dream.
Thirty-five hundred people awaited me expectantly; the buzz of their voices reached me backstage, the lights dimmed, the M.C. announced my name and I walked out. The spotlight hit me like a physical force and I was on -- oh muse, be with me now -- I took a breath & started to speak..."
The double album featured Shatner performing excerpts from The War of the Worlds and Cyrano de Bergerac, among other things, but arguably his most famous cover would come the following year...
In a performance at the 1978 Science Fiction Film Awards, Shatner gave Elton John's Rocket Man a rather unique treatment! Some years later it provided Family Guy, in which Shatner has frequently been affectionately parodied, with further ammunition.
Shatner, obviously realising that he was ripe for parody, would on occasion go on to spoof his own unique musical style. At the 1992 MTV Movie Awards he performed all five of the Best Song From a Movie nominees.
In October 2004, Shatner released an album entitled Has Been, produced and arranged by Ben Folds and with songs composed by Shatner and Folds. It surprised many a reviewer and received much critical acclaim, especially for its sole cover, a version of Pulp's Common People performed with Joe Jackson...
Shatner even managed to get his one of a kind stylings into the fourth episode of sitcom $h*! My Dad Says, where he had a lead role. In the short lived series his character Ed Goodson makes a Karaoke performance of Right Said Fred's I'm Too Sexy. He's given the chance to sing Rocket Man in the same scene, but wisely answers "Not tonight!".
2011's Seeking Major Tom found William revisiting the final frontier through music with a set of space-themed songs. Among the well chosen tunes subjected to Shatnerisation were David Bowie's Space Oddity, Deep Purple's Space Truckin', the Police's Walking On The Moon, Duran Duran's Planet Earth and Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.
Working on the album with Shatner were Zakk Wylde of Black Label Society, Peter Frampton, Brian May of Queen, Steve Howe from Yes, John Wetton from King Crimson and Asia, Ritchie Blackmore from Deep Purple, Alan Parsons, Bootsy Collins of Parliament-Funkadelic, country star Brad Paisley, and other famous popular musicians.
Shatner's fourth, and most recent studio album arrived in 2013. Ponder The Mystery would see the good Captain get philosophical on travels through the space-time continuum...
All the lyrics on the prog-rock album are credited to Shatner, and it features many a guest musician including former Yes keyboardists Rick Wakeman and Tony Kaye, Steve Vai, and Vince Gill. Bill explained his new musical direction to Rolling Stone,
"I think that prog-rock is the science fiction of music. Science fiction speculates on what the future might be and look like and how we'll get there, and yet there's always a central theme of humanity, or there should be. Progressive rock has the same concept of exploration into the parts of the music world that hasn't been explored."To boldly go, as someone once said.