The crew of the Starship Enterprise no longer soars through the galaxy under the command of Captain James T. Kirk, but they continue to inhabit the airwaves on a number of pop and rock recordings. The Vulcan Mr. Spock, aka Leonard Nimoy, Lieutenant Uhura, aka Nichelle Nichols, and several others from the series' next generation of actors have released albums, and Kirk -- actually his alter ego, William Shatner -- is still commander of the pack. His spoken word recordings of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "Mr. Tambourine Man" from The Transformed Man album in 1968 may be considered classic camp, but Shatner's delivery of those and other numbers long remained in the public's consciousness. They helped make him a singing celebrity spokesman in TV commercials three decades later. On the other hand, if people do see Shatner's performances as campy, they also view him with a degree of respect for daring to let it all hang out, vocal warts and all, and have fun with the music. If Captain Kirk knew how to crack a wry grin from time to time, then Shatner surely knows how to laugh. He's not afraid to poke fun at himself or the roles he has played, as evidenced by his 2004 pairing with Ben Folds on the cheekily titled Has Been.
Born in Montréal, Québec, Canada in 1931, Shatner graduated from McGilll University with a degree in Economics in 1952 before training as a Shakespearean actor with Ottawa's Canadian National Repertory Theatre. He launched his professional career appearing in various productions at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, and made his Broadway debut in a staging of Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great in 1956. From there, he moved into television, starring in a variety of shows and teleplays including roles on The Twilight Zone, The Defenders, and Dr. Kildare, before landing the role of James T. Kirk on creator Gene Roddenberry's landmark sci-fi series Star Trek. The series, which lasted for three seasons from 1966 to 1969, became a pop culture touchstone, marked by its cult fan base. It also cemented Shatner's image in the public's collective consciousness, forever linking him with his character Kirk's charismatic persona.
This close association between Shatner the man and Captain Kirk was a fact he cheekily referenced on the cover of Transformed Man, crediting himself as both William Shatner and Captain Kirk of Star Trek. Released in 1968, the concept album featured the actor reading classic poems and excerpts by William Shakespeare and others, juxtaposed with him singing contemporary songs with similar themes. Whether originally intended tongue in cheek or not, the album quickly achieved novelty status. Along with acting, Shatner kept making albums, appearing on Live (aka Captain of the Starship), a 1977 release from Imperial House Music.
Twenty years later, MCA issued Spaced Out! The Best of Leonard Nimoy & William Shatner. The recording combined cuts from Shatner's The Transformed Man with numbers from a pair of Nimoy's albums, Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy and Mr. Spock's Music from Outer Space. Starting in the late '80s, Shatner was featured on the Rhino compilations Golden Throats: The Great Celebrity Sing Off, Golden Throats, Vol. 2: More Celebrity Rock Oddities, and Golden Throats 4: Celebrities Butcher Songs of the Beatles. The trend continued for more than a decade and included an appearance on Celebrities...At Their Worst in 1999.
Not everyone views Shatner's musical performances solely as camp. Beck paid tribute to Shatner's cover of Elton John's "Rocket Man" in the video he shot for the single "Where It's At." Also, Shatner and Ben Folds traded musical favors, with Folds collaborating with the former Star Trek captain on the 2004 studio effort Has Been, while the pop star agreed to appear in a TV commercial with the singing Shatner. In 2011, Shatner released the double-disc studio album Seeking Major Tom, featuring a newly recorded version of his classic interpretation of "Rocket Man," and two years later he released a sci-fi prog rock concept album called Ponder the Mystery. In 2018, he paired with Alabama's Jeff Cook for the country album Why Not Me. Also that year, he issued the holiday-themed Shatner Claus. ~ Linda Seida