Crate-Digging: Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner – Spaced Out: The Very Best of Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner

Seriously!

(MCA, 1997)

Stop looking at me like that. There’s a good reason for this. Well, two, actually. One, I’m a Trekkie – although not the kind that goes to sci-fi conventions and points out the inaccuracies of science in television shows. Two, this record? Bizarrely entertaining. It really is.

That’s not to say it’s good, by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s so interesting to listen to and cringe along with. Every icky syrupy come-on from Nimoy, every misinterpreted and embarrassingly delivered line from Shatner is pure, cheesy gold. It’s dated beyond repair – that 1997 release date masks the fact that the tracks on here date from 1968 to 1970, and boy do they sound like it. And yet I couldn’t stop listening to it, it was wonderful.

Clearly there was an agent, or studio head, or record exec that had the great idea to musicalize these two – they were talented, right? Throw a record deal at ’em! Also, don’t let them do any of their own material – they should probably just do popular songs. And if they don’t do popular songs, at least make sure Nimoy records as Spock at some point. Oh, you know those variety shows on TV? Let’s kind of make it sound like those, like an Osmond family special or something. We’ll at least make some money off this stupid Space Trek fad, short-lived as it’s going to be.

I have no idea how the original albums charted, although Shatner’s spoken word magnum opus, The Transformed Man (from which his contributions here are taken), is a hokey classic. It should be unsurprising to anyone familiar with a modicum of the jokes that have popped up across television screens and in stand-up routines that Shatner, removed from Captain Kirk, had a hard time finding a niche within popular culture (although he probably would have disagreed with that). As such and in light of all that, his recording career was ill-advised from an artistic standpoint. His dinner-theater spoken-word approaches to both songs and script are so laughably bad that you have to wonder whether he takes all this seriously. I’m not sure which side of that coin I fall on – I don’t want to feel bad for him and hope for parody on one hand, but on the other it’s a lot funnier if he’s really trying.

Do you know these? Surely you’re familiar with Shat’s take on “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and yes, even this is simply spoken word. He talks through the verses, employing his typically Shatnerian cadence until the “And she’s/you’re gone!” parts, where he bafflingly shouts and his voice is overtaken by a delay effect. I wonder if he even gets the drug references – something tells me the closest he’s come is most likely at the bottom of a bottle of bourbon, and anybody who’s anybody will tell you that that’s a whole different trip altogether, man. His take on “Mr. Tambourine Man” is equally epic as he employs more questionable pacing and ends with the jarring “hey… MR. TAMBOURINE MAAAN!” Awesome. His performances of “King Henry the Fifth” and “Hamlet” are more monologues than anything, and one wonders if he even knows what he’s saying as he barrels through the text. His overacting is a tremendous asset, though, to the enjoyment of his tracks – I hesitate to call them songs.

There’s a reason Shatner overshadows Nimoy here, as he does on the Enterprise, and that’s because Nimoy nestles himself quite well into the boho country-folk idiom, not really going the high-risk/high-reward route. And, Nimoy can actually sing! Who would’ve thought? Strangely, what’s presented here is also a collection of other people’s songs, and although he hits all the right notes, the source material is a little weird for, er, Spock to tackle. The choices range from trite and schmaltzy (“If I Had a Hammer,” “Abraham, Martin, and John,” “If I Was a Carpenter,” “Everybody’s Talkin’”) to downright creepy (“Gentle on My Mind,” gulp, “I’d Love Making Love to You”). Yes, you read that last one right. What woman, in response to Nimoy’s advances, would return, “Yes, I’d love making love to you too … Spock”? Shudder.

He hits some high points though, and they’re actually decent renditions for what they’re worth, such as Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line,” which is remarkably appropriate, and the genius “Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” about, duh, the titular hobbit’s adventures – no surprise there, it’s hard to mess up something that embodies such corny 1960s perfection. Spock, as such, even makes a couple of appearances – kind of. “Highly Illogical” borrows the first officer’s popular phrase as he scientifically observes earthling behavior, and “A Visit to a Sad Planet” even begins with Nimoy intoning, “First officer’s log…” “Spock Thoughts” closes out the record, and is the only mention of the character. It is exactly what the title suggests. And “Music to Watch Space Girls By” is instrumental – so why is it here? Nimoy has nothing to do with it.

I could probably give you a hundred reasons why this is a stupid gimmick of a record, but I could also give you a thousand more why it’s worth listening to. I was surprised by how enthralled I was by it, and I laughed every time I pictured a young Shatner or Nimoy enthusiastically performing their songs. There are few career paths like those taken by the original Star Trek alums, and this album serves as a reminder that there could both be missteps and that those missteps could be worth remembering.

RIYL: Zap Brannigan, variety shows from the 1960s and 1970s, Waylon Jennings

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2 responses to “Crate-Digging: Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner – Spaced Out: The Very Best of Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner

  1. Pingback: Critical Masses All-Time Crate-Digging Top 50, part 3: 30-21 |·

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