William Shatner’s career as a singer, well, speaker in pitch, will forever be remembered and mocked for his over the top, spoken word performance of Elton John’s Rocket Man from 1978, and his 1968 album The Transformed Man.
Shatner has always treated his musical career with a large pitch of salt, even parodying himself by performing a spoken word performance of Eminem’s The Real Slim Shady on Futurama, but after a gap of 36 years Shatner released his second album, Has Been (2004), to rave reviews. Produced and mostly co-written by Ben Folds, Has Been is a brilliant piece of work ranging from the brutal and drum driven I Can’t Get Behind That, a duet with Punk Rock singer/spoken word performer Henry Rollins, and the beautiful That’s Me Trying, co-written by Nick Hornby and featuring singer-songwriter Amiee Mann.
The centrepiece of this album is Shatner’s cover of Pulp’s Common People. Lyrical and structurally perfect for Shatner, his take upon this track can certainly be called unique. Joe Jackson snarls out the chorus and a choir comes crashing in towards the end, giving this song an epic, almost insanely classical nature, of course with tongue kept firmly in cheek.
Largely ignored upon release, all this might change this year with the impending release of Gonzo Ballet, a documentary about Common People, a ballet based on the music of Has Been. Featuring interviews with Shatner, Ben Folds, the choreographer of Common People Maggot Sappington and Henry Rollins, the documentary deals with the recording of Has Been, and the build up to the first performance of Common People.
It all sounds a little insane but the whole project probably makes perfect sense to Shatner giving his cult status a further boost and we should be grateful that talents such as Folds, Rollins and Sappington are surrounding him, giving him the platform to produce such brilliant and original music.
It may have taken a while to get there but maybe now Shatner will finally get the respect he deserves because Has Been is an album that goes some way to earning it.
To celebrate, here’s Mr Shatner ‘singing’ Rocket Man…