The recording sessions were a tremendous thrill. The last evening we spent cutting, I had been working from 5:30 A.M. that morning to 6:30 P.M. that night on Star Trek, and Captain Kirk was really beat. I rushed down to Gold Star and went to work with Stan and Don, and we finally got everything done. Then we sat back to hear it from beginning to end. Now I’ve had some great thrills in my career, starring on Broadway for the first time in The World Of Susie Wong, playing in my first motion picture. The Brothers Karamazov, going on stage for the first time in Shakespeare’s Henry The Fifth, but the thrill I got from hearing this album all the way through was deeper and more satisfying that anything I had ever experienced. The Three of us sat there alone in the studio transfixed until 2:00 A.M. I had a 5:30 A.M. call at Star Trek that morning. But I walked out of the studio on air and soared through the rest of the day. I was really in orbit!
– William Shatner, 1968
The text above is from the liner notes to The Transformed Man, William Shatner’s vanity album from 1968.
Today, it has become the stuff of legend – or at least ‘meme worthy”
It needs to be understood (an is often overlooked) that Shatner is not unique in this late sixties practice of cutting an album of covers. Some of these were quite surprising, like Robert Mitchum’s calypso albums. Some were real unbearable- like Sebastian Cabot’s attempt to cash in on his fame as “Mr. French” on Family Affair.
What distinguishes Shatner’s vanity project from the others is that it may have been the first indication of what Kelsey Grammer beautifully encapsulate in an 2008 interview with GQ. In describing Shatner’s unique thespian style, he declared “It’s total self-delusion, and it works!”
It also remains the only such vanity record still in print.
Today, there are a lot of apologists out there speculating as to wether or not he was serious. Let me clear this up right now: he was. That’s why his “singing” ended up on talk shows like Mike Douglas and not on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In alongside Tiny Tim.
Had it remained there, it would have been quite enough but Shatner held on to his music aspirations including this amazing appearance from The Science Fiction Film Awards. That one floated about via bootlegs for years in the pre-YouTube world. For some it was something told in whispers.
Then, nearly forty years later, came 2004’s Has Been. The real surprise here was that the album was actually listenable. In fact, there is little in that album that provides the kind of sweet sweet Painjoyment™ of The Transformed Man. But it did reboot Shatner’s carreer. Something for which Cinémasochists will forever be grateful.
The Shatner styling became a recurring meme. Something for late night shows and roasts to exploit.
And they did:
Again and again:
But now comes the Shat’s Magnum Opus:
Seeking Major Tom is cinémasochist gold. As I drove to work today, I very nearly veered of the road as I convulsed to the Mighty Montrealer’s mangling of Bowie’s Space Oddity, Thomas Dolby’s She Blinded Me with Science, Golden Earring’s Twilight Zone, a new cover of Rocket Man and, of course, the album’s first “single”: Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.
Listening to this album has left me spent. If it were a woman, it would wear a spiked collar and high heels – and it would speak in a german accent.
The Transformed Man
Pain Level : 9/10
Quality of Pain: Khaaaaaaaaaaaan!
Painjoyment™ Index: Sweet!
Pain Level: 5/10
Quality of Pain: Surprisingly bearable
Painjoyment™ Index: Low.
Seeking Major Tom
Pain Level: 9/10
Quality of Pain: Thunderbolts and Lightning! Very very Frightening indeed!
Painjoyment™ Index: This year’s guiltiest pleasure!
Now can I suggest a single to cover for the next one?