Starting in the 1960s, William Shatner, riding high on his Star Trek fame, began his idiosyncratic musical career. With his 1968 concept album, The Transformed Man, the actor gave us the first taste of his musical schtick. He wouldn’t sing songs. He would speak them, often in a melodramatic, exaggerated fashion. Just listen to his versions of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” to see what I mean.
Four decades later, the Shat hasn’t changed his style. In 2011, he released a popular version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” (watch below) on his space-themed album, Seeking Major Tom. But really, if you want to experience the high watermark of Shatner’s musical work, you need to beam yourself back to 1978. That’s when the actor hosted The Saturn Awards (essentially the Oscars for science fiction, fantasy & horror films) and “sang” a version of “Rocket Man,” the 1972 song co-written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. It’s Taupin who introduces Shatner, and Karen Black who introduces Taupin.
As you will see (above), the broadcast used chroma key video techniques to portray three different images of Shatner, each of which represented a different part of the Rocket Man’s character. Now a cult classic, Shatner’s performance has been parodied over the years by Beck, Family Guy, and Chris Elliot on a 1992 episode of Late Night with David Letterman, among others. You can find a new recording of “Rocket Man” on Seeking Major Tom.
Finally, if you’re wondering who brought home the hardware from the ’78 Saturn Awards, it was George Burns, Jodie Foster, Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.