William Shatner is set to become the oldest person to reach space when he boards New Shepard NS-18 as a guest of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.
Blue Origin’s first crewed flight aboard a New Shepard took place on 20 July 2021, taking Bezos, his brother Mark, aviation pioneer Wally Funk, and physics student Oliver Daemen to suborbital space.
In October 2021, 90-year-old Shatner will be joined by Audrey Powers, Blue Origin’s vice president of Mission and Flight Operations, alongside a former Nasa engineer specializing in nano-satellites and the co-founder of a clinical research software company.
Unsurprisingly, there was great interest when it was announced that Captain Kirk is heading to space. But the legendary captain of the USS Enterprise is only one of the Canadian’s major acting roles during a career that has also taken in directing, writing and music. When news of Shatner’s trip broke, there may have been just as many references to his music career as his acting. Famous for his distinctive interpretive spoken style, he has released eight albums so far.
Shatner may be heading to actual space for the first time, but it’s not his first involvement with real space exploration. In 2011, Shatner recorded a wake-up call for the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery on its final day docked at the International Space Station. It was a variation of his legendary opening narration in Star Trek: The Original Series, backed by the classic theme.
He’s also not the only member of the original Enterprise crew to step into music. Who can forget Leonard Nimoy’s The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins? If you’d like to hear their characters sing in canon, check out Kirk, Spock, and McCoy’s campfire Row, Row, Row Your Boat in the Shatner-directed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
Before you rush off to hear that, we’ve ranked William Shatner’s top 10 best songs so you can cut straight to the best.
10. “It Hasn’t Happened Yet” (2004)
Unbelievably, there was a 36-year break between Shatner’s first and second studio albums. Ben Folds stepped in to produce, co-write the songs, and arrange orchestration behind Shatner’s poetry on the comeback album Has Been. He returned a legend to us when he did. A new nostalgic direction, away from the classical references of his earlier album, highlighted Shatner’s gift for sounding simultaneously earnest, serious, and self-aware. As this second track shows, it was a revelation. Melancholy and profound, it’s the perfect showcase for Shatner’s style.
9. “Go” (with Lemon Jelly, 2004)
One reason it took so long for Shatner to return to the recording studio was the reception to his 1968 album The Transformed Man. It was parodied for years and made it onto Rhino Records’ Golden Throats compilations of terrible cover songs. But his reconnection with his musical output in the 21st century is undoubtedly thanks to a reappraisal of his early work, especially by music professionals. William Shatner was truly ahead of his time. One of his appreciators was the British electronic dance duo Lemon Jelly. Their 2004 album ‘64-’95 worked around samples from those years, including this highlight, which puts Shatner’s narrated poem at its center.
8. “The Transformed Man” (1968)
The title track of this psychedelic album is what launched Shatner’s unique style into the universe, inspiring decades of parody on the way. The album had a simple, pretentious concept, fusing classical literature⏤including Shakespearean quotes⏤with spoken interpretations of contemporary pop music, all ending with this extraordinary journey. What’s not to love? Shatner recorded the album while still playing Captain Kirk on television, and its cover plays on his famous character.
7. “Mr. Tambourine Man” (1968)
Few of Shatner’s songs take him on an interpretive journey quite like this one⏤from nervous conversation to the quite extraordinary shout of the song’s title that stops it in its tracks. A world away from the Bob Dylan original of three years before, Shatner recorded his version in 45 minutes. Mr. Tambourine Man may be one of the most famous and parodied songs on his Transformed Man album.
6. “Iron Man” (2011)
The album Seeking Major Tom was another simple concept. It collected space-themed songs and interpreted them through the prism of heavy metal. The talent that worked with Shatner on this album spoke for itself behind his spoken words. It included Peter Frampton, Queen’s Brian May, and Yes’s Steve Howe. Despite the Bowie-referencing album title, his cover of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” is a standout. Worthy of inclusion is a rare example of Shatner stretching his technique to sing Ozzy Osbourne’s original and that he manages to add an extra minute onto even Sabbath’s original album version. It’s also inspired some brilliant fan videos of Captain Kirk’s Iron Man fighting style.
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5. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (1968)
This version is sometimes ranked as the worst Beatles cover of all time. How could they be so wrong? Unlike John Lennon on the original or Elton John on his 1974 cover of his favorite song by the Fab Four, Shatner appears to be more distressed than mesmerized on his psychedelic journey. It’s unrelenting Shatner pop, something no one had ever imagined.
4. “Has Been” (2004)
Shatner’s collaboration with Ben Folds covered several musical styles, including this stomping Western-inspired title track. Witty backing lyrics combine with Shatner’s dry delivery in a song that’s hilarious until its serious intent becomes clear. “What are you afraid of? Failure? So am I.” It’s a stirring anthem in which Shatner banishes failure and makes his “has been” tag history.
3. “So Am I” (2013)
Shatner amassed a group of talented and well-known musicians for his fifth studio album, Ponder the Universe. On So Am I, Al Di Meola adds stunning guitar lines to a sad song. Who expected this profound meditation on losing a dog, even from renowned animal-lover William Shatner? But his work has never been afraid to explore strong emotions. Has Been’s What Have You Done? is another moving exploration of grief.
2. “Rocket Man” (1978)
This was the song Shatner inevitably name-checked when he confirmed the news of his space flight on Twitter. He memorably performed this interpretation of Elton John’s space epic as the host of the 5th Saturn Awards. It’s an extraordinary, mesmeric performance that was helped massively by an earnest introduction from the song’s lyricist Bernie Taupin. It becomes a higher art form when three Shatners share the stage.
1. “Common People” (2004)
The peak of Shatner’s accomplished Has Been album is his cover of Pulp’s Britpop anthem. Produced with pin-point precision, it brilliantly combines Shatner’s dry delivery with Joe Jackson’s soaring bridge and chorus. Jackson described the whole album as “musically satisfying,” and it doesn’t come better than this worthy version that stands up to its inspiration. This Shatner song should see off all doubters.