Album in Depth: Seeking Major Tom by William Shatner Part 1



So, I’ve been systematically bummed out over and over again by some recent events, and decided to do an album review for shits and giggles for the fun of it. I was pretty pissed with Weird Al because of all the promises I’m unable to keep, so what other completely fucked up album I have in my collection? I present to you: William Shatner’s Seeking Major Tom!

For those that are not “in the know”, Major Tom was a character created by David Bowie in his album, Space Oddity, character that has already been revisited by lots of other people in the music business. This is a Space-themed album that William Shatner concocted. And… yeah, I got to admit, that it’s kind of ingenious.

And if you are less in the know yet, you may ask yourself: “Does he has any background in the music business?” which I would answer with a “kind of”. He did release an album before, but I wouldn’t call it a “music” album: you see, he was famous for his spoken word delivery. Instead of singing the lyrics like any mortal would do, he would just… say them. Not only that, but more often than not, he “sang” the lyrics as if Captain James T. Kirk was recording it. And I’m pretty sure that when he started that in his 1968 (just so you can see how far back this thing goes) work “The Transformed Man”, he was dead fucking serious. That album, by the way, is considered one of the worst albums ever. I wouldn’t go that far, but… it’s dreadful.

“Seeking Major Tom” was released as late as 2011, and believe it or not, is his fourth album. Not all of them were musical, you may think, but believe me: the albums with “music” are the best ones.

And since this is a cover album, I’m going to do my trademark face off, talking about the original version, the cover version and who won, with a final ranking. There are 20 songs in this album, clocking at a total of 95:13 minutes, and that is a lot, so this is going to be a long read. I expect to see an “originals 20 x 0 shatner”, so anything more to Shatner’s side is going to be profit. Let’s dig right into the travesty that is Shatner’s music career, Seeking Major Tom!

1st track: “Major Tom (Coming Home)”, originally by Peter Schilling

Original: Peter Schilling is your run of the mill European Synthpop one hit wonder, in his case, this music. I’m not really a fan of synthpop, so I’m not really a fan of his work in general, even though his theme is pretty much my appeal (sci-fi, mostly). The song is basically synthpop in its construction, the keyboard and drums. However, this song goes the extra-mile, with the bass and the chorus, which I found amazing. It contrasts the hopelessness of the search for Major Tom, while at the same time adding a certain beauty to the vision of earth from space. Definitely a good song.

Cover: The first song opens with a countdown and a conversation between the ship and the station setting the tone for the album: strap your hats on, this album is a serious one. The song starts exactly the same, but the moment Shatner opens his mouth, it’s impossible to not laugh out loud. He just does what he does worst: say the lyrics. But this time, he mixes dramatic with comedic delivery, so… you can really see that he’s having a blast. Melodically, the song is virtually the same, but his delivery gives a weight to the lyrics that the song… had, actually.

Face-off: Oh my god, this is harder than I thought it was going to be. With the only difference being the delivery of the lyrics, definitely the original version has the best singer. Definitely. But the cover has the best delivery. But as a song, I think there’s no doubt that Shatner loses. The original deserves a spot in an ipod, while the cover has his space in a sci-fi themed show. Original 1 x 0 Shatner

2nd track: “Space Oddity”, originally by David Bowie

Original: I don’t know much about David Bowie mainly because… honestly? I don’t like his body work. I don’t like his singing, and the few songs I care about are so obvious that I think everyone care for them (Starman comes to mind). He started in the late sixties, and the song that made him achieve mainstream was Space Oddity, of the album Space Oddity, in a time when Ziggy Stardust was inexistent. I think Space Oddity, the song, is a disjointed mess, with the only thing I enjoyed being the back vocals. At the time, it must have gone pretty well with the stoner crowd; I don’t know, I thought it was cacophonic. The verses didn’t go well together, the outro is incredibly bad… Don’t think it’s going to be hard t make a better version of the song.

Cover: How come a song sang by someone who is not singing can be so filled with emotion? This could be passed as a communication log, for real. Like… this is incredible. Because he’s just talking, it carries exactly the intention of the original song (a conversation between a captain in a ship and the station), with the instrumentation and the guitar solo remaining in the final cut. This song is incredible.

Face-off: I still can’t believe how much I enjoyed the cover version. It’s so… filled with emotion. Really makes you imagine, even if for just one second, that William Shatner has already gone where no one has gone before. And he’s obviously having a blast while doing it. Original 1 x 1 Shatner

3rd track: “In a Little While”, originally by U2

Original: U2 is one of those groups that you either like them or you can’t stand them. I like them, but not as intensely as most fans. You see, I like War, I like All That You Can’t Leave Behind, I think Sunday Bloody Sunday one of the best songs evah, but… I usually dislike pompous personnel, and he is your typical arrogant ass naturalist environmentalist that I usually hate. Also, I tend to dislike groups of three people for the simples fact that in the long run, the songs tend to lack variety. Albeit short, this song is sweet, is romantic, well executed, well sung, has a good acoustic guitar doing the base: it’s from my favorite U2 album. I like it.

Cover: The song got a cute rework that I enjoyed. However, the vocals are trying to be comedic, but… it falls flat, as if he just got the lyrics one second before the background started. The song still feels like an U2 song, nothing changed there, but the vocals… I don’t know, I would’ve asked for a retake. Even with Lyle Lovett (the feat. of the song) doing his best Bono impression at the end, it still is inexpressive.

Face-off: My… likeness of U2 is bigger than my… inexpressiveness for Shatner. Original 2 x 1 Shatner

4th track: “Space Cowboy”, originally by The Steve Miller Band

Original: I never liked the trend of baptizing the band with your name + band. Sounded to me as arrogance and the song they produce isn’t usually my taste (Dave Matthews Band, for instance) so I’m not particularly aware of the group in question. Apparently, they exist since the mid-sixties and they have a string of strong singles and albums. I don’t know. I liked the feel good of this song. It has a blues feel to it, but it isn’t a downer blues feeling, if that makes a shred of sense. There’s weird noise that I liked, the instrumentation reminds me of ZZ Top, the overall song is enjoyable.

Cover: The song gets a slowing down and a second guitar, this time more evident. And Shatner sings! Well, kind of. This time, maybe because of the “bluesy” feel of the song, just he talking remind me of some old blues. Remember those Blues Brothers songs that started with Elwood just saying stuff? Like “Everybody Needs Somebody”? Which by the way, rocked? It has that feel to it. Outside that, we have some improvements here and there. Must I say that this is the first genuinely great song of this album. Moreso when Steve Miller does a guest appearance: yes, he’s there. Also, Brad Paisley.

Face-off: Definitely the original version. But the cover kicks ass. I think they both deserve a space in a mobile device. But the best part of the cover is when the “featuring” sings, so… the original. I really enjoyed the original. I have to check more of this Steve Miller Band. Original 3 x 1 Shatner

5th track: “Space Truckin'”, originally by Deep Purple

Original: This is the song that started this review. I was aware of the album because of the Bohemian Rhapsody (we are going to get there), but when I saw Shatner did a version of a song from the BEST ALBUM OF ALL TIMES, I was genuinely curious. Oh, and by the way, Deep Purple is awesome, reinvented Hard Rock, started Metal, had a lot of great to epic songs, some dry streaks I admit, but Machine Head is their magnum opus. Space Truckin’ is a simple song, with simple lyrics, and great drumming, great singing, great guitar, an awesome riff, a most excellent bass line. I love this song.

Cover: Let’s cover the basics first. Johnny Winters and Ian Paice are in this one. So, we have the original drummer… playing an acoustic drum. Not really bad. But Johnny Winters wrecks the song before it even starts. I really think that he had the wrong chords: he is genuinely playing it wrong. But then, Shatner comes. And all my love for goofiness goes out the window. The guitars are wrong! And Shatner seems to be out of his freaking mind. Not in a good way, just… I don’t know. I feel like one of those uber fans hearing a sort of average song, but because of my fondness to the original, puking blood. This song is bad. Really fucking bad. The drumming is good, the guitar is dreadful.

Face-off: Original 4 x 1 Shatner

6th track: “Rocket Man”, originally by Elton John

Original: Elton John is thy master; thou shalt abide to thy bidding. Seriously now, Elton John is the main composer of a buttload of songs that lullabied generations. His songs that are great are awesome, his bad songs are tolerable, he has at least one song that could make you cry (my case, Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding). This song is really well made, the back vocals are amazing and the changes in tempo are awesome. The piano is touching, the idea behind the song is great, the whole concept is great. Each instrument that is added just ads to the song, the singing is great. I love this song.

Cover: What, again? The song that made him the laugh stock of the world on The Transformed Man gets a reworking, this time with instruments in the background. Even so… this is bad. It sounds like a captain log, you could see James T. Kirk recording this as his diary. Did he do that, or was it only Jean Luc Picard? Anyway… I like this version. The piano is humble, if you catch my drift, and his voice has improved since then. He even kind of sings now and then; he doesn’t go into full fletched singing, but you don’t really expect that from the Shatner.

Face-off: I liked the cover, but my love for Elton John’s work and this song in particular is just too strong to compare it with something as Shatner. Again, he got the song, and did something of his own. I can see people preferring this version over the original. Just… not me. Original 5 x 1 Shatner

7th track: “She Blinded Me With Science”, originally by Thomas Dolby

Original: I think everyone knows his song, but here I go. Thomas Dolby is an English producer, with few works outside the producing business, being a staple of synthpop and new wave… with She Blinded Me With Science being his chief car. It’s a good song, with everything working for it. The singing is inspired, there’s that sci-fi feeling through it all, the electronic feel to it works well. I like it a whole lot, even though it’s repetitive: the thing that makes it fresh every time is the Doc Brown-like in the background. It ends with a drum kit, and to be completely honest, I also enjoy it. Summing up, enjoyable tune.

Cover: How to transform a quirky song into a fucking weird song? This is the way. Shatner does all the voices. The only one he doesn’t do is done by a guy that is trying hard to be a gay sexy voice. I don’t know, I feel dirty after hearing this version… it’s really odd. And there’s a break in the middle of the song, where the sexy gay voice talks to shatner, and it’s… weird. The whole song is weird.

Face-off: But here’s the conundrum: the original obviously wanted to be a weird song. And because Shatner and… sexy gay voice are just borderline rapey weird, I have to give this point to Shatner. It’s just so completely irredeemable weird, that it becomes enjoyable. If I was going to pick the most memorably good song of the two, I would have to pick Shatner’s. Original 5 x 2 Shatner

8th track: “Walking on the Moon”, originally by The Police

Original: My opinion on the Police decreases with every new band I find. Dead serious. Sting is an asshole, he only writes pretentious music, no good albums, badly no good songs. To think that I once enjoyed this group really gives me the shivers, but alas… I can try referring to the good stuff. Synchronicity 2 is a good song. So is Roxanne. And King of Pain. And, honestly? That’s about it. That reggae infested soft porn rock with screamish vocals shouldn’t have made any success whatsoever. This song is everything that is wrong with The Police. It’s a 5 minute reggae song, and reggae sucks.

Cover: Fuck this song, fuck it up the ass; The ONLY time Shatner could save a music, he “sings” two verses, only to let Jamaica Hero sing a few verses, and let the song even more Reggae. Fuck, reggae is so freaking uninspired! Let me try it this way… the instrumentation is a little better in this one… A LITTLE. It has a piano. And Shatner actually “sings” a few verses, in his own manner. So, that kind of saves it. But it’s still a regae song.

Face-off: Since Shatner is not the Sting, I give this one to Shatner. Original 5 x 3 Shatner

9th track: “Spirit in the Sky”, originally by Norman Greenbaum

Original: All Wikipedia points me on him is that he wrote this song. I know this is going to sound a little bit short tempered on my part, but… it’s La Grange. ZZ Top’s La Grange, but with gospel lyrics. I wouldn’t go too far to claim that the song in of itself is gospel, but the lyrics are. I liked the song.

Cover: Shatner made the song even more resembling ZZ Top. I would remember Johnny Cash singing out of metric, in this song. He’s not singing, of course; it’s Shatner. But, hey, apparently, Peter Frampton is in this song. Can’t find him, but okay. May be one of those women in the gospel back vocals. I should add that every song has in the end a reprise of Space Oddity.

Face-off: The songs are similar, but I liked the original better. Just because of the singing lyrics. But, if I were going to compare it La Grange, I would give it to La Grange. Original 6 x 3 Shatner

10th track: “Bohemian Rhapsody”, originally by Queen

Original: Raise your hand if you haven’t heard of this song? Queen is, arguably, the best band ever, with A Night at the Opera being, arguably, the best album they released, with Bohemian Rhapsody being, arguably, the best song out of said album. The slow tempo piano with the melodic vocals, travelling to the change with the folk referencing lyrics and spastic melody, travelling to one of the greatest guitar solos ever, to one of the hardest rock pieces in their catalogue, just to end after this huge climax with a reprise of the start, and the ending, sublime. To be honest, words don’t seem to describe how well put together this song is, and the work that it took.

Cover: Would it be wrong to claim that I can sense that in this version the same effort was used? Shatner even tries singing, the back vocals are inspired… just a small addendum: this is the song that clarifies the whole “was this a joke or not?”. This song is obviously a joke. I can faintly hear Shatner trying furiously not to laugh. The piano trying to fit Shatner in of itself, no verses going to waste; that takes effort. But I think the song goes into laugh out loud territory on the Bismillah section. You could fall out of your chair laughing, he’s doing everything he can not to burst into singing, everyone is singing so blissfully. He makes a mistake in the lyrics, and directly after, a voice goes out of tune, symbolizing for me, that someone changed his tune laughing.

Face-Off: Queen, no doubt. But the cover is a must listen. It’s too awesome to be put aside. It’s pure comedy gold. Original 7 x 3 Shatner

So, this was part one. 3000 words. Woof. Tommorow there’s part 2.

Ps: If there’s any song that you have curiosity, I could try uploading it you YT for a day or two, since this record is kind of scarce online.

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