Album in Depth: Seeking Major Tom by William Shatner Part 2

Moving on. So far, we had 10 songs. The score is 7 to the originals, 3 to Shatner. Weird, I know. We had campiness all around, we had from Bowie to Schilling, Queen to Deep Purple. In all honesty, he’s only got three points so far because of the goofyballness of his delivery in songs that I didn’t care to begin with. Let’s dive into the second half of this thing.

11th track: “Silver Machine”, originally by Hawkwind:

Original: Hawkwind is not exactly mainstream, but did have his moment in the lights, mostly being what many considered the phase between hippie and punk… which is really weird. They played space-rock and had a buttload of formations. They still play today, from what I could gather, but this song didn’t do anything for me. It sounds a hell lot like Pink Floyd, if they were taking even more acid. The vocals are decent, the drumming is okay, but production value? The song is average. The chorus is silly; the effects they used date them pretty tightly to the sixties and they don’t really try anything clearly new.

Cover: Production value wise, this is really well made. The song is peppy, Shatner goes through some vocal effects that actually work, the instrumentation is basically the same only a bit more upbeat, the chorus is interesting… and while listening to this version, I could realize how closely it resembles “Time Warp”, from Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Face-off: The songs are pretty much the same, with production being a dividing factor. The original song was recorded in the sixties, the cover is a product of this century. Original 7 x 4 Shatner]

12th track: “Mrs. Major Tom”, originally by K.I.A.:

Couldn’t find an original recording; a shame. Even more shameful the fact that Shatner isn’t in this track. I know, right? It’s time for Sheryl Crow’s singing, and she’s a decent singer, nothing spectacular, but she was able to hit the right notes. This song is about the whole Major Tom story, from the perspective of Major Tom’s wife. And I really enjoyed this song. Piano + Sheryl Crow. I couldn’t find anything online that says otherwise, so I’m going to say that Shatner’s on the piano. Good song. Wish I could listen to the original.

13th track: “Empty Glass”, originally by the Tea Party:

Original: The Tea Party is one of those bands that… I never heard before. From what I could gather (in other words, searched Wikipedia), they are a prog industrial rock band with indian and middle eastern influences. Wait, what? How do you do that? If this song is any indicative, you do that loudly. I’m not one to listen to music with my headset all the way up, but dang… this is loud, even at mid volume, Radiohead loud. The song is kind of good, but it’s always on eleven. It speaks briefly of major tom, the singing is inspired, the guitar does show the influence, and… that’s about it.

Cover: Again, the background does the best to stay the “faithfiest” to the original, while Shatner… hams. He does ham it up, giving this time around a more Boston Legal delivery, and if you think “I think it’s more of a ‘Shit my Dad says’ kind of delivery”, I feel sorry for you and your offspring). Nothing to say that much this around.

Face-off: This song is not goofy with Shatner and it’s not really excellent in its original rendition. However, we can turn the volume down, but we can’t make Shatner go away. Original 8 x 4 Shatner

14th track: “Lost in the Stars”, originally from Lost in the Stars, the 1949 musical

Original: Wait… what? Okay, let me try. It’s a song from a musical, that… has a religious backtone to it. It has a whimsically deep singing, spotlighting that god is between the stars, and that if there’s someone that can help him get back home (I don’t know the plot to the original musical, so… it could be earth), it’s god. Cute message, I liked it. Lots of people did this song, including Frank Sinatra and Leonard Nimoy.

Cover: Humn… he’s just speaking the lyrics. No semblance of the melody here, no tries to fit anything anywhere. He’s reciting the lyrics, with a beautiful accompaniment of a piano and a tenor sex, if I’m not mistaken. This song is beautiful, like… awe-inducing beautiful.

Face-off: These are two different songs. While one is a musical tear wrenching song, the other has all the sorrow and sadness of the song, but in a kind of… noir environment. I… give the prize to Shatner. And that was hard of me to say, believe me. Original 8 x Shatner 5

15th track: “Learning to Fly”, originally by Pink Floyd:

Original: Pink Floyd. I like Pink Floyd. They are the band that made me get into rock music as a genre, they released Dark Side of the Moon, the Wall, Wish You Were Here; three of the damn best albums of all time. They leaded the prog rock movement, they innovated it, made it their own, and made a buttload of great songs. Learning to Fly is actually one of their well-known songs from the album “A Momentary Lapse of Reason”… Now, I’m done with the fanboyism over one of my favorite bands of all time, let me dedicate this paragraph to showcase how this album sucked. Pink Floyd isn’t Pink Floyd without Roger Waters being a giant dick to everyone; The Final Cut was horrendous, but at least it had the balls to be something that wasn’t a mellowed out example of soft rock that would Michael Bolton proud. With that being said, I have to admit that Learning to Fly, although riskless, was the best song of that album and is a good song to feel emotionally attached to: it is overly mellow, but you can say that it’s almost a “Brother in Arms” mellow, a song that was made to make you feel depressed, not by introducing depressing themes (although they both do), but by placing a depressing tune to go with it. That was long.

Cover: It doesn’t change anything. Oh, my freaking god, why? The time to go out of the limb to make a goofy track, they kept the things the same. Same uninspired shit.

Face-off: Nothing too great from any of the two sides… if he was going to do a sci-fi themed episode, why didn’t he cover… actually, no Pink Floyd songs come to mind. Hmm, they weren’t really into sci-fi afterall. Twas a shame. So… Floyd? Original 9 x Shatner 5

16th track: “Mr. Spaceman”, originally by the Byrds:

Original: I’m getting real embarrassed to say this, but I think that Shatner has a bigger musical range than me. Of course I’ve heard of the Byrds before, don’t be silly! They obviously are… hmm… an American band formed in the early sixties, that are considered by many one of the most influential bands of the sixties. Wrap your mind around this: a band is considered to be one of the most influential bands of the “beatles/rolling stones/who” era. Anyway… the song is pretty upbeat, I would dare to compare it to the Monkees, I guess. Don’t get me wrong, this song is amazing (and to some degree, so were the Monkees), the lyrics talk about Mr. Spaceman, but I’m pretty sure that they are talking about a drug dealer. The guitar is simplistic, the solo remind me of early beatles guitar solo, overall, a good to great song. And I will look after more Byrds after this.

Cover: It’s the same song. At least in the Bohemian Rhapsody cover they tried to change stuff up, but it’s the same exact music track. The Shatner is not really obnoxious, the guitar solo… is actually stranger more interesting than I was expecting. Overall, the song packs a little punch, but nothing to resemble a treat.

Face-off: Shatner’s version tries something, while the Byrds are just kind of like… Beatles. Now, I’m going to give this point to the Byrds for the simple fact that they created the song, and the song is really good. But I have to admit that Shatner did give it a bit more of a punch. Original 10 x Shatner 5

17th track: “Twilight Zone”, originally by Golden Earring:

Original: Golden Earring is a Dutch rock band, that are active since 1961. That’s an old band, and they had some really good tracks throughout their career, this song being one of them. It’s a riské song for 1982, actually. It reminds me of a glam rock of the eighties, but a more Jagger-like singing. The chorus is inspiringly well done, the drum beat is catchy, the bass actually makes the first appearance in this review of something remarkable, the guitar solo is filled with inspiring moments. I suggest looking after this song, and this band. The only bad thing is the duration, really, with some versions going to upwards of 7 minutes.

Cover: What? The song is exactly the same, but only with Shatner and a changed guitar solo… and how I love myself some wah wah effects. That’s the only main thing to bring to attention outside of the Shater reading the lyrics out of cardboard. Also, the song seems a bit darker.

Face-off: Again, it’s the stone or the hard place, it goes again into taste category. I believe Golden Earring wins, only because the singer is singing, but they are both well done songs. Original 11 x Shatner 5

18th track: “Struggle”, originally by William Shatner:

At the eightieth track of this 20 track album, we get to the heartwrenching original Shatner song that is Struggle. Let me just tell you right now: he hams it up. Of course he does, if he hams up other people songs, why wouldn’t he chew the sound booth with his own original song? The lyrics are about a man struggling against the obstacles of life and really make the album appear in a much different light. The question of “why he did this back then” and “why is he trying again now” comes to mind and you can see it in this way: he failed. He was once Captain James Kirk, captain of the enterprise, with people making fun of his album, because of the way he hammed it up. He fought his way back on the horse, and is trying again. He’s old, he’s a “has been”, yeah, that’s kind of old punches. Everyone can make a successful album out of listening to orders from Simon Cowell. But here’s a guy that is trying to make success out of an area that, literally, everyone is against. It’s a deadhorse by now. Parodied, ridicularized… and suddenly… even if for goofs and cheeseballs, he releases a straight from the heart song about a man struggling against the disadvantages of life. This song is beautiful… even if Shatner makes the scenery his own cardboard-flavored gum. Which he does surprisingly well. And, must I remember you, this album was a hit. Now, with the most serious tone, let’s listen to him covering Black Sabbath and Duran Duran.

19th track: “Iron Man”, originally by Black Sabbath:

Original: Black Sabbath can be traced back to “what was the first form of metal”. Grim lyrics, check. Dark tone, check. Somber guitars, screaming vocals, sharp drumming, check check and check. Iron Man is one of the greatest Black Sabbath songs, and is my personal favorite Sci-Fi song: a man that had to be imprisoned in an iron suit to save humanity, but afterwards being tossed aside, since he wasn’t of any use to society anymore. Truly a amazing concept, and is treated the best way Black Sabbath knows how: with Ozzy singing on top of Iommi guitar riff. It’s a great song, and if you don’t know about it, you should check it online.

Cover: This is the closest Shatner gets to singing. And is just ham. Good news, though: Zakk Wylde is on this track, and… that’s cool I guess. The song has a bit more guitar prowess, with Zakk Wylde splooging the song with his trademark tweeks, but in the riffs, I’m not exactly a huge fan… the solo, however, it hurts me to say it, but for now, I prefer his version of the solo over Iommi’s, but he had time to practice, I’m betting he played this song before.

Face-off: Of course I’m going to go with the original. I liked the cover, but Iron Man is already part of me with Ozzy and Iommi. Sorry, Shatner and Wylde. Good try, though. Original 12 x Shatner 5

20th track: “Planet Earth”, originally by Duran Duran:

Original: To understand Duran Duran, you have to understand the concept of boy bands. Because for a time, they were exactly that. An A-Ha with all good looks, instead of… well, I’m partially gay for A-ha anyway. It’s synthpop, pop rock boyband of the eighties. Rio and Save a Prayer are their car chief, you must remember one of these songs. The song is okay, I guess, but then again, synthpop is not really my thing, and I stray away from pop rock in general.

Cover: Replace the British smug of young rebellious rockfolk for… well, William Shatner. It’s becoming a trope by now. The synth background is still there, with Shatner, again, saying the lyrics. It mixes well, to be fair, but it’s just not the fresh zaniness of the start. A shame.

Face-off: Not that Duran Duran need any adulation, because they were abject lame, but they did the better work. Original 13 x Shatner 5

Five. Five whole songs, Shatner did better. Shatner deserves recognition for this. Is this album any good? To be completely honest? …no. Not even in the weird shit department. Halfway through you start seeing it as a serious album, and you just keep getting underwhelmed by the sheer goofyness and awkwardness this album represents. Maybe checking one song at a time should be the way to go in this situation, just call a friend over and be like: “so… do you like Golden Earring?” and he will go “Fuck yeah! Why?” and you show him this, and see his face dropping in the floor… but outside of that, it’s not that good, but I commend Shatner for doing this, and really think that he should do it again.

This is JotaKa, signing off.

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5 Responses to Album in Depth: Seeking Major Tom by William Shatner Part 2

  1. adam hamilton says:

    Wow Jotaka.. you really seem to know a lot about music.. I am glad that you at least enjoyed something from this album. But it seems there is a lot about it that you just dont seem to get. You see, Shatner is in on the joke. He has a fantastic sense of humor regarding himself. Look, we all get it, this album is not trying to change the world, just make light of things for a bit. I produced this album with Shatner and had a blast making it with him and all of the people involved. I just think it is rather lame that you seemed to think you know everything about it from the song that you say we “played the wrong chords” ect.. You must be a very talented artist and producer of music by the way you talk, lets see your work.. While I always appreciate reading a fair, honest and intelligent review or opinion of a record that I did, it is a shame to read a two part write up that really doesnt seem to get it at all and further more seems to pat its self on the back with little clever digs all the way through. If you are in anyway interested I would love to discuss the album in depth with you, maybe help you to understand where we were coming from. Adam Hamilton producer adamh111169@gmail.com

    • JotaKa says:

      Wow. I’m really glad to see some feedback, even though not completely positive from someone involved in the album I reviewed.
      First of all, as I said in the beginning, I was mostly in doubt with the whole “joke” scenario (I could see you were having a blast producing the album, and Shatner looks like he has an amazing sense of humor), but I reviewed this album as seriously as I could be. Even if it’s a joke vanity record, I tried to review it as a music record. I’m far from calling myself a snarky music critic, as I usually give praise where praise should be given, but as you may see, I’m a complete amateur and as such, I am giving reviews like one.
      As the producer of the album, you have to be straight to me. From a completely serious point of view, was that version of Space Truckin’ done to be really bad? Forget Shatner’s singing, the song in itself. It sounded… off. I don’t know.
      And I have to add, as a… music critic in a blog that no one reads, I don’t really need to be musically gifted, I just need to like music a lot. My “job” is to listen to a piece of music and critic it the way I can. I have a band where I play the keys, but it’s an amateur band that I play for fun, that’s why I totally get the “shit and giggles” part. And that’s why, in the end of the review, I recommend to the reader to buy the album. Fair enough?

  2. adam hamilton says:

    Jotaka, let me start by apologizing to you for getting a bit angry at parts of your review. You see,whatever musical project I work on, I have the utmost respect for it in every way. Whether it be a Shatner album or a classical music project, it doesn’t matter, I treat them all with respect, dignity and hard work. You see, first and foremost, I am a fan of music, like you, and I always will be. I try to be very careful with my opinions of others work because I know how much hard work and love goes into creating something. Inspiration and creativity are priceless to me. I cannot live without them. You do seem to know a lot about music and I appreciate that for sure. I also respect the fact that you are an amateur musician who writes a blog. But, you say that it is a blog that no one reads. That is not true.. I read it and I like how you write! And now I will continue to be a fan of yours and read it again. I am not trying to persuade you to change your opinion or ideas, I am only trying to give you more insight into why we chose to do certain things on the album. Yes, “Space Truckin” sounds weird! you are correct! I played flat 5 chords instead of the chords played on the album for that reason. It sounds weird and compliments Shatner’s silly vocal perfectly. I know the chords on the record. I very easily could have recorded a complete copy of the song. I did that on other songs for the album. You see, when covering a song by another artist, “you are damned if you do it differently” and “you are damned if you don’t change it and make it unique”. There are always people saying one or the other, you just can’t win. We decided to do it our way. I don’t criticize you in any way for not liking it or not understanding things about why we made certain choices, I got angry when I felt you were just being unkind and trying to poke fun at our expense. There is just way too much unkindness on the internet and in the world. You seemed to be very talented and very funny as well! I just want to encourage you to use your talents and gifts to make a positive statement and mark in the world. I appreciated you saying to the reader in the end to buy it, but that is not what is important to me or Shatner. He is an amazing, kind, sensitive man who cares so much for others and respects the creative nature in all of us. He never intended to make “music”. It all happened years ago as a joke that someone asked him to be apart of. Shatner has never sought out a recording contract or had any notion that he is a “recording artist” even though he has a Billboard #1 and Grammy nomination. The first thing he said to me when we began the project was “I have no idea what I am doing, but I love music and being creative so much, lets have some fun with this”. That being said, we did have such an amazing time making it, sure, we knew some would love it, some would hate it, but we put our hearts and souls into trying to make something really out there and creative and we were both proud in the end. I could have edited it down and made it one album but what would be the point in that… it all was Shatner’s vision and my job was to help him in that endeavor. I know you are creative and passionate too so that is why I felt the need to reach out to you and talk just a bit about this. Keep making music and writing! I will continue to read your blog and reviews, if there is anything that I can ever do to help please let me know. Adam

    • JotaKa says:

      I can see the dedication that went through this album, and of course, your love for your work that makes you comment and “argue” with someone on the internet over it. Again, we are very much alike, as we love music. And yes, you did make an unique album, just not, as you said it, “trying to change the world”. And it didn’t even tried: but I analyzed it as such.

      I still enjoy the album very much, and I thank you for our involvement, probably the album wouldn’t have been what it is without you. Thanks for the attention, and okay, if I ever need someone in the business, you’ll be my go to guy. Thanks for that, too.

  3. adam hamilton says:

    Thanks Jotaka! my pleasure. I would love to talk music with you anytime!

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