William Shatner is no stranger to the rock canon, as his 1968 spoken version of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds attests. Then, he was reproached by critics who felt that in addressing the song like an amateur Hamlet he was doing it a disservice. Only with hindsight can we come to treasure Shatner’s uniquely wrought take on rock and afford it the respectful affection it deserves.
The two-CD collection Seeking Major Tom, featuring Sheryl Crow, Dave Davies, Steve Hillage and Steve Howe, among others, settles the matter.
The concept is that, starting with Space Oddity, Shatner is conducting a follow-up mission to discover what became of the song’s Major Tom, which sees the Shat take in a host of space-rock classics. His gift is to extract from these songs drama, halting pathos and unexpected intonations undreamt of by even the original writers.
His Walking On The Moon and the peculiarly desolate Bohemian Rhapsody are especially striking. You suspect he may have made first contact with some of the material only recently; She Blinded Me With Science, perhaps, through which Bootsy Collins steers steadily, despite the ebbs, flows, darts and jolts of Shatner’s delivery.
None of Shatner’s guests are phoning it in; certainly not Michael Shenker on Empty Glass or Ian Paice and Johnny Winter on a funking good Space Trucking. Everyone involved has done so with a smile throughout, not least the great man himself.