Today in Tedium: Some readers might have noticed my absence last month. Unfortunately, my father passed suddenly and I was out of commission for a while. As I looked through some of his stuff, I came across some things that reminded me of the times we would sit down together to watch Star Trek: the Next Generation or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Thinking about those moments reminded me of some old files and pitches that I was working on a few years ago. I came across one idea and decided to flesh it out a bit: a piece on songs about a certain science fiction television show. If I recall correctly, the original outline of the piece was written for a certain site that ghosted me a few years ago. So, here it is, completely rewritten with fresh insights. So set your phasers to stun and beam up your sense of humor because in today’s Tedium, we’re going where no one has gone before: down the black hole of songs about Star Trek. — David @ Tedium
Today’s GIF comes from a claymation music video for the well-known novelty song “Star Trekkin’” by The Firm.
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“And on no other show do I police myself as much, because I’m such a fan of Star Trek that it’s important to me that we are as funny as we can be without breaking Star Trek at all times and without being mean about Star Trek. With the network and with the studio, the conversations are mostly when I’m pitching an episode, I’ll be like, ‘Here’s what inspired this episode.’ And it’s always coming from a thing that I love about Star Trek, and then ‘Here are the things that we love about these characters, here’s how we want to explore them, and then this is why it’s going to be funny.’”
— Mike McMahan, creator of Star Trek: Lower Decks, discussing his approach to comedy on the show in a 2021 interview with Collider.
Where no musician has gone before (well, not really)
Last year, I discovered something rather silly: a radio station with an apostrophe in its call letters. I joked with Ernie that it reminded me of the Klingon language. This led to a very interesting journey about Klingon that ended up going pretty far and even made an appearance on Vice’s Motherboard—something for which I am eternally grateful. Revisiting this idea only further brings home the point that science fiction television can be a goldmine for weird stuff.
Star Trek has always been a great source of humor. Where Deep Space Nine and Picard readily take on more serious themes, there’s something to be said about the ever present sense of humor that runs a deep vein through most Trek shows. It’s in “The Trouble With Tribbles,” all over TNG (especially in some of Riker’s most memorable scenes), interspersed between more maudlin moments of DS9, and encapsulated by certain characters on Voyager. And that’s only naming a few shows! It’s not difficult to see the humor in the shows.
A few years ago, a surprising new Star Trek show was announced, focusing on the non-bridge crew of a “second contact” starship called The Cerritos. That show was Star Trek: Lower Decks. Created by Mike McMahan (who also worked on shows like Rick & Morty and Solar Opposites), the show centers on a few quirky characters who aren’t officers but perform the ship’s grunt work. It’s hysterical and the characters are quite fun to spend 22 minutes with each episode.
With Star Trek: Lower Decks already two seasons into its run and a plethora of Trek shows coming out, it’s almost as if a renaissance for the series is upon us. Also, Strange New Worlds looks amazing.
Lower Decks goes out of its way to take itself less seriously, proving there’s definitely some room for a bit of comedy interspersed with the more abstract seriousness the show often aims to hit. What Lower Decks does so well is how it leverages that crazy sense of humor into the fandom at large. It sort of reminds me of what happens when enthusiastic, musically inclined fans get together to write songs about the show.
Music has always been integral to Star Trek. From the opening theme of Star Trek (TOS) onward, music has been an integral part of Star Trek, inspiring viewers and musicians alike. While each show’s own music is instantly recognizable, the program also inspired a great deal of music by other artists (often related to TOS). You’ve probably heard “The Trouble With Klingons,” a pastiche created by Dennis Williams for a certain novelty song contest or “Spock Rap” by the animators at Will Vinton Studios (under the name The Neural Paralyzers) in the ’80s. Admittedly, not everything in this category is great, but there are plenty of gems around. Here are a few artists/songs that explore strange musical worlds, seek out new melodies, and boldly sing where no one has sung before!
You won’t find William Shatner’s The Transformed Man or Leonard Nimoy’s Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy here. Likewise, we won’t revisit the original Trek theme and its lyrics. Rather, these songs and sketches represent unique takes on Trek by various musicians and comedians past and present.
5. “Banned from Argo,” Leslie Fish & the Dehorn Crew
“And we’re banned from Argo every one, banned from Argo just for having a little fun…”
Filk music is full of talented musicians who share a love of science fiction and community. Filk music—folk music with lyrics based on science fiction—has a rich history, with a strong connection to Trek.
Leslie Fish is perhaps the genre’s best known figure. With her 12-string guitar and larger than life persona, Fish writes about science fiction and beyond.
“Banned from Argo” is an upbeat shanty with slightly twisted lyrics. The Enterprise crew goes on shore leave and various hilarious hijinks ensue. It doesn’t reference TOS characters by name, it’s obvious which crew members she’s singing about.
The first few lines of a song explore the mischievous misadventures of the crew checking out “every joint and bar” on Argo during their shore leave. Listeners then learn about the Captain’s sinful tastes and complex methods, the engineer’s ability to “outdrink space marines and a demolition crew,” and the first officer teaches the computer how to swear. It’s a shame what happened to the doctor … but I digress.
Surprisingly, Fish doesn’t seem to like the song much. As she states in several interviews (notably her brief appearance in Trekkies 2), the tune was written as quickly to fill out an album. It rapidly became her best known song—something she is a bit cranky about.
Leslie Fish has a large ouvre of other songs, both Trek related and otherwise. Her exuberant performances and love for storytelling shine during her performances. If you’re not a fan of folk music and/or sea shanties, you may want to give this one a pass.
If you enjoy her Trek music, check out the song “Carmen Miranda’s Ghost” and its accompanying anthology. For the full Leslie Fish experience, give Folk Songs for Solar Sailors a spin—if you can find it.
4. “Everything I Do, I Do with William Shatner,” Warp 11
”I don’t want to go to work, just wanna hang with Captain Kirk and if I had my way, I’d make it so…”
Dedicated to all things Trek, Sacramento’s Warp 11 built a career playing Trek-themed music. Originally devised as a “band that only plays Trek songs” for a one-time video project of bass player/singer Karl Miller, the idea stuck and Warp 11 was born. Two decades and six albums later, the band is still on their musical journey.
Through incredible energy, crunchy electric guitar, and hilarious lyrics, “Everything I Do, I Do with William Shatner” from 2002’s Red Alert perfectly reflects the band’s “mission statement” —to convert listeners into Trek fans. Despite its title, the song is about Captain Kirk rather than Shatner himself.
Effortlessly juxtaposing the manic energy of The Presidents of the United States of America and the killer chops of The Ramones with a wider mix of blues, rock, and punk styles. Add their DIY punk-meets-TOS cosplay aesthetic, and you get one very eclectic listening/visual experience.
With Warp 11, you’ll find songs about Q and Betazoids, an entire album covering The Borg, and a few sporadic tunes about Voyager. The band’s healthy mix of TOS and TNG material is the epitome of Trek music created by fans, for fans.
While I enjoy their music, it skews toward a teenager/adult audience and is definitely not for kids. Warp 11 are well known for their sense of humor and double entendre and they can be a bit R-rated at times, with mildly NSFW album art. Some of their stuff can be a bit of an acquired taste, but if you dig pink, scifi, humor, and Star Trek, they’re worth checking out!
For those interested in Warp 11, start with Red Alert, then dive into any of their post-2007 work from It’s Dead Jim onward, available at their website and most streaming services.
3. “StarDrek,” Bobby “Boris” Pickett and Peter Ferarra
“To boldly go where everyone has gone before!”
What do The Godfather, the most famous Halloween song of all time, and Star Trek have in common? Bobby “Boris” Pickett, of course. After having his breakout smash with “The Monster Mash” in 1962 (we wrote about this classic novelty tune in 2018), Pickett forged a career as a writer, playwright, comedian, and songwriter.
In 1975-1976, Pickett got together with producer Peter Ferrara to record “Godfather’s Respect”—a song about the 1972 film set to the tune of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”—and an original spoken word spoof of TOS called “Star Drek” (not to be confused with the MAD Magazine spoofs of a similar name).
The sketch follows the daily operation of a parody version of The Enterprise and its crew, focusing on the most exaggerated aspects of each character.
It isn’t an outright mockery of the franchise and its fans, either. “Star Drek” is a carefully crafted satire of the genre that plays to the absurdity of the occasional technobabble used on the show, taking a light hearted approach to the action. We won’t spoil the punchline for you here.
Barrett Hansen—a.k.a. radio host Dr. Demento—included the sketch on his 25th Anniversary collection, writing the two were on opposite coasts during the recording process so Peter ended up doing all the voices himself. They shared the credits, as Pickett helped write the piece.
The sketch is uproariously funny every time you hear it—a rare accomplishment for a comedy/novelty song—full of nuance and spot-on characterizations. Of course, your mileage may vary. The humor may be a bit dry for some, but it’s a fun piece that holds up remarkably well today.
2. “Beam me up Scotty,” Terry McGovern
”Beam me up Scotty, oh beam me up Scotty, life sure is trouble below …”
Terry McGovern is known today for his voice acting (he was the voice of Launchpad McQuack in the original Duck Tales), but he began his career as a radio broadcaster. Later, he would work in movies and television as well. In 1976, he released a Trek song of his own, “Beam me up, Scotty” on Baseball Records as a B-side to his rendition of the classic tune “Pachalafaka.” You can hear the entire thing on SoundCloud.
Not to be confused with an obscure country tune of the same name, McGovern’s song is a quiet rumination on how boring/awful life on earth can seem sometimes. The singer longs to join the crew of The Enterprise and escape the banality of modern life.
The song received airplay on various radio shows, but languished in obscurity for years until being officially re-released on a compilation album in the early 2000s. While it may not be the most well known Trek tune, it’s certainly well loved.
McGovern regularly attends conventions and teaches acting classes—on top of his legendary voice work.
1. “Star Trekkin’,” The Firm
“There’s Klingons on the starboard bow, starboard bow, starboard bow…”
The final entry in our list may be the best known: “Star Trekkin’” by The Firm. No, not Jimmy Page’s post Zeppelin band; this group was a side project of John O’Connor, a British music producer.
The song was popular in its own time—it hit Number One in the UK music charts and stayed there for quite awhile back in 1986—but took on new life in the internet age. It was used in one of the episodes of a Flash-based web series called Stone Trek (a mashup of The Flintstones and TOS) and a claymation video makes the internet rounds every so often. Not bad for a novelty song that was rejected by every record company O’Connor approached. Then it became a million seller, prompting O’Connor’s move to America, where he went on to compose for television.
The Firm released a full-length LP, Serious Fun, that’s worth at least a slip of gold pressed latinum. “Star Trekkin’” is the best and catchiest of the tracks. Good luck getting the tune out of your head.
The number of songs in the Star Trek musical Boldly Go! Written by a Caltech theoretical physics graduate, Grant Remmen, and his brother Cole, the show is a humorous and satirical take on The Original Series. With songs like “Dammit Jim, I’m a Doctor” and “Captain’s Log (As Great As I Know I Am),” the show is well worth watching for its two hour runtime. According to a 2016 Caltech ad for the show, Boldly Go! is ”a story about being true to oneself and one’s convictions, about friendship and love, about discovery and wonder, about the triumph of the individual over adversity, and about the joy of sharing with each other this vast and mysterious Universe.” For those interested in such things, it’s available in its entirety on YouTube.
When I originally outlined this—several years ago now—it had quite a few more songs. But over time, my interest and enthusiasm for Trek has waned somewhat.
And of course we couldn’t fit all of our favorite goofy science fiction songs into this piece. But there are plenty of great Trek bands around like “one-chord punk rockers” No Kill I (and NKI: the Next Generation and NKI:Deep Space Nine; they’re all different bands), modern filkers Ookla the Mok, and the Klingon metal group Stovokor, whose performances take Trek music to the next level.
Songs and sketches about Trek continue to endure well into the 21st century and beyond and it will be interesting to see what strange musical moments the future of Trek fandom holds.
And although this piece no longer resembles anything close to the original idea I had for it, I’m glad I was able to take a quick reprieve from the insanity of our modern world to find—and share—some humor from the bridge of The Enterprise that can still resonate with audiences today.
Thanks again to David for the great piece. Find this one a worthy read? Share it with a pal! And see you all next week.