Who’d have guessed more than 50 years ago when actor William Shatner brought Capt. James T. Kirk so vividly to life and helped turn “Star Trek” into a cultural touchstone that the show’s famous “final frontier” might turn out to be … Christmas music?
We kid you not: The veteran actor, 87, has just released an album of yuletide classics: “Shatner Claus — The Christmas Album,” for which he’s joined by a galaxy of pop, rock, country and other stars of contemporary music. Proto-punk rocker Iggy Pop, folk-pop queen Judy Collins, country singer-songwriter-guitarist Brad Paisley, Jethro Tull flutist Ian Anderson, prog-rock keyboard wiz Rick Wakeman and ZZ Top guitar hero Billy Gibbons are among the baker’s dozen guest collaborators.
“Every song — good or bad — has my interpretation with the desire to bend it a little or fulfill more fully its original desire,” Shatner said.
That’s his way of pointing out that, rather than simply stepping into a studio and reciting lyrics over prepared backing tracks to seasonal favorites such as “Jingle Bells,” “Feliz Navidad,” “White Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland,” Shatner worked closely with album producers Adam Hamilton and Jurgen Engler in applying his vision of how each number ought to play out.
“Jingle Bells,” for instance, which starts the album at a breakneck pace as Shatner almost hyperventilates as he relays the song’s lyric.
The result is in keeping with his previous cult-classic recordings featuring his often hyper-dramatic style of spoken-word recitation. Those date to his 1968 debut album, “Transformed Man,” which included his camp-classic renditions of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” and the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”
“I’m looking at this album as the culmination of this (longtime) yearning to make music and to try to do it the only way I know how,” Shatner said.
His partners on each track help up the musical content — Paisley adding his felt electric guitar work to their version of “Blue Christmas,” Gibbons doing likewise on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and Collins singing sweetly against him for “White Christmas.”
The diversity of those collaborators shows the reach of his ever-expanding fan base. For many of the guests, however, it’s simply an opportunity to work with one of their heroes.
“Bill is one of the biggest inspirations to me on how to live your life that I’ve ever met, or ever will,” Paisley, 46, said in a separate interview.
Another noteworthy facet of “Shatner Claus” is that it adds the veteran of TV, film and stage to a long line of celebrated Jewish performers who have tried their hands at Christmas music.
That roster may well begin with songwriter Irving Berlin, who wrote “White Christmas,” the biggest-selling Christmas song of all time thanks to Bing Crosby’s signature recording, as well as performers such as Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Mel Torme, Barry Manilow and Neil Sedaka.
The idea that Christmas music might represent for him the final frontier of which he spoke in such sober tones back when “Star Trek” visited TV screens weekly made him chuckle. But as Paisley noted, he continues to go boldly where no iconic Star Fleet captains have gone before.