In the pantheon of most-ridiculed albums of all time is William Shatner’s Transformed Man from 1968. Recorded while Star Trek was still on the air, Shatner’s concept was to connect some dots between the pop songs of the day with some of his favourite passages from Shakespeare and other classic stage productions. This was our introduction into the Shat’s unique, er, singing style. Not only was the album a flop — “I have a garage full of ’em,” Shatner says — it earned many requests for him to never try this kind of thing again. Ever.
Shatner, though, respectfully disagreed with his critics and after a decade-long recording hiatus, he picked things up with two (!) double (!!!) live albums recorded while on tour. But the Star Trek revival called and fans were deprived of any new albums until a strangely captivating album entitled Has Been in 2004. It included a cover of Pulp’s Britpop hit, Common People, that turned into a quirky alt-rock radio hit, thanks in large part to production and musical direction by Ben Folds.
Shatner has been regularly releasing albums ever since: Exodus: An Oratorio in Three Parts (2008), Seeking Major Tom (2011), and Ponder the Mystery (2013). This year saw two albums: a country record with songs written by a stable of Nashville composers entitled Why Not Me and the reason he’s called me, a new Christmas album entitled Shatner Claus.
The record — available on limited edition red vinyl — features all sorts of Christmas classics, ranging from Blue Christmas (with country star Brad Paisley) to White Christmas (featuring Judy Collins) to some traditional religious songs. This, at first glance, might seem like a strange repertoire.
William Shatner: Oh? Well, yes I am. But the spirit of Christmas is one of forgiveness and joy and laughter, of family. It’s about skiing in the Laurentians and touring through St. Agathe and Mt. Tremblant. I am a good skier —I’ve only stopped skiing in the last year or so [Montreal-born Shatner is 87] and I spent my youth up in the mountains skiing around Christmas. And my Christmases back then were always joyful.
When I look at the guest appearances on Shatner Claus … I know you’ve been friends with Henry Rollins for some time. This is the guy who used to sing for Black Flag and is one of the fiercest guys on the planet when it comes to singing and spoken word. … Isn’t he though?
He is a BABY! A mewling, puking BABY in my arms.
Since you’re friends, I can understand why he’s here. But Iggy Pop? Where did he come from?
Iggy, I think, was on another album I did. When word came out that I was doing a Christmas album, there were a number of incredible talents that jumped up and said “I’d like to be part of that” and Iggy was one of them. Iggy was a hoot.
Did you work with these people in the studio or did you just trade tracks back-and-forth online?
We traded tracks.
He was on another one of my albums, so we have a relationship.
Then there’s Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Billy jumped at the chance to be on this album. He’s in the video and we had hours to talk to each other and as the result of the success of this album, I’ve been asked to do a blues album. I don’t know anything about the blues, so I’ve asked Billy to help me with this album.
OK. That will be … interesting.
That’ll be hilarious!
How did you go about picking all the songs on this album? It’s all very traditional. All the Christmas favourites are here.
I said, “Gather me all the Christmas songs.” Then I took them and thought, “How would do you this as a scene?” I figured Jingle Bells, for example, would feature some runaway horses. So Henry and I thought if we were shooting a video, we’d be on top of a sled with two horses that were running away. We’ve had too much eggnog and we’re screaming at each other “JINGLE BELLS!” The last thing I added to the orchestration was the horses’ hooves. The song wasn’t terrific but when the hooves were added, that was all that song needed.
I guess you’re the kind of guy who can call up just about anyone on the planet and get them to contribute.
And frequently get no reply whatsoever.
Can I ask how many copies you would expect to sell of something like this? Or does that matter?
You know better than I that selling albums is a lost art and you have to go on tour to sell a lot. And I’m not about to go on tour anymore. I’ve had enough of that. So I don’t know. What’s a good number?
Well, for some reason, Amazon sent me two. I have the limited edition red vinyl and the CD. So that’s … two.
That’s a good start.
What is your best-selling album? Would it be Has Been?
Do you actually get royalty cheques?
I don’t know. What happens is a lot of cheques come into my business office and they pay the appropriate taxes and deposit them in the appropriate accounts.
Before we go, let’s talk about your latest book, Live Long And…What I Learned Along the Way. I’m looking right now on Amazon.ca and at the bottom where it says “Frequently bought together,” the page has William Shatner, Live Long And... and FEAR: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward. I don’t know why Canadians are buying those two books in a pair.
Well, because they read Fear and it fills you with fear. Then you buy my book, which assuages the fear.
Shatner Claus tracklisting
1. Jingle Bells (feat. Henry Rollins)
2. Blue Christmas (feat. Brad Paisley)
3. Little Drummer Boy (feat. Joe Louis Walker)
4. Winter Wonderland (feat. Todd Rundgren & Artimus Pyle of Lynyrd Skynyrd)
5. Twas The Night Before Christmas (feat. Mel Collins of King Crimson)
6. Run Rudolph Run feat. (Elliot Easton of The Cars)
7. O Come, O Come Emmanuel feat. (Rick Wakeman of Yes)
8. Silver Bells (feat. Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull)
9. One for You, One For Me
10. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (feat. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top)
11. Silent Night (feat. Iggy Pop)
12. White Christmas (feat. Judy Collins)
13. Feliz Navidad (feat. Dani Bander)
14. Jingle Bells (feat. Henry Rollins) (Punk Rock Version)
Alan Cross is a broadcaster with 102.1 the Edge and Q107, and a commentator for Global News.