Here’s what I’d call a good case for why it makes sense to keep your music collection sorted alphabetically without subdividing it further. Genres of music are descriptors that can be super-simplistic or so complicatedly-nuanced that classifications could cause months-long debates across internet discussion groups if you find two stubborn enough music fans not willing to give an inch. Not having spent considerable time on music message boards in years, I’m curious as to what any self-described online music experts would make of this one.
My computer’s Windows Media Player, by default, has classified The Transformed Man as avant garde. That might be an appropriate description of his blend of vocals with music, but if I did sort my albums by genre, I would do so by more broad terms. Avant garde is not a designated section at typical music stores, though I have seen it at independent record shops multiple times. When I found my copy of The Transformed Man, it was among the pop/rock CDs, which most stores will use as a dumping ground for those that either defy traditional categories or an artist that they are not familiar with.
Does the fact that it contain covers of The Beatles and Bob Dylan tunes lump it into rock categorization? It doesn’t really rock in my typical association of the term. Backing vocalists join in on both “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” to bring it towards more of a pop/rock direction, but other than that, the vocals are delivered in spoken word fashion. But does an album still qualify as spoken word if it has musical accompaniment? If so, couldn’t most hard rock or metal be considered yelled word?
The first album of Shatner’s I owned was Has Been, which I would consider to be much more of a rock album. It’s a great collaboration with Ben Folds, who helps flush out the tracks into full-blown songs by most people’s standards. Some of these are damned catchy, with a cover of “Common People” serving as an upbeat beginning (Joe Jackson shares vocal duties), “Ideal Woman” and the Bonanza of “Has Been” providing the humour, and “That’s Me Trying” and the following monologue “What Have You Done” providing some genuine heartfelt moments. For some interesting perspective on what it is like to create songs with William Shatner, check out Henry Rollins’ discussion on his raucous contribution to Has Been, “I Can’t Get Behind That”.
The Transformed Man was his first stab at an album, so it may not have had the level of planning that his later releases did. Nonetheless, his experimentation in music always seemed authentic, something he approached with great excitement, and in spite of references to his television show on the album exterior, not merely an attempt to cash in on the Star Trek craze (which wouldn’t really become an international phenomenon until the show was syndicated in the 1970s). Based on the liner notes in my Rev-Ola CD edition, he speaks of a love of the theatre and musicals as his drive to get this project off the ground. I don’t really have any albums from musicals in my collection, though I have an appreciation for them. If I categorize it under musicals, it would currently stand alone in my collection, so I don’t see the purpose in setting it apart from the rest.
How about comedy? I get a kick out of his fun-to-imitate cadence, but that’s a bit of a stretch as it may not be intended. I don’t think there is anything particularly comical about any of the song’s subject matter. Isn’t that what defines comedy? No Spike Jones-level of orchestral slapstick going on as a backdrop here, so that tag doesn’t apply.
Does novelty count as a genre? I always found that a strange label to use. This depends on the viewpoint of the listener. You could call an actor releasing some music a novel or fresh idea, but if they continue to work in the industry and put out more music, you’d have to eventually start referring to them as a musician, no? It’s a different way of thinking of the novelty wearing off.
I seem to need a little help in pinning this album down. Thankfully, producer Don Ralke breaks down the track selection on the back of the album sleeve as follows:
“The idea of grouping the numbers together in pairs is to unfold multiple perspectives on the same subject, like two sides of a coin, tension and resolution. For example, in King Henry The Fifth (Track 1) the intense speech inciting the soldiers to battle is contrasted with the quiet and poignant aftermath of war in Elegy For The Brave. The other parts follow a similar design.
Tracks 1 and 2: confident self-assurance – total psychopathic subservience
Tracks 5 and 6: a desire for death – the joy of living
Track 7 and 8: fresh young love – insensitivity
Tracks 9 and 10: utter dejection – super elation
Transformed Man (Track 11) stands alone because of its contrasting three-movement form: earthly unreality – transitional awareness – contract with divinity”
Wait, so this is a concept album now? If I divided my albums that way, would it be wrong to park this right alongside Tommy, The Wall, or What’s Going On? If your aim is to build up releases that are more thematic or story-like, I suppose The Transformed Man is worth considering in spite of the lack of completely original material within. There’s no rule stating that you can’t make a concept album out of material you didn’t write yourself. Primus did a pretty good job of one with their album-long tribute to Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
Perhaps this album has no room in a music collection at all. I am something of a Trekkie, so what better environment to house this than among all my Star Trek knickknacks? In my ideal home, I’d have a sci-fi/comics room, music collection room, a jam room, a video game room, a workshop, a workout room, and a pool hall / darts room / bar. No space for a bedroom because I don’t know how I could ever get any sleep in a house that awesome. This album could have its own place as part of a Star Trek-themed corner of one of the nerdier rooms in the house. You can put it in a designated section with all those read-along stories, Leonard Nimoy’s collection of sing-songy space tunes, or that classical album Patrick Stewart narrated (the one where he’s rocking a Mirror Universe / Ben Sisko goatee on the cover). If you want to get really crazy about it and look to the greater Star Trek universe, you can rightly consider grouping it with albums by The Mamas and The Papas, Rage Against The Machine, Iggy Pop, and even John Tesh, if that’s your thing.
No. As unique a spin on collecting that avenue could take you, I’m not the man to do it. I think The Transformed Man will stay where it is. File under S for Shatner, sandwiched somewhere between Shardik and Woody Shaw.