Trek Tunes

Every TV lover has that one program that they fall back to when they can’t think of anything to watch. For me, that tends to be Star Trek more often than not. Some think that the original Star Trek series (and even Trek series that followed) are too nerdy, dated, or not even culturally relevant. It baffles me how many think that way, whereas the original Star Wars trilogy (which I still enjoy) seems to get near universal acclaim. On one side, you’ve got my man Spock, a highly-logical half-breed with pointy ears being considered lame, yet if a different alien has pointy ears, but is three feet tall, green, and says sentences backwards, he’s cooler than the other side of the pillow. To each their own, I guess.

I was thumbing through my copy of The Nitpicker’s Guide for Classic Trekkers a while back, which chronicles to great depth plot oversights, inconsistencies, and anything else an obsessive fan might take note of, when I arrived at the section that breaks down the episode “The Conscience of the King”. I’m rather fond of the scene where Uhura sings to Lieutenant Riley over the speaker so that he doesn’t feel alone while stationed in engineering. Even if only knowing her musical capabilities from the show alone, it is obvious that Nichelle Nichols is quite a talented singer. It’s not a hidden secret that her talent was applied to a parallel career in music, much as it is pretty much common knowledge that Leonard Nimoy dabbled in making albums, and then, of course, there’s ‘The Shat’. Anybody else from the show, their musical talents are something you’d have to dig deeper to find, perhaps apart from those silly space hippies from “The Way To Eden”.

This curiousity led me on a quest. What about other notables who appeared on the series throughout the years? Could any of them carry a tune (or at least make a good attempt at it), play an instrument, or made any appearances on an album, single, or other form of music recording? Yes, yes, and yes! There was no shortage at all in finding some music makers from beyond the stars, and it made for a fun exploration. Though please forgive the poor photo selections for some of the actors below. I didn’t feel it was worth it to scroll through all these episodes to find optimal pictures through screenshots. It’s their work outside of the series that I want to focus on anyway.

Let’s start from the beginning…

 

Sally Kellerman

Well, maybe not the exact beginning. Kellerman played Dr. Elizabeth Dehner in the show’s second pilot episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, which may best known for actors wearing contact lenses they clearly couldn’t see through. As an actress, her role with the biggest acclaim was as ‘Hot Lips’ Houlihan in the movie version of M*A*S*H, and her long career also took her into lots of voice-over work for commercials and animation.

On the music front, her talents emerged in the early-70s with her folk-rock album Roll With The Feelin’ in 1972. At least one song from the era that didn’t appear on this album, a cover of The Byrds’ “Triad”, was released as a single. Also of note is that during her relationship with Grand Funk Railway’s Mark Farmer, he wrote the song “Sally” about her (it’s not her work, but is still some interesting trivia). The music exploration seemed to fade a bit as she maintained consistent acting work, but music is one of those passions that is hard to quit on. I’ve seen footage of her live performances as recent as 2009, such as this one with the Joel Scott Quartet. She also released the album Sally the same year.

 

Maggie Thrett

Maggie Thrett featured as Ruth Bonaventure in the episode “Mudd’s Women”. I always thought the Harry Mudd stories were a bit too goofy and rarely jump back to these ones when putting on my DVDs, but I’ll nonetheless take this as a good excuse to talk about at least one performer from the episode.

Much like her time as an actress, Thrett’s music career took place in the earlier years of her life. Her singing career occurred prior to this episode as a teenager, when she appears on a string of singles in the mid-60s. While her Wikipedia page mentions her doo-wop songs “Lucky Girl”, “Your Love Is Mine” (released under her birth name Diane Pine), “Put A Little Time Away”, and the apparently lost track “Walk On By”, her most prominent song seems to be “Soupy”. If the song sounds somewhat familiar, it was sampled in De La Soul’s “Jenifa Taught Me”. Some people don’t like the idea of sampling, but you’ve got to at least concede that it’s a unique way of delivering old songs to newer audiences. Before the internet, you’d be hard pressed to hear some songs five years after their initial release otherwise.

 

Budd Albright

Budd Albright made a few apperances in the iconic sci-fi series. He played security guard Rayburn in “What Little Girls Are Made Of”, the episode perhaps most infamous for an outfit that left little to the imagination and a stalactite that left a lot to the imagination, and an uncredited role as Barnhart in “The Man Trap” (the first episode to air after the original pilot “The Cage”). Shatner sure got an early test of his vocal range in the scene where he’s cornered by an alien creature in the latter episode, but it’s Albright’s pipes that we’re here to focus on.

Albright was a multi-faceted performer in Hollywood, handling stunt work alongside his tv and movie roles in the 60s and 70s. He was no slouch on the microphone either. While his discography is limited to one single, the rockin’ “Adrienne” (with “Got No Sunshine On My Soul” as the B-side), it was but one example of his drive to pursue what many consider to be dream professions. He also apparently had a Hollywood-based group called The Exciters. It wasn’t this The Exciters, but I guess there were so many “The” groups at the time that there was bound to be some name overlap.

 

Clint Howard

Here’s a man perhaps too famous for this list. Clint Howard is a highly-prolific character actor to the level where I’m convinced that if you don’t recognize him, you are either lying or simply mistaken. He got his start as a kid actor following in the footsteps of older brother Ron and both of his parents, starring in the series Gentle Ben, and is unforgettable to Trek fans as Balok in “The Corbomite Maneuver”. I won’t exhaust you with his list of other credits.

For as long as I’ve known of this actor, I had no idea he ever dabbled in music. His punk band, The Kempsters, lasted from 1981 to 1983. Around that time, he was still acting, but just not with as busy a schedule as he’d have years later. There are a few music videos kicking around the internet, where we see Clint looking very much like an inspiration for Beetlejuice, with drummer Tony Rodriquez opting for more slimming vertical stripes in a referee costume. Of what I’ve heard, “(New Wave) Dog Day” makes for a rather catchy punk tune, and I love the humour (intentional or not) in titles like “Left Handed Boy (In A Right Handed World)”. Their recorded music doesn’t appear to have been officially released until 2007 when Howard self-released No Brains At All under Clint Howard & The Kempsters. He apparently hand-signed most copies, making it possibly the second-coolest Clint Howard collectible after the truck used in The Ice Cream Man.

 

John Gabriel

John Gabriel also appeared in “The Corbomite Maneuver”, albeit under less substantial billing as ‘crewman’. That may explain why it was so hard to spot a photo of him in a Starfleet uniform. Online Trek resource Memory Alpha points out that his name on call sheets implies that he was aiming for a larger role in the series, so it’s possible his uncredited appearance may have not actually been an appearance. Nonetheless, he’s cited in numerous sources, so I’ll include him. It’s also of note that he played The Professor in the pilot of Gilligan’s Island, which featured a radically different theme song that was also (thankfully) retooled.

He developed a music career alongside his acting, and continued with music as his Broadway, TV and film roles lessened. He had a nightclub act title Words and Music: An Evening with John Gabriel, with his wife and fellow actress Sandy Gabriel handling the direction and writing of the stage show. The material has ranged from the Great American Songbook to originals that provided a humourous look back at his show-business career. Discogs points out a few pop recordings under his name, including the single “Now That I Have Everything”.

 

Joan Collins

Here’s another one a bit too famous for the list, being more known for her role in soap opera Dynasty than any other credit. In Star Trek circles, Joan Collins is fondly remembered as the hospitable Edith Keeler in fan-favourite episode “City on the Edge of Forever”. While there is certainly no shortage of roles in her filmography, her acting career at large is something I’ve never really explored. Perhaps it’s just they fall into genres that I have largely ignored or that her work isn’t discussed much these days.

She has put her voice to good use over the years outside of reciting words from a script. A short dig has revealed numerous musical forays. On the aforementioned Dynasty, she sang “Boys In The Back Room” to a group of thirsty bar patrons in episode “Seizure”. Earlier in her career, she sang at the 31st Academy Awards in a British trio alongside actresses Angela Lansbury and Dana Wynter as part of a comedic routine. Her talent for show-tunes and dance don’t stop in Hollywood, also applying her trade to Italian westerns. I am a fan of the Bing and Bob series of Road To.. movies, so I’ll make a point of adding The Road To Hong Kong to my watchlist, where Collins duets with Crosby on the song “Let’s Not Be Sensible”.

 

Craig Huxley (Craig Hundley)

Craig Huxley made two appearances on Star Trek. The first was as Captain Kirk’s nephew in “Operation: Annihilate!”, which I consider to be one of the show’s most weirdly-named episodes. He also played Tommy Starnes in “And The Children Shall Lead”, one of the few episodes in which Kirk is pushed to his wit’s end by children. A man of many names, he went by Craig Hundley and Chris Hundley in earlier credits. He was drawn to music at a young age, and would lead the Craig Hundley Trio. Considering they were teenagers when they recorded Arrival Of A Young Giant in 1968 and Craig Hundley Plays with the Big Boys a year later, they sound quite remarkable.

While that’s impressive, here is what I believe makes him the standout inclusion on this list. There aren’t many people who can claim they’ve invented a musical instrument, but count Huxley among them. His ‘Blaster Beam’ would see him not only contribute to themes in some of the Star Trek movies, but he’d use it in collaboration with composers Quincy Jones (“Ai No Corrida”) and Bear McCreary (the score for 10 Cloverfield Lane). I haven’t been able to verify if him and his beam contributed to Michael Jackson’s songs as that video clip claims. However, as some sick minds might venture to guess based off the instrument’s name, there were allegedly more than a few women that were nonetheless thankful for the unique capabilities of the beam.

Whatever mental images that may conjure aside, other major appearances of Huxley’s include keyboard and synthesizer work on songs with Roberta Flack and Neil Diamond.

 

David Soul

Alien roles seemed like they’d be more fun to perform in Star Trek, and David Soul sure got to portray an interesting-looking one as Makora in “The Apple”. You may not know it, but if you scrape off all that makeup, you’ll find the ‘Hutch’ from Starsky & Hutch. And no, I don’t mean Owen Wilson, as he had yet to be born when this episode aired.

He released a total of five albums over the course of his singing career, during which time he actually had two rather big hits. “Don’t Give Up On Us” was a #1 single in the US, and “Silver Lady” peaked at #52. Both were at the top of the charts in the UK, and “Going In With My Eyes Open” and “Let’s Have A Quiet Night In” were top-ten singles over there. No wonder he eventually got his British citizenship!

 

Julie Newmar

Other than music, a prominent theme with this post seems to be actors that are much more famous for another role. Julie Newmar, of course, was unforgettable in her portrayal of Catwoman in the Batman television series. The casting departments of Batman and Star Trek frequently shared acting talent, and Newmar made her seemingly mandatory Trek appearance in “Friday’s Child” (featuring a memorable sequence where Bones slaps a pregnant woman).

She had a notable stage career, and has demonstrated her singing talents and dance skills on a variety of platforms. Some of her musical performances have been captured on vinyl through her work on productions like Li’l Abner and Silk Stockings. Simply typing Julie Newmar into YouTube brings a solid sampling of her musical work spanning from singing about the weather or leading us through a common kid’s game. Though it’s rather low on the singing/dancing aspects, there’s also her appearance in The Monkees if you seek campy antics set to someone else’s music.

 

Ben Gage

Actor Ben Gage also starred in “Friday’s Child”, but unlike Newmar, I couldn’t easily find much in terms of artifacts that pertain to his music career. His Wikipedia page speaks of a job in radio announcing and singing, and his Discogs page points to a few recordings. So far, I’ve found him on “I’ve Got A Feelin’ You’re Foolin’” with Anson Weekes and His Orchestra, and I’ve also found audio of him singing “They Didn’t Believe Me”, a song that originated in the 1914 musical The Girl from Utah. He also recorded music with his one-time wife Esther Williams, but I cannot locate anything about their For Sentimental Reasons album aside from the Wikipedia mention.

 

Richard Hale

Richard Hale appears in the episode “The Paradise Syndrome”, a weird third season tale where Kirk gets amnesia and thinks he’s a Native American (not to be confused with his controversial dual role in White Comanche). Hale’s acting roles had him playing several characters of different ethnicities, whereas I’m sure in the case of William Shatner that many felt one stab at it was more than enough.

The early portion of his acting career coincided with his success as a baritone opera singer, with his vocal promise being recognized upon receiving a scholarship at Columbia University. Some of these performances were strictly narration, such as when he accompanied an orchestra for Peter and the Wolf. He was also a featured performer on a recording of The Passion of Oedipus, but to what extent I cannot say for sure since I can’t locate any audio. His Broadway credits are quite extensive, but my knowledge is lacking to differentiate between the plays and the musicals. Other references through his Wikipedia details more of his early stage work.

 

Bonnie Beacher

Bonnie Beacher guests in another of those episodes I don’t watch often. “Spectre of the Gun” has that wild west spin on sci-fi that often comes across as a studio trying to save some money by using props that are existing inventory, but I’m pretty sure this one was actually pretty amusing. Beacher, who played Chekov’s love interest Sylvia in the episode, didn’t have too long an acting career. Her filmography was solely from television, but among her credits were other iconic shows like The Twilight Zone (where she got to sing), The Fugitive, and Gunsmoke.

If you don’t know her from the music world, perhaps the name Jahanara Romney rings a bell. She adopted this name soon after marrying activist/comedian Wavy Gravy, a counter-cultural entertainer who made notable appearances at Woodstock and other music festivals. Beecher, however, made some music history of her own. If you listen to some of Bob Dylan’s earlier recordings (see “Bonnie, Why’d You Cut My Hair?”), many of them were recorded in her Minneapolis home. She was friends with Dylan, and the pair dated briefly. In fact, it’s rumoured that “Girl from the North Country” was inspired by her. There are also snippets of interviews online where she provides further insight into Dylan’s early career.

 

As the Start Trek universe expanded, the variety in bit performers and guest stars expanded right along with it. So I wouldn’t rule out a follow-up to this piece for other series of Star Trek (I’ve been watching plenty of DS9 lately), or perhaps other science fiction or other favourite television shows of mine. It’s also not completely out of the question that others in this series dabbled in music in professional or amateur capacities. If I left any out, feel free to mention them in the comments.

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