Here it is: The Sgt. Pepper of bad albums.
When The Transformed Man was released in 1968, Star Trek enjoyed a rabid cult following. That’s common with what’s politely called genre fiction in literary circles. Westerns, romance, crime, fantasy, and science fiction all attract the sort of enthusiastic fans that serious poets and novelists can only dream about. Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling is a billionaire; 2017 Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro is not, for example.
The same holds true in other arts. William F. Buckley’s Firing Line shared the airwaves with Star Trek back in ’68, but you don’t see a lot of Firing Line conventions. That show ran for over thirty years; Star Trek ran for three. Genre fiction wins again.
Star Trek epitomizes the science fiction genre for many. It’s no wonder that even given the original series’ mediocre success, it has managed to maintain an enthusiastic fan base for 50 years. And while the original cast certainly enjoyed that first wave of ravenous fans, for some of them it was also a millstone around their necks. For a guy like Shatner, who was trained as a Shakespearean actor, being called Captain Kirk probably seemed reductive at the very least. One can imagine hearing him scream “don’t you know who I am” at some poor kid on a Stingray who dared to shout, “I’m giving her all she’s got, captain.”
Enter The Transformed Man, Shatner’s first and finest album and, presumably, Shatner’s attempt to prove he was more than a starship captain. The record is a mix of Shakespearean monologues and contemporary songs recited as if they were Shakespearean monologues, all delivered with so much ham that the album is not allowed in kosher households. This is the home of Shatner’s classic takes on “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds,” but you already know those tracks so let’s go with the lounge-tastic “How Insensitive.” Pour yourself a highball and light a cigarette:
The Transformed Man is fun to mock, but the truth is that it’s a lot of fun based on its own merits, too. There’s not much distance between this album and Ken Nordine‘s work, for example, and who doesn’t love Ken Nordine? It all comes down to whether you as a listener believe that Shatner recorded the album with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek or whether he was a self-important windbag who wasn’t in on the joke. I choose to believe that he knew exactly what he was doing.
The autograph on this one doesn’t match most of the examples one can find online, but keep in mind that Shatner has been signing stuff for 50 years. Other autographed copies of The Transformed Man exist with the same signature in the same position on the album cover and with the same (aside from the name) inscription. That’s no guarantee that Kirk himself signed them, but it does suggest that the autograph on my copy is period correct. Maybe some production assistant was paid to sit and sign hundreds of copies, maybe Shatner signed a batch. If you have expertise in this territory, please let me know.
Expect to pay $10-$20 for an original copy. The Transformed Man was reissued on vinyl a few years ago, too. If you want a new copy, expect to pay around $20. Happy hunting.
Categories: From the Stacks