If you’re a fan of bizarre covers, chances are you’ve come across William Shatner’s unforgettable album The Transformed Man. Released in 1968 and through Decca Records, the debut venture sparked the Star Trek actor’s unexpected musical career and remains one of the greatest – and most bewildering – cult albums of all time. If you’re looking for an entry point to this unusual record, you’re best off starting with Shatner’s theatrical cover of ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ by The Beatles.
Despite its popularity, details surrounding the creation of The Transformed Man remain scarce. The album comprises six tracks, three of which begin with Shatner reciting a Shakespearean monologue, followed by the actor reading the lyrics to a popular song in the same monotonous, tuneless drawl.
In a recent interview on Kevin Pollack’s long-form chat show, singer-songwriter Ben Folds, who once collaborated with Shatner, shed some light on why the Captain Kirk actor decided to release such a strange piece of work. Listening to ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’, it’s easy to imagine Shatner blitzed out of his mind on some hallucinogen. In reality, he just didn’t have enough time to put much thought into the project. “He didn’t know what he had done,” Folds began, recalling his conversation with Shatner. “Like, I asked him about that record and he said, ‘Well, you know, it was a day and we were shooting Star Trek….’ and it was one thing on his list and he did it in real-time, it was like a 45-minute thing. He didn’t even know what he had done, it was just like, he just left. And then it became this huge cult classic.”
It’s never been quite clear if Shatner was intentionally making a fool of himself during the recording of The Transformed Man or if he really had no idea that he sounded utterly unhinged. Those who regard the record as self-effacing have often labelled The Transformed Man a sort of concept album. Fold’s words would suggest that, in reality, Shatner was simply trying to cash in on hippiedom. He jumped into the studio between takes and recorded his vocals as quickly as possible before returning to set. In this cover of ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’, you can hear the urgency in Shatner’s quivering baritone. The track sees the actor backed by lush orchestral music, over which he recites Lennon’s lyrics with the theatrical zeal of a kid’s entertainer. It doesn’t get more insane than this.