Leonard Nimoy – Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space

Part of the Musical Star Trek Actors Series

  1. Shatner Rapping: No Tears for Caesar
  2. Leonard Nimoy – Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space

From the archives: I wrote the original version of this article for a newspaper column about 5 years ago. So it reads more like a newspaper column and not so much like a the informal blogginess that’s usually found around here. It’s from the Records that time forgot series that I hope to revive in 2007. This version corrects a couple awkward sentences and updates the formatting, but remains largely unchanged.

nimoy strums guitar


Actors want to be rock stars and rock stars are increasingly actors. It’s all theatrics. But it is by no means a recent phenomenon. Stars from Marlene Dietrich to Frank Sinatra to Snoop Dogg have crossed the line between audio and video for decades. That’s okay; they all had the talent to do it successfully yes, even snoop dogg.

Then there is another class of star who, no matter how talented in one field, fail in the other. You’ve got your Jennifer Love Hewitts, your Keanu Reeves I know, I use “talented” loosely and your Leonard Nimoys.

Nimoy was part of an explosion of such entertainers that occurred in the 60s. They were known as “Golden Throats,” popular screen actors who were way out of their element in front of a microphone. That description is not entirely fair to Nimoy though. He has a distinct and decent enough voice, which he uses to greater effect on his later albums. But this, his first, pretty much defines the word “doozy.”

Judged solely on its musical value, Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space would show few bright spots. Most people might even argue that it is a record best left forgotten. But 30 years and the age of ironic reinterpretation have added an entirely new dimension to Nimoy’s recording career, firmly entrenching this album in the novelty camp. This is a record for hardcore Star Trek fans and fans of junk culture kitsch alike.

Time has made this album into pure comedy gold.

Opening with a swingin’, go-go, Austin Powers-esque version of the original Star Trek theme, MSMFOS goes where no Star Trek actor had gone before, the recording booth. Released in 1967 to cash in on Star Trek’s, and Spock’s, growing popularity, MSMFOS edges out William Shatner’s own recording debut, The Transformed Man, by a year and is the first of Leonard Nimoy’s dozen-plus records.

MSMFOS is at once hilarious and completely non-cohesive. Like the variety shows of the era, the album veers erratically round the moons of Nibia and round the Antares maelstrom in a torrent of lounge, spoken word, and crooning before finally giving up.

Parts of the album even seem to have been put together without any input from the actor at all. Music to Watch Space Girls By is a nifty lounge-pop instrumental as is the included version of Lalo Schiffrin’s Mission: Impossible theme. In a strange turn, Nimoy would join the cast of that show three years later. Still, these pieces are obviously filler.

Of the vocal tracks on the record, most are presented from Spock’s point of view, casting his alien observations on humanity in spoken word and swing vocal form. Imagine that, Vulcan poetry.

But pop culture re-visioning can’t make up for everything on the disc. Twinkle Twinkle Little Earth is a horrendous essay on the use of the word “star” full of Gordon-level puns while Visit to a Sad Planet attempts to preach against nuclear violence in a narration with an eminently predictable twist that’s all too expected in a post-Planet of the Apes (1968) world.

For the most part, if you’re into novelty, the record is a treat if not overly rewarding. Like Halloween candy, it’s enjoyable is small doses, but don’t overdo it.

“Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space” remains out of print in both vinyl and CD formats. But if you can manage to find it, set your phasers to fun and prepare to be stunned by the vocal stylings of Leonard Nimoy.


Addendum: No, this is not the record that features The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins, but if you’re desperate enough to experience that hilarity, watch this disturbing video. You’ll have nightmares for sure.

Italian Cinema Lounge: A tunequest within a tunequest

I knew this day would eventually come, since the tunequest made it into the "i"s many months ago.

Back in 2001, I ran across a posting on the usenets called Italian Cinema Lounge. It was 225 songs taking up 700 MB and spanning eleven and a half hours of music culled from various Italian film composers from the 60s and 70s ranging from Alberto Baldan Bembo to Walter Rizzati. Fascinated by the concept, I snagged it, naturally. And let me tell you it is some very smooth music, the kind of stuff that’s been an inspiration to modern downtempo artists and urban hipsters, but more raw, orchestral and just plain jazzy.

(think Lalo Schifrin’s Enter the Dragon score)

Despite the well-earned reverence, however, listening to all of it proved to be a daunting task, and I could never quite bring myself to dive in and tackle it. About half the selection remains unheard to this day. (the flip-side is that the songs that have been played received 4 and 5 star ratings and, thus have been played numerous repeats).

Thus a new tunequest is born: to listen to all these Italian cinema masterpieces. off i go!

Lalo Schifrin, Portishead and downtempo music

mission impossible and dummy

In retrospect, I probably should have saved Lalo Schifrin’s Mission: Anthology for the last album on the tunequest. It would seem fitting that my last song played should be the last song on this album: Mission Accomplished.

Alas, it is not to be; I finished listening to that album just moments ago. However, there are other suitable songs for that distinction. At the moment, it’s reserved for The Smashing Pumpkins’ The Last Song. That’s assuming of course, that I’m actually going to succeed at this project. Increasingly, however, it seems as though the official tunequest theme song should be we’re not going to make it by the presidents of the united states of america.

But I digress; I mean to be discussing Lalo.

I can’t stress how much I enjoy this soundtrack. Schifrin is a wonderful composer whose credits include, in addition to the mission: impossible theme, Enter the Dragon, Bullit and the Dirty Harry movies among many many others. I was first introduced to him by name in 1999 by the cable tv channel Bravo. One random afternoon, it was broadcasting a live performance of the Marseille Philharmonic performing famous film and television music, conducted of course by Mr. Schifrin.

The show was quite excellent and, acting quickly, I managed to get most of it on video tape (which was later converted to mp3). Even after all these years, I still find that this recording showcases some of the best renditions of classic film standards I’ve ever heard, including The Good the Bad and the Ugly, the james bond theme and the M:I theme.

I was particularly struck by all the jazz Schifrin infused into the music of this performance. Jazz has always been his specialty, but it’s fascinating to hear how he works with music that was composed for a symphonic orchestra.

That same kind of smooth, laid-back, jazzy composing style is what continues to attract me to his work. in fact, and please follow me down the tangent, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my interest in jazz music was an outgrowth of my increased attention to electronic music in the late 90s, particularly the downtempo genre. I could make the argument, now that I think about it, that Lalo Schifrin is a singular great influence on the emergence of the downtempo as a musical style.

The two styles seem to share an ethos for swanky grooves and, off the top of my head, I can reference two direct descendants of schifrin’s music in the downtempo field. firstly, UK production outfit The Black Dog remixed Schifrin’s Bullit themes at some point in the late 90s. Though the mix is closer to big beat than downtempo, it does point towards the existence of attention toward Schifrin outside of jazz circles and film buffs.

Secondly, and this one was a recent revelation to me, is Portishead, whose album Dummy coincidentally appeared on the tunequest today as well. I must admit that I was late to the trip hop party. I didn’t pick up this record until 2000, five years after the group introduced the world to trip hop with their hit song, Sour Times. It had been quite a while since I listened to the M:I anthology and maybe that’s why I hadn’t picked up on this, but the central rhythm of sour times is a direct sample of Schifrin’s song Danube Incident from the soundtrack.

On one hand, I lose a little respect just a little for Portishead. Sour times is a great song and I guess I just feel a little deceived that the work is not entirely theirs. On the other hand, the song they created from it is incredible and through its success, they brought a large spotlight to a field of music that flourished in the decade that followed.

“difficult but rewarding”

I took an hour out of the tunequest this morning to listen to an episode of the Sound of Young America, a radio show/podcast that I discovered in January. In all seriousness, I’m not a fan of talk radio as a format; I find that listening to other peoples’ conversations grating. I’d rather be having my own conversations or listening to music.

SoYA instantly cut through that avoision. Besides host Jesse Thorn’s nearly-perfect-for-radio voice, the show’s attitude is, well, awesome. In fact, the show bills itself as "Dedicated to things that are awesome" and I can certainly get behind that. I think I fell in love with the show almost instantly one cold, wet, dreary and long Atlanta commute home. The guest was Josh Kornblut, who talked about his one-man Benjamin Franklin show.

Now, like any good American, I’m fond of the Founding Fathers for their intellectual, diplomatic and governmental achievements. But the flipside of that adoration manifests itself by thinking that it’s hilarious to place them outside of their historical context, like Ben Franklin besting Jimi Hendrix at air hockey "that’s game, Hendrix". And when Jesse Thorn seemed as excited as I did about Franklin, that sealed the deal right then and there. themodernista accuses me of having a man-crush on Jesse.

Unfortunately, with tunequest occupying up almost all of my free listening time, our affair has been scattered and brief. So today’s episode was not only a rare treat, but relevant to my project here because it dealt with the topic of "rock snobs" a phenomenon with which I can claim some familiarity. I freely admit that I have some rock snob-ish tendencies, which definitely shows through my desire to collect rare and obscure music and eschew the pop charts.

Though I think the term "snob" is a little inappropriate for me, since I honestly try to keep an open mind about music and try not to be too exclusionary. I’m not ashamed to say that my library contains some Eminem and even one Limp Bizkit song (okay, I am a little ashamed of that one. But it is a decent rock version of the Mission Impossible theme, so it gets bonus points from the Lalo Schifrin association).

(BTW, I can’t stand genuine rock snobs, so I try to avoid those circles. I don’t need to follow who’s acceptable to listen to this month. And I certainly don’t need anyone’s approval of my musical tastes; At my age, I don’t need much street cred. Plus, the inherent negativity of the generic rock snob is quite off-putting.)

Of course, I wouldn’t be undertaking the tunequest if my collector’s habit hadn’t gotten out of control.

Which brings me to the title of this post. The progression of a rock snob was discussed on the show, from the acquisition of a velvet underground record (or other acceptably legendary artist) at age 18 and the subsequent search for ever-more arcane and obscure music. Eventually, that search leads to music that is so unappealing that it can only be enjoyed intellectually, by telling oneself that it is brilliant and that if someone else doesn’t think so, then they just don’t get it. (On that point, the episode does make a slightly negative mention of Steve Reich, to which I must object. His Music for 18 Musicians is both listenable and provocative. But if you don’t agree, I won’t accuse you of not getting it.)

To the appropriately discerning ears, said music can be called "Difficult, but rewarding," an endurance test of sound and noise that for all the effort required, when it’s finished, you can say, "That was worth it."

Which, in turn, brings me to Chicago Underground Trio, a group who I’ve categorized as avant jazz. It is the type of music that fits the above description. It is a swirling cacophany of trumpets and drums that takes momentary breaks into recognizable forms of music before beginning the assault again. The musicianship of the performers is not in question–they are affiliated with Tortoise after all–but this record really is a chore to listen to. In the end, I found it difficult but not rewarding.