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

Leonard Nimoy - Mr. Spock's Music From Outer SpaceThe first solo album released by actor Leonard Nimoy after the original Star Trek began riding a wave of publicity in the 1960s, Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space is a curious creation, consisting in roughly equal parts of Nimoy singing, Nimoy performing spoken word pieces in character as Mr. Spock, and instrumental renditions of songs related to two television shows with which he would become closely identified: Star Trek and Mission: Impossible. (The inclusion of a cover version of Lalo Schifrin’s Mission: Impossible theme might seem to be a bizarre happenstance – Nimoy didn’t become a regular on that show until after Star Trek had run its course in the summer of 1969, two years after this album was released – but the entire album project was bankrolled and guided by Dot Records and Desilu Studios executives. As unlikely as it is that Nimoy even got a recording contract, it was all a carefully coordinated move to exploit Nimoy’s high visibility as the “real star” of Star Trek.)

Musically speaking, if all of this sounds like an utterly surreal combination, trust me – it is. The Star Trek theme appears in two forms, a lounge-music-style rendition of the entire theme, and a piece called “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, which seems to be a variation/improvisation on the Enterprise fanfare which always served as the opening notes of the Trek theme. The Mission: Impossible theme tune, also a different arrangement from what was originally recorded for the television show, lacks some of the “official” rendition’s punch. Also appearing is “Beyond Antares”, a piece attributed to Star Trek writer Gene Coon and Wilbur Hatch, the man behind the theme tune from I Love Lucy who also happened to be the music director at Desilu Studios, the originators of Star Trek.

And then…there’s the actual “Spock music.” Nimoy performs spoken-word pieces in character as Spock on three numbers, “Alien”, “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Earth” and “A Visit To A Sad Planet”. “Twinkle Twinkle” is the lesser of this trio, being just plain silly, while “Sad Planet” is an interesting peek into the year and decade from which the album sprang; it takes the form of a short monologue, complete with stardate and log entry, in which Spock beams down to find a once-civilized planet reduced to radioactive rubble. He finds only one survivor, who poetically bemoans the fate of his world and then tells Spock that this sad planet is called Earth. It’s rather predictable, sure, but a fascinating (if you’ll pardon the pun) glimpse into the Cold War mindset through the lens of utterly disposable pop culture.

2 out of 4How seriously can you possibly take Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space? All I’m going to say here is that you know you’re in trouble when you go from a Spock soliloquoy to Nimoy rumbling his way through “Where Is Love” from Oliver!. I have no doubt that these represent earnest, well-intentioned, heartfelt performances on Mr. Nimoy’s part, but the album also inadvertently serves as a reminder that pre-fabricated releases designed to cash in on the performer’s already-existing celebrity are nothing new. Once upon a time, it could even happen to Spock.

  1. Theme From Star Trek (2:07)
  2. Alien (2:04)
  3. Where Is Love (2:03)
  4. Music to Watch Space Girls By (2:22)
  5. Beyond Antares (1:58)
  6. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Earth (2:21)
  7. Mission: Impossible (2:03)
  8. Lost In The Stars (2:32)
  9. Where No Man Has Gone Before (2:30)
  10. You Are Not Alone (2:07)
  11. A Visit To A Sad Planet (3:02)

Released by: Dot Records
Release date: 1967
Total running time: 25:09

Neutral Milk Hotel – In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

Neutral Milk Hotel - In The Aeroplane Over The SeaInspiration is a tricky thing. It can show up in all possible ways and when you very least expect it. Jeff Mangum, the lead singer of Neutral Milk Hotel, wrote and composed most of In The Aeroplane Over The Sea after being inspired by reading The Diary Of Anne Frank, coupled with dreams he had about the girl and a Jewish family. Although the album isn’t explicitly about Frank, her presence lingers, either through the lyrics (“Anna’s ghost all around/hear her voice as it’s rolling and ringing through me”) or song titles (“Holland, 1945”). Like his inspiration, Mangum’s musical world is dreamlike, but also by turns jarring, soft, boisterous and confusing.

The album starts off with the song “The King Of Carrot Flowers Pt. One”, in which the narrator describes having an intimate relationship with an unnamed person (“The King Of Carrot Flowers” (?) ) while living under a dysfunctional family (“And your mom would drink until she was no longer speaking/and dad would dream of all the different ways to die/each one a little more than he could dare to try”). By contrast, the next track, “The King Of Carrot Flowers Pt. Two” has Jeff Mangum yelling loudly, “Jesus Christ, I love you!” If you were looking for any clear interpretations, you won’t find them in this album.

In the title track, acoustic guitars are backed by horns and a musical saw, giving it that “barely waking” feel. “Holland, 1945”, arguably the album’s catchiest track and also the album’s “single” (if you can call it that), starts with Mangum counting in the song before fuzzed out guitars explode with a driving drum beat while Mangum’s obscure lyricism continues: “The only girl I’ve ever loved/was born with roses in her eyes…Now she’s a little boy in Spain/playing pianos filled with flames”. “Untitled” has been described by some as “psychedelic bagpipes” and that’s not too far off from the truth.

I’ve heard reports that upon first listening to this album, some people have broken down and cried. Although I 4 out of 4cannot admit to such happenings, it doesn’t surprise me at all. I have never more raw emotion packed into a single album before In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, and I’ll doubt if I’ll hear it again. After the release of In The Aeroplane… Mangum broke up Neutral Milk Hotel and disappeared from the public eye. Released ten years ago, it still sounds as fresh and bold as the day it was written. This album will stay with you.

Order this CD

  1. The King Of Carrot Flowers Pt. One (2:00)
  2. The King Of Carrot Flowers Pts. Two & Three (3:06)
  3. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea (3:22)
  4. Two-Headed Boy (4:26)
  5. The Fool (1:53)
  6. Holland, 1945 (3:12)
  7. Communist Daughter (1:57)
  8. Oh Comely (8:18)
  9. Ghost (4:08)
  10. (2:16)
  11. Two-Headed Boy Pt. Two (5:13)

Released by: Merge
Release date: 1998
Total running time: 39:51

Neil Norman – Star Trek: Encounters

Star Trek: EncountersDespite the fact that Neil Norman has produced nearly every Star Trek soundtrack album to appear in the past decade, he’s not just a producer and a science fiction fan – he’s also a musician in his own right, and this enthusiastic entry proves it. Star Trek: Encounters takes the themes from all four series, along with the films First Contact and Star Trek: The Motion Picture and a couple of score cues from the original series, and crams them all into six and a half minutes of what can best be described as a sci-fi rock opera of sorts, sans lyrics.

What’s surprising is how good it sounds in places – the familiar “Vina’s Dance” cue from The Cage is sped up slightly, made a little bit heavier, and takes on a life of its own in the rock idiom. Other pieces, such as the pastoral First Contact theme and the Next Generation/Motion Picture theme, fare less well, dragged kicking and screaming into their new form. And though I’ve mellowed on my 3 out of 4opinion of Joel Goldsmith’s Star Trek: Voyager CD single over the years, Star Trek: Encounters demonstrates what that single should have sounded like. Overall, it’s an amusing experiment in a cross between Star Trek and Hooked on Classics, minus the brain-hemorrhaging drum machine beat.

Order this CD

  1. Star Trek: Encounters (6:38)

Released by: GNP Crescendo
Release date: 1998
Total running time: 6:39

Xanadu – music by Olivia Newton-John & ELO

Xanadu soundtrackAt the time of this review, Xanadu doesn’t seem to have been pressed on CD in the States, at least not recently, so I had to get a Japanese import, but at least the Japanese realized where the true value of this movie’s music was and put the ELO tracks first! (Oh, all right, just to be fair, I really, really like Olivia Newton-John’s “Magic”, and the big-band/rock combo “Dancin'” featuring The Tubes is really nifty. There, I admitted it.) Among the ELO tracks, the only weak entry is “Xanadu” itself, but even so3 out of 4 stars it’s not a bad song. It may not be the lost holy grail that ELO fans would really like to hear – Jeff Lynne’s abandoned instrumental score for the movie itself – but in general, the music was better than the movie.

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  1. I’m Alive (3:47)
  2. The Fall (3:36)
  3. Don’t Walk Away (4:47)
  4. All Over The World (4:05)
  5. Xanadu (with Olivia Newton-John) (3:28)
    Olivia Newton-John tracks:
  6. Magic (4:28)
  7. Suddenly – with Cliff Richard (4:00)
  8. Dancin’ – with the Tubes (5:15)
  9. Suspended in Time (3:53)
  10. Whenever You’re Away From Me / with Gene Kelly (4:18)

Released by: MCA
Release date: 1980
Total running time: 41:37