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William Shatner Celebrates 93rd Birthday With a New Single, 'I Want to Be a Tree,' Performed With Ben Folds

This is the latest in a series of collaborations between Shatner and Folds, including his iconic cover of Pulp's 'Common People.'

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Source: MEGA

William Shatner, in the promotional photo for his 2021 trip into space with Blue Origins

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On March 22, William Shatner celebrated his 93rd birthday, but it was he who turned out to be the gift-giver, delivering unto his fans a brand new single: "I Want to Be a Tree," a track which features Ben Folds and Steven Reineke and was recorded with the National Symphony Orchestra.

If your initial reaction to the idea of a singing Shatner, who came to international fame as a result of playing Captain James T. Kirk on the TV series Star Trek and its subsequent cinematic adventures, is one of surprise, then we here at Q can only presume that you haven't been paying enough attention, since this is far from his first release as a recording artist.

Fortunately, we've taken the time to put together a collection of 10 classic moments from Shatner's work as a recording artists, and if this should happen to be your first introduction to his discography, all we can say is, "Buckle up!"

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Source: Kennedy Center

The cover art for William Shatner's new single with Ben Folds and Steven Reineke, "I Want to Be a Tree"

1. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (1968)

Released on Shatner's debut album, The Transformed Man, which also contained a memorable take on Mr. Tambourine Man, Shatner has said of the LP's concept that it was "to take great pieces of literature with music behind it and have it segue into a piece of music which had the opposite feeling or philosophy." As such, his take on this track from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was preceded by a piece called "Spleen," which - in the long run - has certainly had less impact than his Beatles cover. "I think he was on drugs when he did that," Paul McCartney once said of this version. "But it was good. It's still one of my favorite versions of 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.'"

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2. "Rocket Man"

Although it wasn't actually released at the time, this Elton John cover was performed by Shatner at the 1978 Saturn Awards, an event which wasn't televised and - as far as Shatner knew - wasn't being recorded, either. As such, he was decidedly surprised when the clip found its way into the zeitgeist over the years. "It's not my proudest moment," he told Chris Wallace in 2021. That's as may be, but it's unquestionably one of his most iconic, having been viewed millions of times on YouTube and parodied by everyone from Chris Elliott to Stewie on Family Guy.

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3. Fear of Pop, "In Love"

This experimental Ben Folds side project, a collaboration with John Mark Painter and Fleming McWilliams, was released between the second and third Ben Folds Five albums, and it landed with a resounding "what the f--- is this?!" That said, if it got any sales bump at all, then it came when Folds appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien with Shatner to perform Shatner's lone vocal contribution to the LP, "In Love."

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4. "Common People" (featuring Ben Folds and Joe Jackson)

Anyone who says they saw this cover coming is either a damned dirty liar or someone directly connected to someone who worked on the track, because the idea of the actor who played James T. Kirk teaming up with an angry young man of new wave and a present-day alt-rock piano player to cover a track from Pulp's 1995 album Different Class, a record which didn't even crack the Billboard 200... Well, it's inconceivable, frankly. That said, it's also a staggeringly entertaining cover that works far, far better than it has any right to.

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5. "Bohemian Rhapsody" (featuring John Wetton)

This on-brand Queen cover is taken from Shatner’s 2011 album Seeking Major Tom, an LP which – in addition to the requisite David Bowie cover (“Space Oddity”) as well as a cover of Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom (Coming Home)” – also includes versions of songs by Deep Purple (“Space Truckin’”), The Police (“Walking on the Moon”), Pink Floyd (“Learning to Fly”), and Black Sabbath (“Iron Man”). The album also includes an insane number of guest stars, including – but not limited to – Sheryl Crow, Peter Frampton, Alan Parsons, Steve Howe, Dave Davies, Brad Paisley, and Bootsy Collins.

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6. "Change" (featuring Rick Wakeman)

Shatner’s 2013 album, Ponder the Mystery, was another all-star affair, but what’s perhaps most impressive is that it doesn’t duplicate any guest stars from the previous album. You get songs featuring Mick Jones from Foreigner, Vince Gill, Robbie Krieger, Edgar Winter, and Steve Vai on the title track, and the whole affair was produced by Billy Sherwood. As for the contents of the album, Shatner explained to the Washington Post that it's a concept album, one about “a guy in despair who is living on a beach, and it takes him through the last hour of the day at sunset through twilight, into darkness and the sounds of the night in which he regains his fervor, his love of life based on the beauty of what he’s seeing around him.”

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7. "Why Not Me" (with Jeff Cook)

Why not country? That's apparently the rhetorical question that inspired this collaboration with Jeff Cook from Alabama, which came out in 2018. “I had known Bill for a while, and I didn’t know he could sing," Cook told Billboard, apparently not realizing that he was delivering the perfect set-up for someone - perhaps even Shatner himself - to say that he can't. "When he does a treatment for a song, it’s different, with his recitations. We have a mutual friend in Heartland Records, and not knowing that Bill and I were acquainted, Brian Curl got this idea and thought we could make it work. He got in there, did what we went in to do. He was really great to work with. We had to find something that really lent itself to what we were trying to do. I think we got a good recording out of it.”

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8. "Let's Work Together" (featuring Canned Heat)

Once you've done a country album, why not do a blues album? Which is exactly what Shatner did. “This album is like the culmination of trying to put lyric and melody line together,” Shatner told American Blues Scene. “Every one of these songs was suggested to me by some artist of one kind or another as I asked them, ‘What are your favorite songs?’ I found these songs and thought I could do these the best. So I would record the lyric as though I were an actor doing a scene.” Among the artists joining him: Pat Travers, Sonny Landreth, Steve Cropper, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, and Albert Lee.

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9. "Clouds of Guilt" (featuring Joe Jonas)

In order to keep himself busy during the pandemic, Shatner made – what else? – another album, one simply entitled Bill. This time around, the lyrical theme was key moments throughout his career, saying in a press release, “What better time to contemplate life’s biggest questions than during a global pandemic? Some songs touched on painful or beautiful moments, while others turned into elliptical philosophical explorations about the very nature of existence and death.” As for the collaborations on this musical endeavor, only Shatner could pull together an album that includes guest appearances ranging from Joe Jonas to John Lurie.

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10. "I Wish I Was a Tree" (featuring Ben Folds and Steven Reineke)

Which brings us to this new collaboration with the aforementioned Mr. Folds, which is a teaser for Shatner's upcoming new album, So Fragile, So Blue. “This recording brings the past two years of adventure and music full circle,” said Shatner in a statement. “Going up into space was beyond anything I could have imagined, and I felt we had to write songs that truly encapsulated the experience… This album is about something we all have in common: this beautiful planet Earth that we all call home.”

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