Required Listening: “Has Been”

In 1968, William Shatner – well on his rise to success in his second season starring as James T. Kirk on Star Trek – released a musical album, The Transformed Man. Combining what were then brand-new songs like “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” with Shakespeare and Cyrano De Bergerac, The Transformed Man was widely panned, in part because of Shatner’s unique style of spoken-word singing, and in part of the sheer ridiculousness and bombast of the performance.

Nearly four decades later, Shatner came out with a new album, called Has Been. What with his previous musical career being parodied time and time again, Has Been was looked down upon before it was released in 2004. However, the nay-sayers spoke far too soon, because Has Been is an album of sheer brilliance. Take the second track of the album, “It Hasn’t Happened Yet,” for example:

This track alone shows a whole lot of the difference between Has Been and Shatner’s previous musical oeuvre. First, gone is the over-the-top absurdity; in its place is genuine, raw emotion in the form of spoken word (well, with the exception of the title track, which is a campy, tongue in cheek Western song). Only one cover is on the album: Pulp’s “Common People” (we’ll get to that in a moment); most of the other songs are written by Shatner along with Ben Folds, along with other collaborators, like Nick Hornby, Brad Paisley (whose music video for the song “Online” featured Shatner), and Lemon Jelly, who did the music for this next song, “Together”:

But the song which brought the album the exposure that led to its acclaim was “Common People,” which really was what a cover should be – a performance that maintains the idea of the original while building upon it.

People snicker at me when I include a William Shatner album in my Top 10 favorites. But honestly, Has Been is kind of genius. With strong musical performance and an even stronger series of lyrics, Shatner, Folds et al. created in 2004 an album that will probably go overlooked but is really a diamond in the rough.

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