Long-time listeners to the show will know how much Megan and Charlotte love Star Trek in all its forms – from the original series which aired on 8 September 1966 to its most recent incarnations.
But Charlotte’s love extends to the music surrounding the franchise as well. Having recently written an article for The Vintage News about all Star Trek-related songs through the ages, she decided to bring you a little more information about one of her childhood favourites: ‘Star Trekkin’ by The Firm.
The original video
If you’ve not seen the video, now’s your chance.
It is both a bizarre and affectionate parody of Star Trek that is still well-loved today. But the history behind this song is surprisingly remarkable and goes some way to explain why the crew of the Enterprise ended up being made of potatoes.
It began life as a Sealed Knot song then a folk song
The song might have hit number one in the UK charts in 1987, but it started out as a song sung around a campfire.
Rory Kehoe was a member of the reenactment group The Sealed Knot. He made up a song about Star Trek that was sung around the campfire to the tune of ‘I Am The Music Man.’ They named it ‘I Am The Star Trek Man.’
In 1986, a version of the song was performed at a folk club by Chris Steinhauer. Grahame Lister, one of the members of the Firm, was in the audience and he convinced Steinhauer to record it so he could share the song with his writing partner, John O’Connor.
Early stages of a surprising hit record
Lister and O’Connor dropped the original tune and instead tried to set the lyrics to one of their own songs called ‘Arthur Daley (e’s Alright)’ with the provisional name of ‘Captain Kirk (e’s Alright).’ When that didn’t work, they locked themselves away for a week and wrote the song from scratch.
Although they offered ‘Star Trekkin’ to various professional recording studios, no one would take it. So The Firm ended up recording it in studios belonging to O’Connor and Brian O’Shaughnessy.
O’Shaughnessy has gone on record since then to say that producing the song was “one of the greatest highlights of my career.” Not surprising given that it ended up knocking a Whitney Houston song out of the top spot in the UK charts for two weeks.
Putting words into Spock’s mouth
The lyrics were designed to poke fun at those featured on Star Trek. One line, spoken by “Kirk” goes: “We come in peace. Shoot to kill.” While Shatner might have said both those lines, they were never delivered in that exact way. However, the writers thought that the mash-up represented the trigger-happy approach so often shown by Captain Kirk on his adventures.
But another made-up line actually had the unintended consequence of being misattributed to the series itself. The line “It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it” was never actually spoken by Spock in the series itself, but was made up just for this song. However, the writers struck such a genuine chord with fans that many times since then this line has been misattributed to the original series.
What is the deal with that crazy video?
The popularity of the song was completely unexpected. When it was first released, O’Connor sent copies to British radio stations and it was promoted by Radio 1 DJ Simon Bates.
‘Star Trekkin’ entered the charts at the 74th position when it was released. The next week, it had climbed to 13th place. For two weeks after that, it was at number. It actually became the 9th best-selling single in the UK that year.
Since the song reached the number one spot, it was expected that The Firm would appear on Top of the Pops. However, O’Connor and Lister felt themselves to be a “bunch of balding thirty-somethings” – an image that wouldn’t gel with the fun elements of the song.
To avoid appearing, they decided they’d make an animated video instead. But they only had one week in which to do so. While they initially went to various production companies – including the one behind Spitting Image – they found it would cost them far too much.
In the end, they recruited a team of graduate art students called The Film Garage. The students created the claymation stop-motion video that we know and love today.
But why are the crew made of potatoes and the Enterprise of pizza?
The answer to this question came from co-director Pete Bishop who said the idea behind the “food” imagery is that Kirk had been in space too long and was hallucinating that everyone around him was made of food.
The video was shot over seven days and completed with only hours to spare before it had to be aired on Top of the Pops.
A classic rediscovered
Much like Leonard Nimoy’s ‘The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins,’ this music video was brought to the attention of many who might have missed it the first time around when it was included in Funk Me Up, Scotty in 1996. This 15-minute programme was part of the BBC’s Star Trek night, where John Peel took viewers on a journey through music inspired by Star Trek.
As well as songs inspired by the series, Peel also included some of the highlights from the careers of Star Trek cast members.
Oh, go on then. To finish off, here is Charlotte’s other favourite Star Trek musical piece – ‘The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins.’ Somehow, we don’t think this will be enough to convince Lucy Hounsom to watch more Star Trek...
Happy anniversary Star Trek!