Here in the UK, we have a long tradition of supporting what are politely termed “novelty” songs. That is, songs which are just plain silly. We’ve seen number one successes for such titles as John Kettley (Is A Weatherman), Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West), and the dreaded Crazy Frog… which still gets stuck in my head sometimes! There was also a successful campaign a few years ago to get hard rock band Rage Against The Machine a Christmas number one hit to protest the success of televised talent shows like X Factor and Pop Idol. And more recently there was a charity song called I Love Sausage Rolls, which was a parody of the song I Love Rock n’ Roll.
So you’ll believe me, then, when I tell you that there was a novelty song about Star Trek that was a number one hit in 1987. You do believe me, right?
Star Trekkin’, by a band called The Firm, actually has an interesting story behind it – at least according to the people who created the song. In the early 1980s, The Firm had been a one-hit wonder with another novelty song, but hadn’t made any new music for several years. One of the musicians was involved in an English Civil War re-enactment, and while sitting around the campfire dressed up as a Roundhead or Cavalier, overheard another member of the re-enactment society strumming an old song but reworking it to include a couple of lines from Star Trek – “there’s Klingons on the starboard bow” and “it’s life, Jim, but not as we know it”.
Inspired by what he’d heard, he asked his fellow re-enactor if he’d be willing to record his version of the tune, and he did. It took some time, but eventually the band found out who “wrote” the lines that had been included in the song, and after making a number of changes, recorded their own version. The members of the band came back together for the song, and each of them recorded a line in the style of one of five Star Trek characters – Spock, Uhura, Kirk, McCoy, and Scotty. It was actually the wife of one of the bandmates who voiced Uhura.
The song was – perhaps understandably – rejected by several record labels. According to the story they took one look at it and turned it down hard. But the members of The Firm were convinced they had a winner, and at their own expense funded an initial release of 500 copies – the source I have says they were on vinyl, but it seems more likely to me they would have used cassettes in 1987 to make recordings cheaply. That’s a bit of a mystery. But we’re off-topic.
After sending a number of the copies to radio stations in the UK, the song blew up. The first week it was released it peaked at a lowly 74 in the music charts, but soon rocketed up all the way to the coveted number one spot. It’s hard to think back nowadays, but until a few years ago the music singles chart was a much bigger deal than it is today, especially here in the UK. Having a number one hit was an astounding achievement for a group of amateurs!
But the saga wasn’t over. A number one hit meant that the band would need to appear on Top of the Pops – a weekly television show where the chart-toppers of the week were performed live (or lip-synced). The Firm felt that appearing in person would “ruin” Star Trekkin’ – seeing the people behind the silly, repetitive hit would rob it of its humour. So they decided to produce a music video… in less than a week!
After attempts to create a video with puppets were shot down by the high cost and length of time required, the band hired an independent animation studio – which was really just a handful of students – to make a claymotion video to accompany the song. The resulting video was completed with just hours to spare, and was shown on that week’s Top of the Pops as planned.
The video adds to the song’s weirdness. The characters are made from potatoes with claymotion mouths, there are aliens made from papier-mâché, and at one point the Enterprise appears to be made of sausages and pizza. The whole thing is completely bizarre, and has to be seen to be believed. Yet despite the amateurish way it was thrown together, Star Trekkin’ was a number one hit, and among some British Trekkies, retains a cult status even today, some 33 years later.
The song consists of a few lines from Star Trek – or misattributed to it by the writers.
Here they are:
“There’s Klingons on the starboard bow.” – Uhura
“It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.” – Spock
“It’s worse than that, he’s dead Jim!” – Dr McCoy
“We come in peace… shoot to kill, men!” – Kirk
“I cannae change the laws of physics!” – Scotty
The line sung by “Spock” in the song is one frequently believed to have been spoken in the series, but that isn’t actually the case. In fact, it’s possible that the song itself is the reason why the line in that form is so often attributed to Spock (though that seems like a circular argument!) The voices are actually done very well – all of them (except maybe Uhura) sound like reasonable approximations of the characters, and it’s clear they put effort in to get their voices to sound that way! Other than those five lines, there’s the refrain “Star Trekkin’ across the universe!” And that’s it really. The song repeats those same lines, getting faster and faster until it ends. It’s wacky, unique, and kind of catchy.
I remember owning Star Trekkin’ on cassette, and when I was on the bus going to school I’d keep the volume on my walkman low so that no one nearby would overhear and make fun of me! It isn’t the kind of song that I want to listen to all the time, of course – it can get annoying to say the least – but when I’m in the mood for some light-hearted Star Trek-themed weirdness, I’ll find the video on YouTube (or the mp3 on my PC, because you know I bought it for a second time in the digital era) and give it a listen.
Star Trek has been parodied and paid homage to on many occasions since the 1960s, including in song. But Star Trekkin’ has to be one of the strangest examples out there. It’s well worth a listen for any Trekkie who hasn’t heard it, and while I don’t promise you’ll enjoy it as a piece of music, you might just crack a smile. You can find the music video below. Enjoy!
The song Star Trekkin’ is the copyright of The Firm, and rights may be held by Bark Records, Bush Ranger Music, and/or Orchard Enterprises. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.