Bob Dylan, Black Sabbath, and Beyond: 5 Iconic Songs You Didn’t Know William Shatner Covered

When asked which he preferred more in 2020, acting or singing, William Shatner joked “Well, they’re quite different, of course. But I love the challenge of doing a song and knowing that I can’t really sing.” Well beyond Shatner’s acting career, which has spanned more than seven decades including his most iconic role as Captain James T. Kirk on the original Star Trek series from 1966 to 1969, the now-nonagenarian has also maintained a music career for nearly as long.

In 1968, Shatner debuted with The Transformed Man, a collection of musical monologues pulled from classical literature. By the 2000s, Shatner began writing his songs, including a majority of the tracks on his 2004 album Has Been with Ben Folds to the pensive “Where Does Time Go?” from his 2013 album, Ponder the Mystery.

Shatner’s Bill from 2021 featured a new collection of songs he’d written—the spaced-out “So Far From the Moon,” featuring Brad Paisley, “Clouds of Guilt,” co-written and features Joe Jonas, and more—before he regrouped with Folds and the National Symphony Orchestra for his 2024 album So Fragile, So Blue.

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Photo of William Shatner by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

By 2023, Shatner was the subject of the documentary, You Can Call Me Bill, and gave a Keynote address at the SXSW just days before his 92nd birthday.

Throughout his nearly six-decade music career, Shatner has also gone where no man has gone before, covering a diverse space of genres, full of his signature insouciant demeanor. Since the late-’60s, Shatner has shared exaggerated covers of everything from Pink Floyd’s “Learning to Fly,” Pulp‘s anthemic “Common People,” the psychobilly of “Garbageman” by The Cramps, Thomas Dolby’s 1982 hit “She Blinded Me with Science,” Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse Of The Heart,” along with songs by U2, Kurt Weill, The Tea Party, and dozens more.

To celebrate his continued contributions to music, here’s a look at just five classic songs that Shatner put his own, mostly satirical spin on throughout the decades.

[RELATED: 3 Songs You Didn’t Know William Shatner Wrote]

1. “Mr. Tambourine Man” (Bob Dylan)

On his debut The Transformed Man, Shatner appears on the album cover as his Star Trek persona Captain Kirk, though the music takes a more Shakespearean turn. Throughout the six tracks, Shatner recites monologues using a piece of classical literature—including William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Henry V—paired with more contemporary songs.

For Bob Dylan‘s Bringing It All Back Home classic “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Shatner decided to pair an excerpt from 1897 Edmond Rostand’s play Cyrano de Bergerac. The Transformed Man closes on a version of The Beatles‘ 1967 classic “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” and the Ervin Drake-penned standard, “It Was a Very Good Year” made famous by Frank Sinatra in 1965.

2. “Rocket Man” (Elton John)

When Shatner decided to perform a spoken-word rendition of Elton John’s hit “Rocket Man” during the 1978 Saturn Awards, he never imagined his version would go viral decades later. Donned in a wide-lapeled tuxedo, and ruffled shirt, Shatner took a drag from a cigarette, looked intently into the camera, and began wording Rocket Man / Burning out his fuse up here.

“I was just kidding around,” Shatner said to Chris Wallace in 2022 of the performance. “I didn’t know they were recording it. They released that thing.” Shatner added, “It’s not my proudest moment, but then I re-recorded it on another album the way I thought it should go.”

When Shatner was gearing up to go into space on Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space shuttle with Jeff Bezos in 2021 at the age of 90, his former “Rocket Man” performance started getting an uptick in views. “William Shatner getting ready for liftoff,” wrote one fan on X. “Godspeed rocketman,” said another, while some even suggested that Shatner should have sang the John classic while he was in space.

[RELATED: Behind The Song: Elton John, “Rocket Man”]

“You can say anything else you want about Jeff Bezos, but sending William Shatner up on Blue Origin was a genius move,” posted one X user. “The only mistake? Not having Shatner sing ‘Rocket Man’ while he was up there.”

3. “My Way” (Frank Sinatra)

Feeling his career at a standstill, Frank Sinatra was ready to call it quits and leave showbiz behind by the late-’60s. Then, Paul Anka presented “My Way” to him. When writing “My Way,” Anka translated the 1967 French song “Comme d’habitude” (“As Usual”), which was composed by Jacques Revaux with lyrics by Gilles Thibaut and Claude François, about a couple in a boring marriage.

Released by Sinatra in 1969, “My Way” became Sinatra’s signature song, preceded his 1979 classic, “New York, New York,” and was covered by everyone from friend Sammy Davis Jr., Elvis Presley, and Sex Pistol Sid Vicious.

[RELATED: The Man Who Wrote Frank Sinatra’s Classic “My Way”]

In 2005, Shatner—flanked by Star Wars Stormtroopers and Chewbacca, opened the AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to George Lucas ceremony with a spoken word performance of the Sinatra classic.  

4. “Iron Man” (Black Sabbath)

On his fourth album, Seeking Major Tom in 2011—named after David Bowie‘s astronaut persona, Shatner covers a total of 20 more galactic tunes from Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” along with The Police (“Walking on the Moon”), Steve Miller Band (“Space Cowboy”), The Byrd‘s “Mr. Spaceman,” and “Planet Earth” by Duran Duran, among others.

Along with his cover of Deep Purple‘s “Space Truckin'” and Hawkwind’s 1972 song “Silver Machine,” Seeking Major Tom introduces Shatner’s more hard rock and metal side, along with his rendition of the Black Sabbath classic “Iron Man,” featuring Ozzy Osbourne‘s former guitarist Zakk Wylde and bassist Mike Inez.

The concept of the album tells the story of Bowie’s Major Tom— first referenced in “Space Oddity” and again in “Ashes to Ashes,” “Hallo Spaceboy,” and later in “Blackstar”—and what happened to him after he left the space capsule. “Well, I thought it would be fun to characterize what happened to him,” said Shatner of the fate of Bowie’s spaceman. “So I have him walking on the moon or being a space cowboy, thinking of his wife [who] ‘blinded me with science’ [Thomas Dolby]. Then things get darker and he’s in the ‘Twilight Zone’ [Golden Earring]. He queries God in ‘Lost in the Stars’ [Kurt Weill]. Ultimately, in the 20th song, he goes to hell with ‘Iron Man’ with Zakk Wylde.”

Seeking Major Tom also features guests Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Paice, Dave Davies, Sheryl Crow, Alan Parsons, Bootsy Collins, Peter Frampton, and Toots Hibbert. Warren Haynes, Michael Schenker, Johnny Winter, Brad Paisley, and Carmine Appice, among others.

5. “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Queen)

Another classic cut on the space-themed Seeking Major Tom is Shatner’s absurd rendering of Queen‘s A Night at the Opera classic “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Shatner remorsefully speak-sings through another melodic monologue, regretfully crooning Mama, life had just begun / But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away / Mama, ooh, didn’t mean to make you cry / If I’m not back again this time tomorrow / Carry on, carry on as if nothing really matters.

Surprisingly, Shatner wasn’t familiar with the Queen hit until he finally covered it. “I knew nothing of it until I came to it in this latter day,” he told Spinner at the time. “If you had asked me a year ago about Freddie Mercury and Queen, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. If you had played me ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ I would have told you that it was one of the greatest pieces of music I’ve ever played.”

He continued, “It’s modern and beautifully sung. And then if you had told me about the history of Freddie Mercury and Queen, I would have gasped because it’s so dramatic.”

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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