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In 1968, during his first wave of Star Trek fame, William Shatner released The Transformed Man, a concept album on which the actor recited notable pieces of poetry that segued into contemporary pop songs. "It was a pretty interesting approach," Shatner says. "If I did To Be Or Not To Be from Hamlet, that transitioned to It Was A Very Good Year, a song that celebrated life. I would do Cyrano de Bergerac, which has a speech ‘I may climb to no great heights, but I will climb alone,’ and I would segue into a drug song about a guy who can’t climb alone. The literature and the music worked together.”
Regarded as a curio at first, the album has since become a cult classic, and over the years, Shatner released four other records, including last year's thoroughly engaging collection of all-original progressive rock, Ponder The Mystery, created with Circa founder and former Yes guitarist Billy Sherwood and featuring guest turns by Tony Kaye, Steve Vai, Rick Wakeman and others.
"It's amazing to me, becoming associated with this music," Shatner says. "I’m the face on a progressive rock magazine now, and I don’t know how I even got there. But to work with people like Billy Sherwood, Tony Kaye and Yes, and all the others, it’s a real privilege. I can be something of an ignoramous about music and a lot of the people involved in it, but I’m a willing student."
By his own admission, Shatner came to embrace modern music late in life. Growing up, he heard opera almost exclusively. "Every Saturday afternoon, that's what my father had playing in the house," he recalls. "He’d go to work in the morning, and when he came home he’d turn on the radio to hear concerts from the Metropolitan Opera in New York. So that was a lot of the music I knew.
“It was only later on, when singing, or doing what I do, on a rock ‘n’ roll song did I understand the power that rock has. I used to disparage it – you know, ‘What happened to Frank Sinatra?’ It took me a while to understand the appeal of rock and other forms of music. But now I'm a big fan, and I'm happy to participate in making music with some wonderful artists."
On the following pages, William Shatner – actor, author, singer and all-around cultural icon – runs down his picks for 10 "life-changing" records.