Pop & Hiss
Appreciation

Leonard Nimoy's music blurred line between man and Vulcan

Leonard Nimoy's records have long been underground classics.

Much will be written in the coming days about Leonard Nimoy the actor and science fiction icon and his place in television history. But as we celebrate this, let us not forget one of Nimoy’s most important contributions: “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins,” his 1968 ode to "The Hobbit."

One of many curious records that Nimoy released both under his own name and as Dr. Spock, “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” celebrates J.R.R. Tolkien’s creation with lines about hobbit habits, desires and adventures.

Now hobbits are a peace-lovin' folks you know

They don't like to hurry and they take things slow

They don't like to travel away from home

They just want to eat and be left alone

These are hobbit facts, made believable because Nimoy said so.

Nimoy wasn’t a one-trick Vulcan when it came to music, though. His folk records issued in the 1960s have long been underground classics, oddly earnest recordings including “Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space,” “Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy,” "The Touch of Leonard Nimoy," “The Way I Feel” and “The New World of Leonard Nimoy.”

These records were the result of a deal with Dot Records, which signed Nimoy when “Star Trek” was taking on its second life as a cult TV show. That’s how the Nimoy/Spock record came to be issued in 1967. It features such space-age bachelor pad music oddities as “Music to Watch Space Girls By,” a riff on a standard of a similar name (minus “space,” of course) that features futuristic sounds floating through it. “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Earth” is a spoken word rundown of Spock’s biography. “Have you considered the possibility that on a star, the star people wish upon an earth?”

If Nimoy had stopped there, he’d have had a novelty album on his resume and not much else. Ever the explorer, Nimoy went on to record more records over the next few years.

“Two Sides …” carries forth with the Spock persona on the opening track, “Highly Illogical.” Written from the Vulcan’s perspective, Spock tries to understand Earth culture, which he comes to find “highly illogical.” Then Spock/Nimoy gazes ahead:

I predict the future of this earthly human race

Is that having made a mess of earth, they'll move to outer space

Well, there goes the neighborhood

Totally, completely, absolutely, irrevocably, highly illogical

To his credit, Nimoy took advantage of the Dot contract to push against type. Rather than rely solely on novelty, the artist also offered straight, confident takes on the John Hartford classic, “Gentle on My Mind,” Tim Hardin’s “If I Was a Carpenter” and “Love of the Common People.”

He ditched the Spock persona altogether on his 1968 album “The Way I Feel.” The TV series in the rearview mirror, Nimoy on this third effort goes all in on reality with gorgeous versions of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” John Hartford's "Love Is Sweeter" and Nimoy's own meditation on life, called "Consilium." Unlike many of the songs he recorded, Nimoy wrote "Consilium." Its lines serve as a fitting exodus. 

Nothing dries faster than a tear and one joy dispels a hundred cares.

While it may be impossible to win every contest

Great satisfaction can be achieved from knowing that your course was fair and just.

Hide not your talents nor your God-given intelligence for they were created to be used.

What good is a sundial that sits in a shade?

Hostility and distrust reduce men to children fighting for control for each other's half of the playground.

How sad!

When - with mutual respect -

they could explore and enjoy together the many rooms in the mansion of their lives.

Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit

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