15
Mar 10

THE FIRM – “Star Trekkin”

Popular99 comments • 4,502 views

#592, 20th June 1987, video

Sometimes there is no gulf wider than the one between the 12 and the 13 year old boy. I remember meeting up with a friend – 18 months or so younger – in the school holidays and him absolutely bouncing with delight over this record, which made me shudder. For him this was priceless observational comedy; for me, a cringing reminder of the kind of thing I would have been into a summer or two before.

So ripe for reappraisal, then? Well, not really: this is rank. It’s the cheapest sounding record I think we’ll ever meet; the impressions are disasterous; the jokes were old then and are now so stained into the upholstery of Star Trek they barely register as jokes. Every now and then someone will throw out the insult “music for people who don’t like music”, for some record which commits the great sin of being pleasant or boring: “Star Trekkin’” isn’t really either of those things but it fits the diss better than most songs – more so than with any other comedy record we’ve encountered the music is a crushed, weak, thing: a disdainful, perfunctory vector for the poor gags.

I hope I’ll never have to hear it again without a drink to hand, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing of interest in “Star Trekkin’”. Wikipedia offers a way in by hinting that it’s the only filk record to top the charts, and the song is knowing and affectionate enough to come over as validation if you wanted it to be. But even as a non Trek fan* it seemed dumb to me, taking the most obvious drinking-game Trek tropes and working them ragged. What it reminds me of more, though, are fandom-driven internet memes – it’s stupider and less sophisticated than most of what gets passed around these days but especially with its plasticine video it has something of the have-you-seen-this oh-go-on-then spreadability of modern online pop culture. Of course back in 1987 there were precious few people online to spread anything much (though I bet they all liked Star Trekkin) and we had to rely on Radio 1 DJs to be our filters. Step forward the villain of this piece, Simon Bates, dropping his usual m.o. of tear-jerking populism to show that, hey, he knew how to have fun too. Bastard.

*and alright, yes, this is relevant to my hating the record: I disliked Star Trek. As a young Doctor Who fan I had happily taken sides and have broadly speaking stuck to them, for all the exotica-drenched charm of the original Trek series. At the time this song came out the Star Trek franchise was undergoing a rebirth, thanks to the successful films – the Next Generation series had been announced and I knew people who were excited for it. As for Doctor Who, it was at its lowest ebb – cancelled, then reprieved, then subjected to a run of stories that suggested the cancellers knew their jobs pretty well. “Star Trekkin” might have been an embarassment, but to admit liking Doctor Who in 1987 would have been far worse. A Who-based number one record seemed a distant prospect indeed…

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Comments

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  1. 76
    AndyPandy on 16 Mar 2010 #

    Billy @ 57: and there was a third Oasis – well sort of as it was spelled Oaysis -’92 hardcore act.

    Erithian @ 58: I thought most of the lines were very funny if you were a fan of the series as they all seemed to hit the nail on the head re what each of the characters seemed to say in every other episode eg “you cannot change the law of physics – if I give her anymore she’ll blow”, “it’s life Jim but not as we know it”. I can still raise a chuckle at it.

    Tom @ 71 I could be wrong but I seem to remember the original “Star Trek” being on a weekday evening at around 5.30-6.00 on BBC 2 in the early/mid 80s although not sure if it was still shown at that time in 1987.It was the last time I remember watching I’d previously been scared to death by it as a very young kid in the early 70s when it was on in the evening.

  2. 77
    wichita lineman on 16 Mar 2010 #

    Yes, 1985/86 it was on BBC2 at 6. Also in that slot, slightly before or after, were the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films. Fun for all the family! I mean it! We can’t have been the only family to wait with baited breath for the inevitable “He’s dead, Jim”, or to mimic the swoosh of the doors on the Enterprise, or the whistle of the communicator… I’ll stop right here.

  3. 78
    Jimmy the Swede on 16 Mar 2010 #

    I think all bases have been covered on this one. “Star Trekkin” is either for small children or very pissed up adults. That’s quite a demographic when you think about it.

    Whilst we are discussing one uber-famous TV Jim (Kirk), may I pay tribute here to another; Jim Phelps, who really does have an impossible mission now, alas. His mini-recorder has gone up in smoke for the last time. Great, great series. Peter Graves RIP.

  4. 79
    AndyPandy on 16 Mar 2010 #

    Wichita at 77: and the fact that early in most episodes when a landing party had been beamed down to a planet if there was an unknown actor in the group you knew that this character would be dead in a few minutes.

    And sort of fitting for this thread there were 2 acts called Space – French electronic group who had a hit in 1977 with “Magic Fly” which in 1987 was about a year from getting revived on the dancefloors and a group who had some hits in the late 90s and who were quite popular with some of the students when I finally got to university in the late 90s. I remember it vaguely annoying me that this bunch had nicked the earlier act’s name.

  5. 80
    Tom on 16 Mar 2010 #

    3 acts AndyPandy – the KLF’s Jimmy Cauty did an ambient album under that name – was meant to be a team up with The Orb’s Dr Alex Paterson but Dr AP pulled out and wouldnt allow his stuff to be used, so the released work is (kind of aptly!) very sparse.

  6. 81
    Jimmy the Swede on 16 Mar 2010 #

    # 79 – AP is so right about those landing parties:

    “Captain’s log, stardate, blah-blah-blah. I have decided to send a delegation onto the planet surface to investigate. Myself, First Officer Spock, Doctor McCoy and Ensign Phillips…”

    Hey, tough break, there, Phillips!!!

  7. 82
    swanstep on 17 Mar 2010 #

    The recent Star Trek film was pretty awful in my view (I felt very burned by all the critics who praised it), but it did have a good joke about the disposability/doom of red-shirted away-team members in the Trek universe. Kirk, Sulu and an unheralded red-shirt Olson jump from space into the atmosphere to land on a drilling platform that they wish to destroy. Olson speeds ahead of the others (out-cowboying Kirk, which is no mean feat), misses the platform, and is immediately flambeed by the drill beam underneath. Haw haw. I checked wiki just to see that I’d remembered the plot point right. It says just: Kirk and Hikaru Sulu perform a space jump onto the drilling platform, disabling it.

    That’s the spirit!

  8. 83
    thefatgit on 17 Mar 2010 #

    Ha! The disposable red-shirts of the Enterprise, yet Kirk still has a crew of 400 (oft quoted in several early episodes). I remember an episode where an away-team investigate some underground cave network, and are stalked by some lava-blob creature that only strikes when its victims are alone. Star Trek and Scooby Doo fused for one marvellous moment, into that “No, don’t split up! That’s what it wants you to do!” audience reaction. High red-shirt body count. Spock mind-melds with the creature in a tense denoument. Cracking stuff.

    Still think the single sucks.

  9. 84
    inakamono on 17 Mar 2010 #

    There, and I was expecting a really geeky conversation on the lines of “You know, Dr. McCoy never actually says It’s worse than that, he’s dead Jim: The closest he comes to it is…”

    Kinda disappointed really, in an vaguely embarrassed way.

    So, undeterred, I thought I’d search the googles to see if Dr. McCoy ever really did say it, and after browsing some fascinating articles using “It’s worse than that, he’s dead Jim” as a headline*, I discovered the holy grail**, as follows:

    “The phrase “He’s dead, Jim” was a classic line from the television series, spoken by Dr McCoy to Captain Kirk, in at least five different episodes (if you must know: ‘The Enemy Within’ (about a dog), ‘The Changeling’ (about Scotty), ‘Wolf in the Fold’ (about Hengist), ‘Spectre of the Gun’ (about Chekov), and ‘Is There in Truth no Beauty?’ (about Marvick))…
    “The “It’s worse than that” part of the quote did not originate with Star Trek itself, but with the 1987 song ‘Star Trekkin’, by The Firm, which was a huge novelty hit set to a simple ‘London Bridge is falling down’ tune.”

    I’m so relieved — I can smirk happily about compulsive Trekkies after all.

    And how come no one analyzed the ‘London Bridge’ connection…

    * ranging from the failure of e-democracy in Scottish elections, the likely whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, the future of the Anglican Covenant, single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) detectors, and the history of Routemaster buses, to (unsurprisingly) a CETI message board, (as well as some quite disturbing photographs)

    ** (from something called “The Annotated Pratchett File v9.0″)

  10. 85
    AndyPandy on 17 Mar 2010 #

    Punctum @ 39 – surely two different Tony Thorpes though? – ie one a black Londoner who became known in 1988 with an early-ish acid track with the Moody Boys and the other the white guitarist of Rubettes fame who now teaches at Blackburn College and plays and promotes a blues night in my town, Rawtenstall, Lancs.

  11. 86
    punctum on 18 Mar 2010 #

    I’ve always wondered about that. The reason I get confused is that at least two other former Rubettes, or Rubettes associates, were closely involved with the KLF. I thought it was rather cool that their guitarist might have gone on to be a UK Acieed pioneer but, as you’ve just confirmed, it’s a different Tony Thorpe altogether. Ah well…

  12. 87
    mike on 18 Mar 2010 #

    I’ve long considered “Star Trekkin” to be the most irritating Number One of all time – so it was with some surprise that, on playing it again yesterday, I felt the corners of my mouth twitching upwards. Viewed from a safe distance, its gleeful determination to be as annoying as possible on every level now seems almost admirable. I hadn’t spotted the proto-toytown-techno connection before, but there is something happy-hardcore-ish at its core, and even the faint rudiments of a banging donk.

    The mantle of Most Irritating Number One Ever duly passes to a certain chart-topper from the second half of 2009.

    I’m not pushing my luck by playing “Star Trekkin” a second time, though. Once in 22 years is quite enough.

  13. 88
    punctum on 18 Mar 2010 #

    A fair number of candidates there, it has to be said, Mike…

  14. 89
    LondonLee on 18 Mar 2010 #

    #82 – That joke about the disposable crew member was done before in the spoof Galaxy Quest (which is great if you haven’t seen it)

    “I’m not even supposed to be here. I’m just “Crewman Number Six.” I’m expendable. I’m the guy in the episode who dies to prove how serious the situation is. I’ve gotta get outta here!”

  15. 90
    Erithian on 18 Mar 2010 #

    Oh I really enjoyed “Galaxy Quest”. Wasn’t that the one where they landed on a planet where all the aliens looked cute and cuddly, but as soon as you upset them they bared ultra-sharp teeth and brutally tore their victims apart? I was reminded of that planet at the time of the last Lib Dem leadership contest.

  16. 91
    AndyPandy on 18 Mar 2010 #

    Punctum @86:There was something almost as bizarre as a Rubettes guitarist making an early Acid Track though -

    Barry Blue was behind Cry Sisco’s “Afro Dizzi Act” which was one of biggest, most all-pervasive (and from over 20 years hence one of the most evocative of that time) tracks from the M25 acid house parties of 1989.

  17. 92
    mike on 18 Mar 2010 #

    And then there was Rob Davies from Mud, going all Balearic in the summer of 1988 with Electra’s cover of “Jibaro”… but more of him when the times comes, eh?

  18. 93
    punctum on 19 Mar 2010 #

    #91: Beyond the hits (and maybe including some of his hits – “Hot Shot” is, to put it mildly, bizarre) Barry Blue’s done some pretty out there stuff in his time. But then of course he also produced and mentored Heatwave and therefore Rod Temperton, who did a great lost single for BB in 1987: “Change It Up.”

  19. 94
    MichaelH on 19 Mar 2010 #

    @82/89 A phenomenon known to Trek fans (my wife is one) as the “expendable ensign”, since that is always the rank of the crew member who dies.

  20. 95
    Jimmy the Swede on 20 Mar 2010 #

    # 84 – And how come no one analyzed the ‘London Bridge’ connection…

    I for one never analysed it because I associated the tune, such as it is, with “I am the Music Man” as was outlined by someone else further up-thread.

  21. 96
    Doctor Casino on 20 Mar 2010 #

    “I Am The Music Man” was another campfire favorite at the same summer camp. We had a pretty limited range.

  22. 97
    Conrad on 24 Mar 2010 #

    in response to a comment much earlier, the Firm’s 1982 single Arthur Daley’s e’s alright…the b side was indeed the posh version, credited to the firm’s solicitor, Devious Des

  23. 98
    Billy Hicks on 19 Jan 2011 #

    Back in 1998, nine year old me and a host of other kids were being entertained by a clown in the summer holidays in Devon. He was singing both this and Black Lace’s ‘Superman’. You could feel a slight sense of bewilderment across all our faces as clearly none of us had any idea what these songs were – even then they predated our births. I wonder to this day if that clown’s setlist remains in the 80s, or whether he’s moved onto, I dunno, Mr Blobby or something, bemusing a whole new generation of kids.

    It’s enjoyable, harmless fun to me, maybe because I’ve never been overexposed to it. This also coming from someone who avoids Star Trek like the plague and instead a massive Doctor Who fan!

  24. 99
    DanH on 2 Aug 2013 #

    Well, when I perused the U.K. #1′s for the first time, this was a jawdropper. “What the hell is this Dr. Demento song doing at #1?” Yeah, that’s where I knew it from. I really don’t even hate it, except knowing that this made #1 in the U.K. and none of the Joshua Tree songs could.

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