15
Mar 10

THE FIRM – “Star Trekkin”

Popular107 comments • 7,464 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. 1
    thefatgit on 15 Mar 2010 #

    Scrape it off Jim.

    I’m guessing the toilet humour appealed to a certain pre-pubescent age group. You can’t even credit it with a catchy tune. No redeeming factors at all. A richly deserved 1 (for want of a zero).

  2. 2
    MichaelH on 15 Mar 2010 #

    I used to work with someone, a man in his 30s at the time, who would recite jokes from this song in the way other boring people recite Monty Python jokes.

    That said, whatever happened to the unfunny comedy smash hit single? Did the national sense of humour get more sophisticated? I see that these days, this kind of thing would just be a viral – too cheap and nasty to be worth buying, not funny enough to merit more than a single play. But didn’t unfunny comedy records – the 80s seems to have been a golden age for them – disappear before the viral phenomenon?

  3. 3
    Rory on 15 Mar 2010 #

    Thank Spock for that. Part of me was worried that this might garner an affectionate few points out of UK nostalgia. Not from me – it’s awful. And the plasticine video doesn’t even respect its own logic: one of Uhura’s lines is voiced by the McCoy figure.

    Points to the creators for getting their self-pressed 500 copies to snowball into a million-seller, I suppose. But that’s it. 1987’s nadir by a long shot.

    Number 3 in Australia. 1 from me.

    (But au contraire, thefatgit: the tune is all too catchy. Stand by for Earworm Factor 9.)

  4. 4
    thefatgit on 15 Mar 2010 #

    Rory, you mean the “There’s Klingons on the starboard bow” bit? Yeah I suppose that could rattle around in my head for a bit.

    But even the Etch-a-Sketch-a-Spock sleeve looks cheap and that’s about the best thing about it.

  5. 5
    Tom on 15 Mar 2010 #

    #2 I’d guess Comic Relief and Matthew Banister about equally to blame: the former providing a sanctioned outlet for them, the latter cutting off their oxygen by firing all the people who encouraged them.

    (Though shit novelty records championed by DJs survived into the 00s to some extent)

  6. 6
    Kat but logged out innit on 15 Mar 2010 #

    5 years old = I absolutely bloody loved it of course.

    Listening back today I have just twigged that it’s actually the same tune as ‘I Am The Music Man’, isn’t it? Did Black Lace get the idea from this?

  7. 7
    Rory on 15 Mar 2010 #

    thefatgit: Yeah, that and/or the chorus. Arrggh, let’s get onto the next one, quick.

    That’s quality 1987 desktop publishing, that sleeve. MacPaint, by the looks of it.

    I always wondered how The Firm got away with using their name when Jimmy Page’s band predated this by a few years. But it turns out these guys had an earlier 1982 hit, “Arthur Daley ‘E’s Alright”, which peaked at number 14 and was performed on TOTP. I can imagine how it goes – some kind of geezer knees-up, I’m guessing. Which is what this one is, isn’t it? Knees up Mister Spock, knees up Captain Kirk…

  8. 8
    Izzy on 15 Mar 2010 #

    Sometimes there is no gulf wider than the one between the 12 and the 13 year old boy

    Ouch. Nice observation, but slightly painful to recall being cursed with local friends who were all a year or so older than me, and who accordingly always had slightly different interests and perspectives, a gap which no doubt swelled to a gulf around this time. Particularly as they had older siblings to leech off, while I did not. And then being doubly cursed by my schoolfriends mostly seeming a little silly in comparison.

    Nowt to say about this record, other than that the hook is still buried deep – I was never a fan of this, or Who, or any of that stuff, which is a little odd as I’d devour fantasy literature for years.

    The only real Star Trek memory I can boast was happening to see a Next Generation episode when I was 17 or so and mentioning it next day at school, and being astonished to find that people got hyperenthusiastic and took it all very seriously! As I’ve got older and less cynical I would normally applaud that, but something there still seems rather creepy.

  9. 9
    wichita lineman on 15 Mar 2010 #

    Re 7: I’ve got a feeling these are three different Firms. The man behind Star Trekkin’ is Brian O’Shaughnessy, who, a little later, engineered Primal Scream’s Loaded and has been the producer of Felt/Denim Lawrence’s Go Kart Mozart records. Shame that GKM’s Sailor Boy wasn’t the Simon Bates-backed novelty number one.

    The sleeve for Star Trekkin’ looks EXACTLY like a 1979 DIY photo-copied A4 sleeve – the Thin Yogurts! Danny & The Dressmakers! Hornsey At War! – which makes me warm to it a little more than I ought.

    Will I be the first person to mention Spizz Energi’s Where’s Captain Kirk? The first indie mega-hit not to trouble the Top 40: great tune, love the hiccupy vocal and all, but the lyrics confused me then and they confuse me now.

  10. 10
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 15 Mar 2010 #

    Tom just emailed this to the FT elves:

    The Firm’s one and only album, Serious Fun (1987)
    A1 Star Trekkin’
    A2 Girls Got Feelings Too
    A3 Arthur Daley (‘E’s Alright)
    A4 Snookered
    A5 Heavy Metal Robot
    (Written By – O’Connor/Tenney)
    A6 Start Wrekkin’

    B1 Superheroes
    B2 Strawberry Ice Cream, Jelly And Cake
    B3 Monster Rap
    B4 Cash In Hand
    B5 Summertime On 42nd Street
    B6 Pop Stars

  11. 11
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 15 Mar 2010 #

    Serious Fun!

  12. 12
    wichita lineman on 15 Mar 2010 #

    Pop Stars?!

  13. 13
    Rory on 15 Mar 2010 #

    The man behind Star Trekkin’ is Brian O’Shaughnessy, who, a little later, engineered Primal Scream’s Loaded

    *brain explodes*

  14. 14
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 15 Mar 2010 #

    THEY ARE THE SAME RECORD

  15. 15
    Rory on 15 Mar 2010 #

    yer freakin’ me out, man.

  16. 16
    JimD on 15 Mar 2010 #

    Um, this was the first single I ever bought. I’ll never forgive myself.

  17. 17
    Billy Smart on 15 Mar 2010 #

    Hm, haven’t heard this for 23 years. Here goes.

    God, that was depressing. If I was trapped on dancefloor with a lot of people who were enjoying this and finding it funny, it would push me over the edge. At least ‘No-one Quite like Grandma’ exploits an admirable sentiment.

    I do quite like ‘Arthur Daley E’s Alright’, though. If only the “Propping up the bar, at the Winchester Club” line, not the poor quality impersonations of George Cole and Dennis Waterman.

  18. 18
    Birdseed on 15 Mar 2010 #

    Another one I’m too young and too geographically distant to remember, but I actually really like the sound production work on this one, especially the last, chorus-warped sci-fi section. A decent dance tune with that kind of texture would be awesome.

  19. 19
    lord darlington on 15 Mar 2010 #

    They said it couldn’t be done… this is currently overtaking (undertaking?) St Winifreds on the Readers’ Worst Top 100.

    Thinking about it, the whole “we wanna be free to do what we wanna do” sounds like something from a Star Trek episode where the whole crew accidentally swallows some ‘space’ pills – cure Spock in tears, Scotty drunk, Kirk and Uhura in illicit clinch. It all makes sense. Oh my gosh.

  20. 20
    Alan Connor on 15 Mar 2010 #

    You are not qualified to find this difficult unless you have been egged into standing up en famille in the stalls at the Reading Hexagon to join Keith Chegwin and the actor who played Mr Sulu for a singalong towards the end of IIRC Aladdin. That we are discussing Star Trekkin’ suggests The Firm had considerable powers; how sad that they chose to use them for evil.

  21. 21
    Tom on 15 Mar 2010 #

    I’m seeing 2.1 which is over Winifred’s – Grandma’s position is safe for now!

  22. 22
    wichita lineman on 15 Mar 2010 #

    Re 18: Arthur Daley is a Chas n Dave knock-off, but a proper earworm. I get odd lines from it popping up in my head on a daily basis – same goes for Ernie, She Wears Red Feathers, old Pepsi ads, FA Cup results from 1974/75, Andre Agassi mumbling “sure is coffee at its best”, and other gibberish which blocks out all the important stuff. “In a right two and eight”, you could say.

  23. 23
    MikeMCSG on 15 Mar 2010 #

    #5 Tom -absolutely right about Bannister and his cohort Dann. You couldn’t have fun on their Radio One unless it took the form of pretending to understand Danny Baker’s “inventive torrents of thought”/self-indulgent grandstanding (delete according to preference).

    Another explanation comes from Haircut-turned-A & R-man Mark Fox as quoted in Tony Hawks’s “One Hit Wonderland” – “At the time of Stutter Rap (probably the last self-sufficient big novelty hit-Mike)most of the kids who were buying records were watching either Top of the Pops or The Chart Show or both.Now they are watching hundreds of different programmes on cable – or pissing about on the Web.”

    My recollection is that it was actually Simon Mayo (Bannister’s golden boy ironically) that started bigging this up on his Saturday evening show but maybe Batesy was the first of the daytimers to pick up on it (sadly I was working by this time and wouldn’t know).

    I don’t think it’s that bad- it’s a lot funnier than “Arthur Daley”, Rory, so approach that with care ! I agree with Tom vis-a-vis Doctor Who although that actually makes me warm more to this record because of the disrespect it shows (though I think most Trekkies were just delighted to think they might be fleetingly a part of mainstream culture and bought it). Blake’s Seven I thought was a great antidote to Star Trek – Avon’s ultra-cynicism the perfect riposte to Kirk’s indigestible moralising.

    And it gave us Brits a look in after a trio of US artists at the top.

  24. 24
    AndyPandy on 15 Mar 2010 #

    I always thought this was quite a superior comedy record – clever production like someone above just said, quite imaginative and you actually had to at least be a fan of the 1960s series (about the only science fiction along with pre about 1977 Dr Who that I ever really liked – wouldn’t wanna watch the former now tho)to get all the jokes.
    It’s easy to slag off but its one of the few of 1000s of comedy to ever get to Number 1 – and unlike most of the others did it without the boost from Comic Relief/being featured on a television show.

    1000 times more intelligent than “the Chicken Song” and some of the 90s/00s comedy records for instance.

    I didn’t know Simon Bates played it – I remember hearing it for the first time on one of the afternoon shows on Radio 2.

    @19: they were all down on a planet after breathing in spores from a plant that gave you complete happiness for ever and then Kirk had to ruin everything by refusing to completely give into the idea of not having to strive or something – it really annoyed me at the time!

  25. 25
    lonepilgrim on 15 Mar 2010 #

    I liked it then and I quite like it still – sure it’s silly and irritating and you wouldn’t want to listen to more than once but it’s made in a good spirit. I certainly prefer it to The Young Ones and Spitting Image.
    I’m hoping that Marcello can reveal the free jazz connections to this one ;-)

  26. 26
    Rory on 15 Mar 2010 #

    Made in a good spirit, I’ll grant you – its almost accidental climb to the top was hardly a Cowell-like contrivance – and silly I don’t mind, but it’s the “irritating and you wouldn’t want to listen to more than once” that makes it a 1 for me. Especially as – having lived through 1987 – I’ve heard it so many more times than once.

    It’s worse than that, he’s loaded, Jim, loaded, Jim, loaded, Jim, we come in peace, have a good time, have a good time, have a good timeNOOOHHHHHHHHH

  27. 27
    enitharmon on 15 Mar 2010 #

    Well, well! Until five minutes ago I was blissfully unaware of this little, er, gem isn’t quite the word I’m groping for I think.

    I don’t feel my life is particularly enriched as a result.

    Dreadful, isn’t it!

  28. 28
    Alan on 15 Mar 2010 #

    re the populist bottom 100, there is something odd going on with new popular entries that i haven’t nailed down. it seems to be when there are a low number of votes in. anyway, it’s settled down level with Grandma. Sounds about right.

    I’m pretty sure there was a copy of this in the house at some time, and it was not of my doing. But I recall finding this hilarious at first — and would have dropped to gritted toleration of it much like (as MichaelH puts it) a repeated Monty Python sketch off an LP, within days.

    Unlike Tom, though I was a Who fan, I could barely comprehend that ST:TNG was actually happening – it seemed impossible that there could be NEW star trek. They were bringing something extinct back to life. It turned out very disappointing of course, and then college got in the way, which turned out to be a blessing. While studying to be a teacher in spring 92, my landlady was an advanced and stereotypical ST:TNG fan — I recall her going to a convention to the US for the weekend and came back covered in Federation badges. My weekends were filled with marking, gin and watching her VHSs of the stuff I’d missed.

    awful song – i bet they get a ton of usage payments from being used in compilation videos for fans tho.

  29. 29
    swanstep on 15 Mar 2010 #

    So, what’s the final, ghostly, white, space-head image in the video? Is that (spitting image) Reagan with Mickey Mouse ears?

    If it is then, notwithstanding the overall shittiness of the vid., I’d say it does finally get somewhere (perhaps matching the slight uptick in the music at the very end).

    Approached from a slightly different angle, while the song does indeed use even-at-the-time shop-worn Star Trek one-liners, some of those one-liners – ‘ya canna break the laws of physics’ (always said just before something supposedly truly exceptional happens), and ‘we come in peace, shoot to kill’- do code up attitudes that Americans particularly on the right have: that America is (i) an exception to every rule, and that (ii) it is uniquely, even supernaturally a force for good and peace in the world, hence that all of the shooting to kill it regularly does is never less than fundamentally innocent/well-intended/justified etc..

    The song isolates some of those near paradoxical ideas as they showed up in the original show, mocking them but also enjoying them as part of the original show’s guilty Team America: Galactic Police charm. The song’s pretty unlistenable, but I think it nonetheless captures something (which the vid. may pick up on in the way I began by describing). Maybe this deserves a low 2 rather than a 1.

    [Note that if you follow how Obama gets criticized and suspected in the US these days, the ideas that he may not sufficiently fervently believe in (i) and (ii) are never far from the surface (see this nytimes blog from last year for some examples).]

  30. 30
    will on 15 Mar 2010 #

    I was always quite fond of Arthur Daley (E’s Alright). And yes, in the intervening quarter century large swathes of it have continued to rattle around my head too. I seem to recall there was a ‘posh version’ on the B Side with an interpreter with a RP accent translating the rhyming slang into ‘proper’ English.

    Star Trekkin’ though is rubbish. Didn’t DLT have a hand somewhere in making it a hit?

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