The most famous version of “Rocket Man” is the original rendition by Elton John; however, William Shatner’s bizarre spoken word cover of “Rocket Man” is famous in its own right. During an interview, Shatner explained what he was thinking when he put his own twist on John’s song. Interestingly, Frank Sinatra partly inspired his rendition.
William Shatner wasn’t trying to sound like Elton John when he performed ‘Rocket Man’
In the famous clip of Shatner performing “Rocket Man,” special effects make it appear there are three Shatners. One sits and calmly performs the track while holding a cigarette. Another moves his arms while performing the track. The final one dances in a strange way and calls himself “Rock It Man.” The unusual performance is famous because a lot of people think it’s campy and unintentionally funny.
During an interview posted to the Official William Shatner Page on YouTube, Shatner explained his performance of “Rocket Man” was supposed to be funny. He played three characters while singing “Rocket Man.” The man with the cigarette was supposed to be Frank Sinatra, “Rock It Man” was supposed to be a “rock ‘n’ roll” guy, and the other character he played was Captain James T. Kirk from Star Trek.
Shatner said his performance of the song was intended to entertain a few people. He didn’t expect it to become famous. Shatner didn’t even rehearse for the musical number. He saw his performance as an experiment.
How the world reacted to ‘Rocket Man’ by Elton John
John’s version of “Rocket Man” reached No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, staying on the chart for 15 weeks. Its parent album, Honky Château, was a hit as well. It reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200, staying on the chart for 61 weeks. The Official Charts Company reports “Rocket Man” reached No. 2 in the United Kingdom, staying on the chart for 15 weeks. The song’s title was later used as the name of John’s biopic.
The legacy of William Shatner’s version of the song
Shatner’s version of “Rocket Man” is legendary; however, it wasn’t a hit. Decades after performing it on television for the first time, Shatner included a version of “Rocket Man” on his album Seeking Major Tom. The album includes covers of various songs related to science and science fiction, including David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science.” The album reached No. 131 on the Billboard 200, staying on the chart for a week.
Shatner would later parody the track and his other covers with a spoken word cover of Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady.” He performed “The Real Slim Shady” on an episode of Futurama called “Where No Fan Has Gone Before.” While Shatner’s “Rocket Man” was not a hit song, it has entertained Star Trek fans and John’s fans alike for decades.