Geek Trivia: Where no song has gone before

Why has no one ever recorded the lyrics to the original <i>Star Trek</i> theme?

"Space... the final frontier..."

These words first hit the airwaves on Sept. 8, 1966, thereby introducing the world to Star Trek and subsequently becoming one of the auditory signatures for televised science fiction, despite being more than 40 years old. The opening monologue by Captain Kirk detailing the five-year mission of the starship Enterprise -- including the world's most famous split infinitive, "to boldly go where no man has gone before" -- became a call to arms for sci-fi-philes and outright scientists that continues to resonate even today.

But that's no excuse for neglecting to mention the accompanying theme music.

Composer Alexander Courage wrote, conducted, and recorded the orchestral theme to Star Trek in just one week, calling it "just another show" that needed scoring. Courage was one of Hollywood's more prolific film and television composers from the 1950s through the early 1990s, working for such varied TV projects as Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Daniel Boone, and The Waltons as well as collaborating with such noted composers as John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith.

Inspired by the Richard Whiting song "Beyond the Blue Horizon," Star Trek's signature A-flat intro has appeared not only in the original series; the theme music for Star Trek: The Next Generation and several of the Star Trek feature films also incorporated the famous tune. Somewhere along the way, it became one of the most recognizable musical pieces ever composed.

The warbling female soprano solo underlying the tune wasn't originally part of the theme; it was an addition for the second season of the show. The whooshing sound effect that accompanied the Enterprise fly-bys in Star Trek's opening sequence was an off-the-cuff voice effect performed by Courage himself -- free of charge to the show's producers.

What weren't included were the lyrics to the Star Trek theme. Yes, the lyrics, as in verses sung in time with the music -- wholly separate from the aforementioned monologue, vocal solo, or whooshing sounds.

No one has ever officially performed or recorded these lyrics in connection with any Star Trek episode -- and the reason why may surprise you.


Why has no one ever officially performed or recorded the lyrics to the original Star Trek musical theme -- yes, actual lyrics, apart from the wordless soprano solo and William Shatner's show-opening monologue -- in connection with the show?

The reason is because the lyrics to the Star Trek theme existed wholly as legal entities designed to earn creator Gene Roddenberry a little extra money. A "handshake" deal between Roddenberry and composer Alexander Courage held that Roddenberry had the option to write lyrics for the theme.

Under copyright rules, that entitled Roddenberry to half of the royalties earned by the Trek theme, regardless of whether the lyrics ever saw use. Since the theme appeared in every episode of Star Trek ever broadcast or sold, this amounted to a not inconsiderable sum over time, especially given Star Trek's popularity and longevity in syndication.

While the circumstances of the handshake agreement aren't entirely clear, Courage has stated publicly that he felt Roddenberry's actions were underhanded, designed strictly to earn a cheap buck at Courage's expense. Roddenberry at least once went on record as stating he wrote the lyrics because "I have to get some money somewhere. I'm sure not going to get it out of the profits of Star Trek." If nothing else, Roddenberry was a poor predictor of future success.

He also wasn't much of a lyricist if the actual verses to the Star Trek theme are any indication. We submit them for your judgment below.

The rim of the star-light
My love
Is wand'ring in star-flight
I know
He'll find in star-clustered reaches
Strange love a star woman teaches.
I know
His journey ends never
His star trek
Will go on forever.
But tell him
While he wanders his starry sea
Remember, remember me.

Not exactly an exemplar of musical poetry, but a nonetheless whimsical addendum to Star Trek lore -- and quite the lyrical contribution to the annals of Geek Trivia.

Get ready for the Geekend

The Trivia Geek's blog has been reborn as the Geekend, an online archive of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant -- unless you're a hardcore geek with a penchant for science fiction, technology, and snark. Get a daily dose of subcultural illumination by joining the seven-day Geekend.

The Quibble of the Week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week's Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article. Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and discuss it in a future edition of Geek Trivia.

This week's quibble comes from the May 2 edition of Geek Trivia, "One tall order." TechRepublic member El_Guapo (who gets extra points for the Three Amigos namesake) disputed my definition of the world's tallest buildings.

"Forget about the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada?"

Uh, not really, but as several other members were quick to point out, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) -- which makes these decisions, not me -- considers the CN Tower the world's tallest supported structure, which falls under a whole other class of edifice than a conventional "building" in this context. In other words, skyscrapers, observation towers, and radio/television towers all compete for tallest structure ratings in distinct categories, with dozens of subcategories within those.

Architectural achievements are kind of like kindergarten awards -- everybody receives recognition as the best at something, so nobody goes home without a trophy. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify, and keep those quibbles coming!

Falling behind on your weekly Geek fix?

Check out the Geek Trivia Archive, and catch up on the most recent editions of Geek Trivia.

Test your command of useless knowledge by subscribing to TechRepublic's Geek Trivia newsletter. Automatically sign up today!

The Trivia Geek, also known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who's duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.

By Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...