Leonard Nimoy passed away yesterday aged 83. The veteran star of the small and the silver screen also dabbled in other arts not least photography and singing. He may be ridiculed for some of his musical choices but he had a fine deep voice which often brought out the emotional side of the American songbook.
These days, there’s a whole slew of TV folk invading cabaret rooms across the capital and beyond. In the UK, we’ve already seen Alexander Armstrong (soon to be heard in Dangermouse), Bryan Batt (Mad Men), Celia Imrie (Dinnerladies) and Jane Lynch (Glee) in action. Across the pond, Homeland‘s Mandy Patinkin and The Newsroom‘s Jeff Daniels have appeared at New York’s 54 Below.
Between 1967 and 1970, Nimoy recorded five albums made up mostly of cover versions peppered with not a few nods to his most famous alter ego, Star Trek‘s Mr Spock. Many of the songs he chose had much more going on beneath the surface than is immediately apparent from the summery melodies. Late Sixties America was overshadowed by the Vietnam war and the actor’s song choices often reflect this darkening mood as well as the themes of political awareness, the human condition and love.
Below, we imagine what a Leonard Nimoy cabaret show would have been like based on the songs he recorded in his lifetime.
If I Had A Hammer
Yes, yes, Frank Sinatra and Aretha Franklin both recorded this song. And, yes, it was Mary, Peter and Paul who released the most popular version but Leonard Nimoy absolutely owns this slice of kick-ass folk optimism. The video is very cute too.
Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town
One of Nimoy’s parting shots on his final album was this cover of a song popularised by Kenny Rogers And The First Edition. It is one of those easy listening numbers with very dark lyrics, in this case concerning a paralyzed veteran of a “crazy Asian war” (presumably Vietnam) who watches his wife glam up and head out every evening.
I Walk The Line
Nimoy sang this Johnny Cash classic on his last album, 1970’s The New World Of Leonard Nimoy.With an opening lyric of “I keep a close watch on this heart of mine”, this song would have resonated with the near-emotionless Spock.
Gentle On The Mind
One of the stone-cold hits of 1968, Gentle On My Mind won four Grammy Awards for writer John Hartford and singer Glen Campbell. Nimoy covered this folksy slice of Americana that year on his second album Two Sides Of Leonard Nimoy.
Starring Jon Voigt and Dustin Hoffman as a gigolo and conman respectively, the Oscar-winning Midnight Cowboy still resonates half a century on, as does its most famous song. As sung by Nimoy, it is a summery number at odds with the film’s dark themes of desperation and prostitution.
Lost In The Stars
The title song of the last stage opus by Kurt Weill (arguably the godfather of cabaret) is a sombre number. It has been covered by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Nimoy’s Star Trek co-star William Shatner but this version is taken to a sublime place by the singer’s gravelly timbre.
Love Of The Common People
The song was originally recorded by The Four Preps in 1967; later on, Bruce Springsteen, The Everley Brothers and Paul Young all took a stab at this ballad about poverty and unemployment. Nimoy again belies the pitch black undertones of the number with a jaunty runthrough. His version was released in 1968 as the last track of Two Sides. It would, hence, make a fine farewell tune as he took a final bow and headed for the dressing room.
The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins
“What’s that? You want an encore? You guys! OK, just for you, here is something that I recorded late one night. Live long and prosper and come back again.”