eBay item of the week: the recordings of Leonard Nimoy

The great interpretive singer Leonard Nimoy exploded upon the popular-music scene with his first album, the curiously-titled Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space (1967). Still an unknown quantity, he nevertheless took a daring stance and adopted a distinct, recognizable “persona” for his performances, an alien space man named “Mr. Spock.” This interpretive strategy, designed to create an air of mystique around the singer, was at the same time being adopted by The Beatles, who copied Nimoy for their groundbreaking work Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Much later, David Bowie would grab this idea and run with it all the way to the bank, but it should be noted that Nimoy did it first.

The song titles on Mr. Spock are intriguing and otherworldly: “Theme from Star Trek,” “Music to Watch Space Girls By”, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Earth” and the immortal “Visit to a Sad Planet.” The album caught the “space” craze of the mid-sixties, was a huge hit and Nimoy’s label, Dot Records, was soon clamoring for more.

The “Mr. Spock” persona had made Nimoy a household word among lovers of song, and Nimoy was under great pressure from his label to deliver more of the same. But Nimoy, a formidable artist with incredible powers of persuasion, already felt that he had “done” the Mr. Spock thing. Like Dylan, Nimoy is an ever-changing chameleon who cannot be constrained by the demands of the marketplace. But commercial pressure at the time was intense, and Nimoy was forced to create at least half an album with the “Mr. Spock” persona intact.

The result of all this conflict was 1968’s Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy, a bifurcated whatsit that, in the hands of a lesser artist, would have stank of bitter compromise. Instead, it is a blazing triumph and perhaps Nimoy’s masterpiece. It was 1968, there were riots in the streets, change was in the air, and Nimoy was right in the middle of it. “Mr. Spock” handles Side 1, singing “Highly Illogical,” a stinging rebuke of the entire human race on the level of “Desolation Row” or “Sympathy for the Devil.” Later he sings “Spock Thoughts,” practically a philosophical treatise in song. The side closes with “Amphibious Assault,” which the liner notes describes thusly: “A surrealistic battle of the future. Will war come to this?”

On the “Leonard Nimoy” side, the mask comes off and the warm, tender humanism of Nimoy bursts through. The results are intoxicating as he sings “Bilbo Baggins,” a jocular celebration of “the bravest little Hobbit of them all,” Glenn Campbell’s “Gentle on My Mind” and Tim Hardin’s “If I Were a Carpenter.” No elitist, Nimoy closes the album with the touching parable “Love of the Common People.”

Obviously chafing from the compromise of Two Sides, Nimoy ditched the “Mr. Spock” persona once and for all with 1968’s The Way I Feel. Creating a soft pocket of sensitive peace amid a world gone crazy and turned upside-down, this album of delightful love songs and quirky portraits is a small triumph on the level of Dylan’s John Wesley Harding. The titles say it all: “I’d Love Making Love To You,” “Please Don’t Try to Change My Mind” and Joni Mitchell’s poignant “Both Sides Now” — this is an album of love and its consequences. But social commentary also raises its triumphant head; the LP’s highlight is “If I Had a Hammer,” not to be confused with Two Sides’ “If I Were a Carpenter.” Intended as a “little”, transitional album, The Way I Feel was a huge hit, its sales bigger than those of Nimoy’s first two albums combined, and Dot, ever the raging capitalists, demanded more of the same. This time, luckily for the music world, Nimoy was happy to comply.

Who would not want to feel The Touch of Leonard Nimoy? Almost a sequel to Feel, 1969’s Touch expands upon that album’s greatest themes and then goes further, including Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” and the jazz standard “Nature Boy.” Nimoy then, unexpectedly, brilliantly, brings his career full circle with “Contact,” a song about contact with aliens.

No one knew it at the time, but Nimoy was, in fact, saying good bye with the inclusion of a “Spock”-themed song on the otherwise tender Touch. He abruptly withdrew from the marketplace of song, retired to his mountain retreat in Massachusetts and has since disappeared. The Salinger of Song, he has not issued an album of new material in almost 40 years. Why this happened is one of the great mysteries of popular music. Maybe the pressures of the pop-star world proved to be too much for this sensitive artist, maybe he’d decided he’d had enough, or maybe he felt he’d said everything there was to be said. Who knows? But we have these albums and that is treasure enough.

Sensitive to the demands of a marketplace starved for greatness, the prestigious label Famous Twinsets released a two-LP set of choice cuts called Outer Space/Inner Mind. For a new generation of listeners, this was a gold mine of delight. Strangely, Famous Twinsets didn’t think to put a photo of Nimoy on the cover, instead focusing the packaging on the model spaceship the “Mr. Spock” character is shown fondling on Nimoy’s first album. I guess they were trying to preserve the mystique of their reclusive star, or perhaps Nimoy demanded that his picture not be used in order that he be able to move through the world unrecognized. We may never know. In any case, Outer/Inner provides an excellent overview of this vital artist, even though it does, for some inexplicable reason, completely ignore songs from Touch.

DID YOU KNOW? Nimoy has also worked as an actor.



23 Responses to “eBay item of the week: the recordings of Leonard Nimoy”
  1. kornleaf says:

    spaced out is my favorite album ever, listen to it on my ipod alomst every day.

  2. Todd says:

    You mean they dug it up out of the bay after the Japanese submarine destroyed it in 1941?

  3. sboydtaylor says:

    Did you just recommend “Bilbo Baggins” as a song, sir? Perhaps it’s merely that I’m of a different generation, but we use the YouTube video of that song to torture each other at work.

    • Todd says:

      Must be a different Leonard Nimoy. The singer of “The Man I Would Like To Be” would never waste his time photographing obese women. Next you’re going to tell me he’s photographed naked Jewesses.

  4. planettom says:

    If I buy it, do you think they’ll let me restage the ending of “1941”?

    “Shipping? Shoot, just help me get it rolling!”

  5. curt_holman says:

    In 1977 Leonard Nimoy published a book called I Am Not Spock.

    Then, in 1995, he published a book called I Am Spock.

    To which I say, “Well? Which is it?”

  6. r_sikoryak says:

    I can only assume you’re selling your duplicate copies.

    Or are they all being issued in remastered editions, with additional tracks?

    • Todd says:

      No! Turns out, for the price of a CD, Leonard Nimoy will come to your house and sing the songs to you in person.

  7. jbacardi says:

    The cover for The Way I Feel reminds me of Revolver.

  8. craigjclark says:

    That’s quite a collection of vinyl you’ve got up for auction. I’m about as serious a Python fan as you’ll find, but I’m afraid $89.95 for the Instant Record Collection in its original sleeve is a little rich for my blood. (And I wouldn’t insult you by making a lower offer because I know how rare it is.)

    • Todd says:

      I also have a complete set of other Python vinyl that isn’t worth nearly as much if you’re interested.

      • craigjclark says:

        I would be if I didn’t already have most of them myself. (I believe the only one I never got on vinyl was the Life of Brian record.) I even have a three-sided copy of Matching Tie and Handkerchief.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Spock/Not Spock

    Today’s NY Daily News’ “Gatecrasher” column states that according to Shatner’s new autobiog “Up ’til Now”, Kirk developed a close bond w/Spock over Leonard’s alcoholism… “I loved going to the theatre in London because they allowed you to drink before the show and during intermission”… Maybe this influenced Nimoy’s song selection for these now immortal recordings? And also (who saw this coming?) all the rest of the cast hated Shatner? Say it ain’t so! LT. ANT from Bklyn

  10. Anonymous says:

    In my view, one need not apologize for an interest in Hutt sexuality — one only needs an open heart.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I’ve read about the gold-standard political metaphor. I buy it for the book, and maybe that’s what Baum meant the story to be, but it in no way explain’s the 1939 movie’s overwhelming popularity — ie, my daughter Kit isn’t still steaming about the whole gold-standard thing.