Even if you've never seen a single episode of "Star Trek," you probably know the theme song. First comes William Shatner intoning, "Space, the final frontier," followed by his monologue (backed by triumphant horns) about the "Star Trek" mission to "explore strange new worlds ... to boldly go where no man has gone before." The song then segues into an orchestral arrangement with an eerie melody -- is it a woman or some kind of flute? -- and back into the horn blasts. The original series aired more than 40 years ago for only three seasons, but the theme song is a classic and still instantly recognizable.
The "Star Trek" theme is memorable despite the fact that besides the monologue, there are no words -- and that's the way composer Alexander Courage intended it. But series creator Gene Roddenberry did write lyrics for the theme song, although he never had plans to record them or use them on the show. Roddenberry's move infuriated Courage, who swore never to work on "Star Trek" again.
Here's what happened: Theme song-composing work generally doesn't pay very well -- most contracts are royalty-heavy, which means that the bulk of the money comes rolling in per episode. The more episodes that air, the more lucrative the contract. Hopes apparently weren't very high for "Star Trek," because the producers had a tough time finding a composer. They finally hired Courage, who took a chance on the show, which had been running for a few seasons and would possibly make it to syndication, where the big bucks are (little did he know!). The composer and the lyricist usually split the royalties down the middle, but because there were no lyrics, the spoils would all go to Courage.
Roddenberry wouldn't let the money go that easily, though. He and Courage had a handshake deal that allowed him to pen lyrics for the theme song (or so he claimed; Courage always denied it). So during the first season, Roddenberry wrote them, claimed the lyricist title and started to pull in half the royalties. Legal, but pretty shady. Courage never returned to work.
Soprano Loulie Jean Norman went through a similar situation. Yes, that is a woman's voice you hear in the theme song -- but only in the first season. When the producers realized that Norman's Screen Actors Guild contract entitled her to rerun fees, they removed her vocals from the song and filled them in with various instruments.
In case you're wondering, here are Roddenberry's elusive theme song lyrics:
Beyond the rim of the star-light
My love is wand'ring in star-flight
I know he'll find in star-clustered reaches
Love, 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.
- Deezen, Eddie. "The Star Trek Theme Song Has Lyrics." Mental Floss. Oct. 2, 2011. (Jan. 14, 2015) http://mentalfloss.com/article/28895/star-trek-theme-song-has-lyrics
- Snopes.com. "Unthemely Behavior." Aug. 8, 2007. (Jan. 14, 2015) http://www.snopes.com/radiotv/tv/trek.asp
- Solow, Herbert F. and Robert H. Justman. "Inside Star Trek: The Real Story." Pocket Books. 1997.