The Unheard Words of the Star Trek Theme Song
Star Trek, the original series, ran from September 8, 1966, to June 3, 1969, with fans treated to a total of 79 episodes. The franchise now has millions of passionate fans, and even if you didn’t include yourself among that group, you are probably somewhat familiar with the voiceover that each episode starts with. Each episode’s intro, which you can watch here, features the voiceover of Captain James T. Kirk, played by William Shatner, saying, “Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. It’s five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” After that, the open credits roll as the theme song — vocals and instrumentals, but no words — plays. The opening theme is only about 30 seconds long, but fans got to hear a longer version — about a minute long — during the closing credits, which you can watch here. Like the show itself, the theme song — officially titled “Theme from Star Trek” — is iconic.
The lyrics, however, are not. They can’t be, because no matter how hard you try, you can’t hear them. The lyrics don’t appear on either of those clips or, for that matter, in any of the 79 episodes of the original series. That makes sense because the lyrics to the Theme from Star Trek were never recorded for the show, or for that matter, for anything else. And yet, they exist.
If you’re a Trekkie, you already know the name Gene Roddenberry. The creator of Star Trek, Roddenberry achieved fame and wealth that probably went beyond his wildest dreams, but that outcome is only known through the benefit of hindsight. Even after the first season of Star Trek aired on NBC, it wasn’t clear to Roddenberry that he’d make any money off the show, which kind of sucks because he needed money to buy things. But Roddenberry had a way of cashing in, as CBR explains:
Theme song credits were more than just vanity in the ’60s. Television profits lay in syndication, and whenever the theme aired, the composer was entitled to royalties. Star Trek gained its first real following on syndication, and even before it had completed its original run, its potential for reruns likely played a role in financial decisions. As the show’s creator, Roddenberry knew that, and once it began its run, he took steps to take a cut.
The problem, for Roddenberry at least, is that he wasn’t very musical. He didn’t compose the Theme from Star Trek and probably couldn’t have even had he tried. That wasn’t a problem when Desilu Productions originally decided to produce Star Trek; they hired Alexander Courage, a composer with a number of film credits on his resume, to create something magical for the sci-fi series, and Courage delivered the iconic piece of music that we know today. But when Courage signed his contract with Desilu, it had a clause in it that he didn’t appreciate. According to Snopes, Courage’s deal “gave Roddenberry the option of composing lyrics for Courage’s Star Trek music” if Roddenberry so desired. Originally, Roddenberry didn’t, but after the show’s initial success turned into a lot of reruns and syndication plays, Gene thought better of it. Snopes continues: “Roddenberry exercised that option, writing lyrics for the main theme and then asserting his right to half the performance royalties as a co-composer. It made no difference that the lyrics were not intended to be used in the show itself and had never been recorded or released. As the lyricist, Roddenberry was entitled to an equal share of the royalties, whether or not the lyrics were ever used.”
From that point on, Roddenberry was entitled to 50% of the royalties earned by the theme song.
Courage, understandably, was upset by Roddenberry’s decision; the move was wholly a money grab by Roddenberry, as evidenced by the fact that the lyrics never made their way into a single recording. Roddenberry argued that this was his only way of ensuring that he’d come out ahead, financially, from all of the work and investment he made into the TV show, which obviously turned out to be untrue but, again, wasn’t something he knew at the time. Courage, who also composed the score for many episodes in the series’ first season, left the show, likely in protest, although he did return to provide the music for a couple of later episodes.
As for the lyrics themselves? They’re bad, but judge for yourself: “Beyond the rim of the star light, my love is wandering 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.”
An additional fact I’m sharing mostly for sake of completeness: Another version of the Theme from Star Trek with lyrics also exists. In 1986, Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Nyota Uhura in the original series, released an album titled “Uhura Sings,” and then re-released it in 1991 under the title “Out of this World.” One of the songs on the album is the Theme from Star Trek, which you can listen to here — it has lyrics, but they’re different than the (horrible) ones Roddenberry penned. Nichols’s version of the song credits Courage and Jim Meecham with composing the song and lyrics, not Roddenberry.
From the Archives: How a Failed Star Trek Episode Helped Save the Franchise: The story of a pilot that didn’t launch.