Star Trek: Two Versions of the Opening Theme

The following is a guest post from Music Cataloger Chris Holden: 

The Music Division holds two copies of the score for the theme song to Star Trek, the television show that aired from 1966 to 1969. The first version of the score was received on November 7, 1966, and the second on December 27, 1966. At first glance, the two scores appear to be identical. However, upon closer examination, there is one very big difference – the second score has handwritten lyrics underneath the music. Fans of Star Trek will note that the theme song as used on the show does not contain any words. So why does the Music Division hold a version with lyrics, and why was it received several weeks after the instrumental version? The answer involves the cutthroat world of show business, and the scramble for financial control over a franchise that had yet to become the worldwide phenomenon it is today.

Alexander Courage, Theme from Star Trek: The Original Series, M1527.8 .C, Music Division.

Alexander Courage and Gene Roddenberry, Theme from Star Trek: The Original Series, M1527.8 .C, Music Division.







Alexander “Sandy” Courage was the composer of the theme song to Star Trek. Several famous film and television composers had previously turned down the job, not certain that Star Trek would be a success. But Courage was a journeyman who had spent much of his career arranging the musical works of other Hollywood composers, and was willing to tackle the project. He was hired by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and Paramount Television executive Herb Solow to write the music for the pilot episode of the series. The music was so successful in establishing the science-fiction adventure tone of the show that Solow would later state that Courage’s music “never received the plaudits [it] truly deserved.”

Courage composed the Star Trek theme with the understanding that it would be an instrumental piece. However, there was a two-sentence clause at the end of his contract that gave Gene Roddenberry the right to add lyrics. If Courage noticed the clause at all, he either assumed that it was standard boilerplate legal language, or that Roddenberry would consult with him on the composition of lyrics. However, Roddenberry quickly took advantage of the clause to hash out lyrics without any discussion with Courage. This ensured that Roddenberry would receive fifty percent of the royalties any time the theme song was performed; Courage’s own share of the royalties would then be halved. At this point in time, Roddenberry was worried about the financial success of his show, and was looking for any source of income; in the book Inside Star Trek, he is quoted as stating, “I have to get money somewhere. I’m sure not going to get it out of the profits of Star Trek.

In addition to the financial and legal conflicts, Roddenberry’s lyrics also presented a musical problem. As Courage would later point out, the lyrics do not quite match up with the shape of the instrumental melody, and the phonetic sounds of the words themselves would be difficult for anyone to sing. Luckily, the lyrics were never meant to be performed, and served only to guarantee Roddenberry’s financial stake in the theme song.

Caption title of Theme from Star Trek: The Original Series, Alexander Courage and Gene Roddenberry, M1527.8 .C, Music Division.

On the December 27 deposit held by the Music Division, one can see that Roddenberry’s name is written underneath Courage’s in a different hand, with the different color of ink signaling his name was a later addition.

The lyrics themselves are handwritten in a script that matches Roddenberry, and were likely added by Roddenberry himself before being sent to the Copyright Office. The official 1967 U.S. Copyright Catalog names Roddenberry as the lyricist of the work, as seen below.

Catalog of Copyright Entries. Music, Current and Renewal Registrations, January-June 1967.

Courage was so upset at Roddenberry’s unsolicited interference (and subsequent legal threats when Courage tried to push back) that he never returned to write any music for Star Trek after the first two episodes. His next project would be working on the music for the 1967 film Doctor Doolittle, and he would continue to arrange and orchestrate film music for the next several decades. Roddenberry would immediately exercise his legal control of the Star Trek theme, demanding royalties from a spoken word album by actor Leonard Nimoy, titled Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock’s Music from Outer Space, that utilized portions of the theme song.

Because of Roddenberry’s last-minute loophole, the Library ended up with both the instrumental and vocal versions of the work. It’s an interesting visual comparison to see the original work as composed by Courage, and then the second version marked up with Roddenberry’s additions. The full story of the music of Star Trek, complete with reproductions of correspondence between Courage and Roddenberry, can be found in the book Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, by Hebert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman. The theme song itself would live long and prosper; along with its use in the Star Trek television show, versions of it have been used in every Star Trek feature film to date.

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