Wednesday is the 44th anniversary of one of the top episodes of Star Trek. “Space Seed” aired on February 16, 1967, introducing to the science fiction world the passengers of SS Botany Bay. Fifteen years later, the war criminal on board would reappear and prompt the single greatest word ever uttered in the known universe: “Khan”*.
“Space Seed” is one of 80 episodes (including pilots) of the original series on the to-do list for songwriters in the Indianapolis band, Five Year Mission.
I was tipped off to Five Year Mission by a friend’s tweet, not too long after the group had released their first CD—Year One—at a local science fiction convention. The brainchild of comic book store owner Mike Rittenhouse, 5YM has already written and performed original songs for the Jeffrey Hunter pilot (“The Cage“) and the first fifteen episodes of season one. Their second album is nearing completion with songs inspired by the remainder of the first season, plus a few from season two.
Rittenhouse says 5YM intends to release one new CD each year at the annual Starbase Indy event.
The band members—Patrick O’Connor, Noah Butler, Rittenhouse, Chris Spurgin and Andy Fark—claim many musical influences, including the Cure, ELO, Sigur Rós, Wilco and the Beatles. The songs reflect those eclectic roots, sounding at times like a punk band and at others like They Might Be Giants. Wayne Bertsch, a co-owner of Hero House Comics with Rittenhouse, described the group’s sound in a comic strip for NUVO newsweekly: “They’re not just a Dr. Demento novelty act. This is high quality alt-rock. You might mistake a Five Year Mission song for a Weezer song about a girl, not the Salt Vampire from episode one.”
The constraint of writing to a television episode provides a creative spark in how each musician interprets the material and turns it into a song. “I think what is amazing is that we have ‘The Cage,’ ‘Menagerie Pt 1′ and ‘Menagerie Pt 2′,” Butler says. “Three separate songs which are essentially the same episode.” He credits that variety to the diverse musical backgrounds of the band members and their collaborative process during rehearsals.
Since the song selection reflects broadcast order, most of the fan favorite TV episodes will be featured on the first three CDs. “Balance of Terror” (#3 on the list of highest-rated episodes, according to IMDB) is on 5YM’s first CD, with Hugo Award winner “The City on the Edge of Forever” (#1), “Space Seed” (#5) and “Amok Time” (#7) slated for Year Two. The following year, the CD will include “Mirror, Mirror” (#2), “The Doomsday Machine” (#6) and “Trouble With Tribbles” (#4). Perhaps the band can sneak in an easter egg on the final CD and write a song for Saturday Night Live’s 1976 classic comedy sketch, “The Last Voyage of the Starship Enterprise.”
“I ended up getting a lot of the lesser episodes they didn’t want to do,” says O’Connor, who like everyone except Fark does a little of everything (guitar, bass, keyboard, vocals and songwriter). “You can have more fun with it.” That hypothesis will be tested for the fourth album when someone has to work with “Spock’s Brain,” considered by most fans (and Leonard Nimoy) to be the worst episode in the series.
The odd duck in the quintet is Fark, who doesn’t write songs and plays only percussion. Tempting fate by wearing the notorious red shirt and serving as the band’s drummer (à la This Is Spinal Tap), Fark may debut as a 5YM songwriter when they tackle “Trouble With Tribbles.” Anticipating the love-hate relationships fans have with the fuzzy infestation, the group plans to write several songs and let their followers decide which version to make the cut for Year Three.
After ST:TOS is complete, will 5YM jump to the other series in the franchise? Band members are taking a wait-and-see approach. By the time the Beatles broke up, the Fab Four had released over 300 songs. If 5YM extends their tour of duty, they could wind up with 726 tunes inspired by the Star Trek television. Another possibility: Rittenhouse originally considered a band themed around Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If that happens, I can’t wait for The Chosen Ones to compose some songs for “Hush” and “Once More With Feeling.”
* Often spelled “Khhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnn!!” (updated with new improved spelling)