“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” – William Shakespeare
When writing fandom music, I find there is very often a clear song idea hiding among the standout scenes of an episode; I think of it like trying to assemble the pieces of a puzzle. For some of my other Year Four songs (“Assignment Earth,” “And the Children Shall Lead”), I had an immediate idea of what I wanted to write about. With “By Any Other Name,” there were several interesting bits of plot and character that could have been made into songs (not to mention the ridiculous notion of the energy barrier around the galaxy and nearly all of the Enterprise crew members being turned into D20’s). Still, this particular episode is one of my childhood favorites, along with the likes of “Tomorrow is Yesterday” and “The Corbomite Maneuver,” so I wanted to do it justice.
I first decided to focus on the Kelvins; they have a mostly unexplored backstory, which is only hinted at in the episode. At first look, they seem akin to a poor man’s Klingons; devious, hostile, and warlike, but the makeup attendant just decided to phone it in that day. Thanks to Spock’s Vulcan mind probe, however, we learn that the Kelvins are a highly advanced, non-humanoid race of alien giants with tentacles-a-plenty who are utilizing the human form to fulfill their imperative. That tidbit sparked my imagination, as did the old sci-fi trope of aliens who adopt human form but then become prone to its weaknesses – emotions, wants and desires – against which they have no defense. At first I tried to incorporate all five of the alien characters from the episode (Rojan, Kelinda, Hanar, Tomar, and Drea), but it seemed like too much to take on. The scene that really stuck with me, though, was the hilarious drinking marathon that takes place between James Doohan’s never-better Scotty and pink-suited alien Tomar. So I refined my approach to focus in on Tomar, a character we know next to nothing about but who is a Kelvin, and Scotty, who proceeds to drink him under the table.
Five Year Mission had not done much with Scotty as a character on previous albums (“Wolf in the Fold” not withstanding), so it seemed like a fun approach to take… Not to mention that the scene in question is one of the funniest TOS ever devised; certainly on a par with the crew’s exploits in “I, Mudd.” Because Scotty was a major focus of the song, and because the band had never done it before, I decided to take a musical approach that would reflect this – a Scottish folk-punk drinking song akin to Silly Wizard by way of the Pogues and Flogging Molly. FYM has played songs in a lot of different genres, so I like the idea of filling in some of the musical gaps.
The recording process for this song was mostly straightforward, though there was a question as to how “punk rock” it should sound. I was determined that the opening be nearly all acoustic to hold back the looming tension, which would then explode in the driving main section. Expanding the original demo into a full-band arrangement necessitated a few changes. Whereas the demo had been mostly acoustic with a solo played on keyboard bagpipes, the addition of electric guitars to the mix gave the song the bite it needed. The primary hurdle I faced was how much of an accent I wanted to attempt in the vocal delivery. Making it very pronounced could take away from the impact of the song, but singing normally would not give the proper feel. I finally opted to go all-out on the ridiculous accent; I figured James Doohan’s Scottish was pretty silly too (and, heck, Flogging Molly is from L.A.).
All in all, this was a very fun song to write that had some growing pains expanding into a full-band format. I’m glad I had the chance to do a take on another of my favorite TOS episodes from childhood. A rose by any other name, indeed.
Five Year Mission
By Any Other Name
Written by Patrick O’Connor