Five Songs Inspired by Books

Nov 21, 2014

By James Sandham

Any writers out there? If you count yourself among this long-suffering lot, then you probably know what month it is: NaNoWriMo! That’s National Novel Writing Month for those of you not in the know, a frantic 30-day period during which writers around the world take pen to pad in the hopes of crafting a fully formed novel. To everyone else though, it’s just November – and it’s rapidly drawing to a close. Before it does (and whether you’re a writer or not), perhaps these book-inspired tunes will help stimulate your literary sensibilities, while also tickling your ears.

1. DAVID BOWIE – “1984”

This track comes from David Bowie’s 1974 album, Diamond Dogs, and was inspired by George Orwell’s iconic novel of the same name. Like most of the songs on Diamond Dogs, “1984” was originally intended to be part of a 1984-based stage musical, a dream that unfortunately never took flight for Bowie due to a veto by Orwell’s estate. While the production may never have happened, at least its musical element came to see the light of day.

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2. THE STROKES – “SOMA”

Speaking of dystopian literary futures, I think Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World warrants mention – especially since its fictional drug of choice, soma, was the influence for this masterpiece of garage-rock revival. This tune comes from The Strokes’ 2001 debut, Is This It, an album that for many heralded a much-needed break from a long-uninterrupted era of boy bands.

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3. RUSH – “RIVENDELL”

Rush, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1994 inductees, have several songs based on works of literature. The group’s 1976 album, 2112, for example, is reputedly based on Ayn Rand’s novella Anthem. However, this song is probably my favourite. Drawing from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, “Rivendell” pays homage, of course, to the fictional elven outpost of Middle-earth. In the video below, the song has been paired with scenes from director Peter Jackson’s cinematic interpretation of the place.

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4. RICK WAKEMAN – “JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH”

This isn’t just a song that’s been inspired by a book, but rather an entire album, which makes it all the better! A symphonic prog-rock re-interpretation of Jules Verne’s classic novel Journey to the Center of the Earth, this concept piece by Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman epitomizes a certain era in rock music: epic, decadent… and perhaps a bit indulgent. I guess you can thank projects like this one for eventually birthing us the backlash genre of punk!

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5. RAMONES – “PET SEMETARY”

The indulgent prog-rock of composers like Rick Wakeman may have given rise to the musical backlash that came to be known as punk rock, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be any overlap between the genres. The Ramones, for example – punks par excellence – were just as happy as Wakeman to look to literature for inspiration for their songs. Granted, in this case they’re drawing from a dime-store paperback horror novel, Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, as opposed to a Victorian classic, but perhaps therein lies the differential crux of these two genres. Either way, the music turned out great!

What other literary-inspired songs do you know of? Feel free to leave us some links in the comment section.