National Reading Day is January 23! An important day for music fans, since many great songs result from musicians turning to the written word to find inspiration. It’s not surprising that the world of literature crosses over with music. After all, books, novellas, poems, and songs all tell stories, and what stories they tell!
So turn up the volume, grab your favorite book, and enjoy these songs inspired by some of the world’s most iconic literary works.
“Ramble On” – Led Zeppelin
Anyone familiar with Led Zeppelin’s lyrics will know that the band members were avid Lord of the Rings fans. Several songs refer to J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic, but few do so as explicitly as “Ramble On.” The song’s narrator mentions, among other things, Mordor, Gollum, and The Evil One. Plus, you can’t deny that the smooth, violin-like tone of the solo wouldn’t sound out of place at The Prancing Pony.
Tune in to Classic Vinyl (Ch. 26) to hear all the greatest rock songs of the ’60s and ’70s.
“1984” – David Bowie
It’s not hard to guess which book inspired David Bowie’s “1984.” The song perfectly blends the themes of George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece with Bowie’s iconic sound and style. Both warn against the dangers of government control, but where Orwell’s style is rather bleak and somber, Bowie’s approach is far more upbeat and energetic. The song was intended to be part of a musical based on the novel, but it sadly never happened. But at least we got this banger.
Head over to The Loft (Ch. 710) for more eclectic rock and rhythm from the likes of Bowie, Patti Smith, and more.
“Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?” – Green Day
Green Day took inspiration from the protagonist of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye for this number. In the novel, Holden struggles with the transition from childhood to adulthood. He finds himself completely demotivated and frustrated, which is referenced heavily in the song’s lyrics. With teenage angst being the main theme of Salinger’s novel, it’s no wonder the band turned to this literary classic for inspiration!
Want to jam out to more Green Day? Then Lithium (Ch. 34) is the channel for you.
“Wuthering Heights” – Kate Bush
“Wuthering Heights” was released as Kate Bush’s debut single way back in 1978. Initially inspired by a TV adaptation of the Emily Brontë classic, Kate later read the book and wrote the tune from Catherine Earnshaw’s perspective. The lyrics include several phrases from the novel as Cathy pleads with her lover Heathcliff to be allowed inside. What is often missed is that the narrator is a ghost, something only hinted at in the song.
For more ’80s music in your life, tune in to ’80s on 8 (Ch. 8).
“I Am the Walrus” – The Beatles
This Beatles classic drew inspiration from a poem in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass – “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” John Lennon wrote the song to deliberately confuse a particular sub-group of Beatles fans who were known to overly analyze his lyrics. It seems only fitting that he chose to be inspired by Carroll’s work as the writer was known for his ‘nonsense literature’. Carroll’s stories and poems deliberately subvert logical reasoning and reject meaning, something heavily reflected in this number.
Head over to The Beatles Channel (Ch.18) for all things related to the Fab Four.
“Firework” – Katy Perry
Katy Perry found herself inspired by Jack Kerouac’s modern classic, On the Road, for this 2010 hit. Her then-husband once likened her to a paragraph from the novel. It describes Kerouac’s favorite people to spend time with: “humans that are full of life and energy which are never boring.” Clearly, this description stuck and Katy transformed the idea into the now iconic “Firework.” Kerouac’s description of fireworks – “burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!” – also served as inspiration for the song’s chorus.
If you’re looking for a throwback to the last decade then check out The 10s Spots (Ch. 11).
“Sympathy for the Devil” – The Rolling Stones
“Sympathy for the Devil” was released as part of the Rolling Stones’ 1968 comeback album, Beggars Banquet. Mick Jagger, who wrote the song, drew inspiration from Mikhail Bulgakov’s controversial novel The Master and Margarita. Bulgakov’s book tells the story of the devil arriving in Moscow and causing grief and sorrow throughout the city. The song contains some close similarities to Bulgakov’s work, including the opening lyrics reflecting how the devil introduces himself to several characters. Equally, the song refers to several biblical events, as well as from Russian history, just like the novel.
Tune in to The Spectrum (Ch. 28) for rock from the past, present, and future!
This selection is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to songs inspired by great works of literature. It just goes to show how a simple line of poetry or a paragraph of prose can be transformed into a musical masterpiece!
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