National Book Day: The Books That Inspired Great Songs
It’s hardly surprising that musicians write songs about books that have inspired them. Take Led Zeppelin for instance, who’ve dedicated at least 3 songs to Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings trilogy. But sadly, as the world moves faster and people are more and more glued to their phones, books are starting to pile up in attics and thrift shops. What was once considered a luxury commodity has gradually been replaced by hours of videos, Snapchat filters and games about stacking candy. Today it almost warms the heart to see someone commute with a book. Are we beginning to pine for a bygone era where the internet hadn’t taken up all of humanity’s attention span? Have we forgotten that there’s nothing better than the smell of crisp new pages, and the prospect of curling up in a book corner to get lost in an epic tale? Luckily, it seems that a lot of musicians haven’t forgotten that books contain the best stories told by mankind and are also scientifically proven to help fight anxiety and depression. Here’s a list of some of the most amazing books that have inspired songs.
*Trigger warning: article talks about suicide*
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
This is a song about the inappropriate relationship between a teacher and his student. The Man is attempting to fight his lust but caves in. The Police even sing “just like the old man in that book by Nabokov”, which leaves no shadow of a doubt as to the book they are referring to.
The Return of the King – J.R.R Tolkien
It’s no secret that Led Zeppelin were major Tolkien geeks. They often reference Middle Earth in songs like “Ramble On” and “Misty Mountain Hop”. “The Battle of Evermore” recounts the story of one of Middle Earth’s last battles with Sauron. Even Frodo is present as the “Prince of Peace”.
Although this song does not reference a specific book as such, it pays tribute to Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and novelist Sylvia Plath. Sylvia is the third track of their LP, Hospice which revolves around the themes of death, guilt and remorse. In the song Peter Silberman sings “ Sylvia get your head out of the oven”, which refers to Sylvia Plath’s suicide. Silberman explains that Plath is an enigmatic figure who fascinates girls with her darkness and honest writing.
The Invisible Man – H.G. Wells
H.G. Wells’ classic novel tells the story of a scientist who succeeds in turning himself invisible, but cannot reverse the experiment which ends up banishing him to a life of loneliness. Although Queen’s “The Invisible Man” is not a direct retelling of the nightmarish story, it explores the idea that invisibility can be a double-edged sword, wielding power (doing whatever you want) but also losing some (no-one cares and no-one knows).
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
A Clockwork Orange is a classic novel about gang violence and the darkness of human nature set in a dystopian future. The phrase “ultra-violence” is used to describe the heinous crimes committed by the novel’s antagonists. On “Ultraviolence” Del Rey sings “Ultraviolence. I can hear sirens, sirens”.
1984 – George Orwell
1984 – David Bowie
“1984” is a 1974 single featured on Bowie’s album Diamond Dogs. It was inspired by George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 about strict government surveillance and mind control of its denizens. The song like Bowie’s other tracks “Big Brother” and “We Are Dead” was originally intended for a stage musical based on the book. However, Bowie was denied the rights by Orwell’s wife who didn’t like Bowie’s ideas.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
Released in the loved-up summer of 67, “White Rabbit” is the defintion of the 60s counterculture. It contains multiple allusions to the altered states in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland such as “When the men on the chessboard get up and tell you where to go and you’ve just has some kind of mushroom, and your mind is moving low”. The song is a pretty obvious invitation to trip out psychedelics. It became an absolute anthem for those who loved peace under the influence of LSD.
However, the band especially singer Grace Slick, insists that “White Rabbit” was actually aimed at hypocritical parents who read drug-laced stories to children at their most vulnerable age and would then slap them down for unruly behavior during their teenage years.
Rumble Fish – S.E. Hinton
Based on the book’s main characer, “Rusty James” focuses on the book’s themes and story. The song like the novel is about growing up too quickly, and what happens when the things you believed in when you were young loose their importance as you get older. The song also discusses the topic of alienation and being left behind in small towns.