10 songs inspired by literature

[Another fun list by contributor Adam Morrison. – AC]

Many great, inspiring songs were inspired by great written works. Here are ten examples.

1. “One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small.” Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 single “White Rabbit” borrows a lot of imagery from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871). And the imagery helps makes the song a psychedelic rock classic.

2. “Wuthering Heights,” Kate Bush’s 1978 debut single, describes the troubled romance at the centre of the Emily Brontë novel of the same name.

3. Fantasy rocks hard in “Ramble On” from Led Zeppelin II, the lyrics of which contain reference to J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series. “I met a girl so fair, but Gollum and the evil one crept up and slipped away with her.”

4. There’s also Tolkien influence in Rush’s “Rivendell,” which is about the Middle-earth location first described in The Hobbit. Damn, they make the place sound nice. The song is from the 1975 album Fly by Night.

5. On their 1977 Animals album, Pink Floyd used ideas from George Orwell’s Animal Farm to make statements on then current social-political issues in England.

6. Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong wrote the lyrics of “Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?” about the main character from J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. The song was released back in 1991, and the subject matter was a good fit for the young band’s music.

7. “Starseed,” Our Lady Peace’s second ever single, was inspired by The Starseed Transmissions, in which Ken Carey wrote about a channeling experience he had. OLP’s Raine Maida says, “The Starseed thing is about going on a meditation journey and coming back with something tangible. Something you actually believe in. Something that means something to you.”

8. Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” from his 1995 album of the same name, was inspired by a character from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. The song has been covered by Rage Against the Machine, and The Boss did a version with Rage guitarist Tom Morello on the 2013 album High Hopes.

9. “Exit Music (For a Film)” didn’t end up on the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack, but it did close the 1996 film, and the Shakespeare tale is what the song is about. Set as the two lovers are planning an escape from a place where their love is forbidden, “Exit Music” is most effectively gloomy.

10. “Blood and Thunder” is written from the point of view of Captain Ahab, a vengeful character from Herman Melville’s 1851 novel Moby Dick. The track includes guest vocals by Clutch’s Neil Fallon, and can be found on Mastodon’s 2004 album Leviathan.

Thanks for reading! If you have a song to add to this list, please leave it in the comments.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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4 thoughts on “10 songs inspired by literature

  • “The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” by Iron Maiden. Completely captures the original poems tale of angst, misdoings, and redemption from the original poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

  • Nice list! Could add Rick Wakeman with Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Jeff Wayne’s musical version of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. Probably the most quoted work of literature is the Bible with lines/verses appearing in countless songs.

  • Iron Maiden’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and adapted by Steve Harris is a great example of this genre.

  • Too easy, Tales of Mystery and Imagination (Alan Parsons Project album) Edgar Allan Poe


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