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13 Examples of Literature in Song

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It's no real surprise that Wikipedia has a thorough list of these, but it's interesting to parse through the many, and find a neat collection of songs and albums that were based on, or influenced by books.  Led Zeppelin has a scatological lyric library referencing JRR Tolkien, but let's see what else is out there.

13. Alan Parson's Project - The album is called Tales of Mystery and Imagination, and includes interpretations of  Edgar Allen Poe's best, like "The Raven", "Dr. Tar and Professor Feather", and "The Cask of Amontillado."  Here's the awesome "Dream Within A Dream" video.  Also by Parsons: "I, Robot" (Isaac Asimov).

12. Rivendell (Rush) - A quiet, thematic representation of the Elf version of a Bed & Breakfast. (Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, of course.)

11. 2112 (Rush) - Side one* is loosely based on Anthem by Ayn Rand.

10. For Whom the Bell Tolls (Metallica) - Based on the classic by Ernest Hemingway.

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9. The Thing That Should Not Be and The Call of Cthulu (Metallica) - These guys really let good classic fiction influence their songwriting.  We get not one, but two songs in honor of H.P. Lovecraft's best character.  Also by Metallica: "One", based on the book Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo.

8. The Small Print (Muse) - "clearly alluding to Goethe's Faust, being sung from the point of view of the Devil to someone selling their soul to him in exchange for, presumably, musical prowess and fame..." source

7. Anthrax Loves Stephen King - As do a lot of bands like Pennywise (It).  But Anthrax named one of their best albums Among the Living after King's character Randall Flagg in The Stand.  They also penned a song called "Skeleton in the Closet" based on King's "Apt Pupil".

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6. Tom Sawyer (Rush) - Wow, Rush.  Even "Red Barchetta" is based on a vague book called A Nice Morning Drive by Richard S. Foster.  At least Tom Sawyer is pretty well known both as a song and a book.  Who can resist the urge to sing along when Geddy Lee croons, "The River!"

5. Tales of Brave Ulysses (Cream) - Psychedelically sums up all you need to know about all the ins and outs of Homer's The Odyssey.  And I quote, "Tiny purple fishes run laughing through your fingers..."  (This was actually a lyric inspired by lyricist Martin Sharp's travels in Ibiza.)  But the Sirens are there, so that's cool.

4. The Ghost of Tom Joad (Bruce Springsteen) - Based on The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.  Henry Fonda and Bruce Springsteen would have had some cool conversations, I bet.

3. White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane) -Based on Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.  Here's a nice rendition of that song.


YouTube Link

2. Animals (Pink Floyd) - It never actually occurred to me before, but an argument can be made that the Animals album, with it's corrupt pigs (be they on the wing, or three different ones), dogs and sheep, political overtones...  Yeah, it's definitely based on George Orwell's Animal Farm.

1. Iron Maiden (Pretty much every song of theirs, ever) - At least a heavy handful.  These Brit bad boys of metal must have had some scratched up library cards.  Their adaptations include:

  • Seventh Son, by Orson Scott Card (on the 7th Son of a 7th Son album, including all songs)

  • Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)

  • Flight of Icarus (Mythology)

  • The Lord of the Flies (William Golding)

  • The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Alan Sillitoe)

  • Stranger in a Strange Land (Robert A. Heinlen)

  • To Tame a Land (Dune, Frank Herbert)

  • The Trooper (The Charge of the Light Brigade, Alfred Tennyson)

  • Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

  • Murders in the Rue Morgue (Edgar Allen Poe)


On second thought, an honorable mention should be made for Led Zeppelin's "The Battle of Evermore", as it pretty much describes the Battle of Pellennor Fields in The Return of the King.

(Iron Maiden illustration by Ado Cedric & Tio Julio.)
*For help with determining what this means, ask a grownup.

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A little older, but Blue Oyster Cult had a number of songs that referenced and, I think, were actually written by Michael Moorcock, who wrote the Elric of Melnibone fantasy books. Not classic literature per se, but since Tolkien is mentioned I thought I'd throw it out there.
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I think that Iron Maiden are the best when it comes to utilizing poetry and literature as a base for their song. This is thanks to Bruce Dickinson and Steve Harris.
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I'm surprised that Nirvana's "Scentless Apprentice" was not on the list. It was inspired by Patrick Suskind's "Perfume". Great article though, I love learning about song inspirations.
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This is fascinating, and I can't help but have a bit more respect for these bands.

Quick corrections: the name is Edgar "Allan" Poe (middle name is spelled incorrectly twice) and the band is The Alan Parsons Project (no apostrophe). The Poe story mentioned is "The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether."
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