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13 Examples of Literature in Song

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. 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". 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.


i don't remember where i saw it (maybe in my high school film/lit class) but i think i remember james saying (in an interview) that he wrote the song about a guy who was blind and deaf and couldn't move, and when it came time for the music video the director enlightened them to trumbo's book. i know this seems really music nerdy and nit-picky, and i may be remembering the interview wrong, but i also strongly dislike metallica.
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I've aways liked "Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers" and "In that Quiet Earth" from the Genesis album "Wind and Wuthering" which refer to the final line of Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights". And still on a Genesis theme, the whole album "A Curious Feeling" by Genesis keyboardist Tony Banks is more or less a re-telling of "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes.
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Can't forget MC Lars. He's done a number of songs based on literature: "Ahab" (Moby Dick), "Mr. Raven" (The Raven), "Rapbeth (Foul Is Fair)" (Macbeth).
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And what about Led Zeppelin's "Ramble On"?

"T'was in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair.
But Gollum, and the evil one crept up and slipped away with her, her, her....yeah. "
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Who can resist the urge to sing along when Geddy Lee croons, “The River!”

Geddy Lee does not croon. Dean Martin croons, Morrissey croons, Neil Diamond croons. Geddy Lee... I don't know, wails? Howls? Screeches? Meows?

I love Rush but Geddy Lee, man... the opposite of croon.
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My favorite literature-inspired song/album are Kamelot's albums Epica and The Black Halo, inspired by (ok, pretty much the exact story, just different words) the legend of Faust.

Of course, one has to be in the mood for metal/metal crossover to listen to the whole thing at once, but it makes for great driving music!
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Oh, g.park beat me too it. To stay with metal, Amon Amarth has a lot of Tolkien inspired songs, as you might expect given their name.
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I saw Zombieland recently and I almost stood up in the theater and cheered when I heard the first notes of For Whom the Bell Tolls. This is one of my favorite songs ever, mostly because I loved the book so much.
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I knew there would be a lot of Iron Maiden on this list. A few years ago I was flipping the TV channels and stopped for a moment on the classic movie channel after noticing a very young Cling Eastwood as well as Richard Burton. They were paratroopers and just landed on a snow capped mountain and were looking at climbing the cable car cables to get to the fortress. I thought to myself, huh - that sounds just like the lyrics to the song "Where Eagles Dare". After a few commercials, the last announcement said "now back to our feature, "Where Eagles Dare". That just blew me away. I don't know if the movie was based on any literature, so the song probably doesn't belong on the list. I just thought it was pretty cool though.
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Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds - narrated by Richard Burton. Saw it on the list but had to mention it. First heard it on Halloween night back in the 70s. Great concept and interpretation.
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Well, Police's "Don't stand so close to me" does have those lines:

"It's no use, he sees her, he starts to shake and cough
Just like the old man in that book by Nabokov."

I'd call it literary allusion rather than inspiration, but bonus points on roping in an author's name, right? And Sting's "Moon over Bourbon Street" gets its juice from Interview with a Vampire.

As to Lord of the Rings, I'd bet you can form a list on that by itself. Been trashing old cassettes and noted that Styx had a song titled that.
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Nice list! One correction - Iron Maiden's Seventh Son album has nothing to do with Card's novel. The concept of the seventh son being magical predates them both and is only shared ground.

Also, The Battle of Evermore may be Tolkien-inspired (Ringwraiths, the Dark Lord) but the majority of the lyrics are about events never in Tolkien and certainly not at Pelennor.
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A decent portion of Muse's new album, "The Resistance" can be traced to Orwell's "1984," but the most obvious two songs are "Resistance" ("Kill your prayers for love and peace / You'll wake the Thought Police / We can't hide the truth inside") and "United States of Eurasia" ("And these wars they can't be won /Does anyone know or care how they begun? / They just promise to go on and on and on / But soon we will see / There can be only one").
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I'm shocked that this list doesn't include anything by The Fugs, who set a lot of wonderful poetry to music, such as Ginsburg's "Howl" and Blake's "How sweet I roam'd from field to field" (but plenty of others).
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~

Literary references in song?

Too numerous to mention/lazy to look up would include:

Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Sting etc.

Crash Test Dummies (not a fan) went on about Prufrock in a song.
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As a Mettalica nerd I can confirm indeande's comment. One was not based on Johny Got His Gun, but the video was.

Additionally, though I don't know if you would consider this literature, their song Creeping Death is based on the 10th plage of Egypt from the book of Exodus.
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Panic at the Disco pretty much stole all of their lyrics for their first album from Chuck Palahniuk books. At least they have good taste in authors...
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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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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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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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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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