How storytellers inspire songwriters
Popular musical artists draw inspiration from famous literary works
Madison Palmieri ’22
From Gatsby the magnificent to the Harry potter series, many beloved novels have inspired blockbuster movies or TV shows. Less frequently discussed, however, is the degree of inspiration that the world of literature provides to the music industry.
Some examples of this phenomenon are more obvious than others. For example, several tracks by the famous English heavy metal band Iron Maiden, “Brave New World”, “Lord of the Flies”, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Murders in the Rue Morgue”, recount the literary works of these same names by Alduous Huxley, William Golding, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Edgar Allen Poe, respectively.
Elton John is another renowned artist who has adapted literature to his music. Like Iron Maiden, John has a song called “Lord of the Flies”. Another of his tracks, “All Quiet on the Western Front”, is based on the famous First World War novel of the same name by Erich Maria Note. Although its title is a little less obvious, another song by Elton John, “Restless”, is inspired by that of George Orwell. 1984.
Likewise inspired by this dystopian novel is the fellow musician of John David Bowie. Three of Bowie’s songs, “1984,” “Big Brother,” and “We Are the Dead,” recount aspects of Orwell’s book.
Another famous act was forced to write a song about 1984: Tears for fears. While the band’s song “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is a less obvious homage to Orwell than Bowie’s tracks, a close examination of the lyrics, especially the bridge, makes it clear where the band drew inspiration for. the song.
British rock band U2 have taken a unique approach to literary allusions in their discography. They named their 13th studio album, released in 2014, Songs of innocence and named their 14th studio album, released in 2017, Songs of experience. These titles are taken directly from a collection of poetry by William Blake. Blake originally posted Songs of innocence in 1789 before republishing it with new poems in a combined volume titled Songs of Innocence and of Experience in 1794. Notably, like Iron Maiden and Elton John, U2 was also inspired by Lord of the Flies. Their song “Shadows and Tall Trees” from their debut album Boy takes its name from the seventh chapter of Golding’s novel.
Another British rock band inspired by literature is Bastille. Their song “Icarus” tells the myth of the same name, “Four Walls (The Ballad of Perry Smith)” tells the true events detailed in Truman Capote’s In cold blood– and checks the name of the novel’s title – and “Weight of Living, Pt. 1” chronicles the events of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Additionally, in a question-and-answer session on Twitter, the Bastille frontman , Dan Smith, revealed that the band’s song “Poet” was inspired by Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18.
Folk rockers Mumford and Sons also drew on sources ranging from The Bard to 20th century American literature. “Sigh No More” is inspired by Shakespeare A lot of noise for nothing and actually incorporates several lines from the play into his lyrics. “Dust Bowl Dance” is an interpretation of John Steinbeck Grapes of Wrath. Their song “Timshel” was inspired by another Steinbeck novel, East of Eden.
Other notable literary-inspired tracks include “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry, inspired by Alfred, “The Lady of Shalott” by Lord Tennyson, “Cassandra” by ABBA, inspired by Homer’s The Iliad, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Metallica, inspired by the novel of the same name by Ernest Hemingway, and “The Ghost of Tom Joad” by Bruce Springsteen, inspired by Grapes of Wrath.
Another song, “Lost Boy,” was inspired by JM Barrie’s Peter Pan. Specifically, singer-songwriter Ruth B. came up with the idea for the song when she watched Once upon a time, a television series that weaves together different fairy tales and similar stories and places their characters in the modern world.
It should come as no surprise then that the artist whose fans have dubbed her “the music industry” has perhaps the most impressive amount of literary references across her eleven album discography. Indeed, while Taylor Swift’s most obvious homage to literature is her hit “Love Story,” which tells the story of Shakespeare’s work. Romeo and Juliet and includes a nod to Nathaniel Hawthorne The scarlet letter, the singer’s albums are full of tributes to her favorite novels and characters.
1989Lewis Carroll’s “Wonderland” Plays Out Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; reputation‘S’ Getaway Car ‘borrows from Charles Dickens’ front lines A tale of two cities and “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” from the same album Gatsby the magnificent.
However, these are the two most recent albums by Swift – re-recordings not included – sister discs. folklore and always, in which his love of literature is most visible. On the first, “cardigan” refers to the Peter Pan characters Peter and Wendy, “invisible chain” nods to a famous replica of Charlotte Brontë Jane eyre, “Illicit business” paraphrases the “The road not taken” and “the lakes” is named after the famous poet William Wordsworth, who resided in the Lake District in England.
On the latter, “it’s the damn season” directly integrates “The road not taken” as lyrics, “tolerate it” tells with subtlety that of Daphné du Maurier Rebecca, and “happiness” refers to Gatsby the magnificentis the infamous green light.
Needless to say, storytellers have provided songwriters with a lot of inspiration across all literary and musical genres. Just as directors and actors bring the book’s adaptations to life on screen, musicians draw on the works of others and create enjoyable new art forms.