Music and literature are an endearing combination. Musicians have always been inspired by the words written by great authors, and writers have always been inspired by the music that surrounds them. From Jazz to Rock to poetry to classics, there is an undeniable syncopation between music and literature. Artists of all generations depend on the beat of favorite bands to help mold and shape whatever art is being created.
Sidenote: Wouldn’t it be amazing to know what music influenced Leonardo DaVinci or Rembrandt, so that some of that genius could flow through the speakers of today’s promising artists? Imagine the brilliance that could arise from such knowledge…
Here are 13 examples of how great musicians have been influenced by the words of amazing authors from the past 100 years.
Jefferson Airplane and James Joyce
1. 1967 – Jefferson Airplane and James Joyce
James Joyce is one of those authors who writes stories that require a lot of interpretation and analysis. Who better to adapt his famously imposing tome Ulysses into something cool and psychedelic than Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick? The sweeping “ReJoyce” was released in 1967 on the After Bathing at Baxter’s album.
David Bowie and George Orwell
2. 1974 – David Bowie and George Orwell
In the 1970’s George Orwell’s Big Brother and the New World Order seemed very, very far in the future. David Bowie borrowed heavily from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four novel to create Diamond Dogs, especially the song “1984”, in the innovative glam-rock album featuring Halloween Jack, the character trapped in a post-apocalyptic world full of buyers, sellers, psychedelic creatures, and mutant preachers. Bowie’s musical efforts are over-the-top and eerily current, just like Orwell’s written words continue to be relevant today.
Kate Bush and Emily Bronte
3. 1978 – Kate Bush and Emily Bronte
“Wuthering Heights” was released by nineteen year-old Kate Bush in 1978 as her debut single from her first album The Kick Inside. Written by Bush and sung in her quavering soprano, the song illuminates the ill-fated regency romance of Catherine and Heathcliffe.
The Cure and Albert Camus
4. 1980 – The Cure and Albert Camus
Before they became famous for moody lyrics and smeared red lipstick, The Cure released “Killing an Arab” as the first single from their 1980 album Boys Don’t Cry. The controversial song is based on the dark, introspective novel The Stranger by Albert Camus. Over the years, the title and lyrics of this song have been modified by leader singer Robert Smith, perhaps in an attempt to distance the band from the political issues of the original title. During 2011’s Reflections tour, the band performed the song as “Killing an Ahab”, paying homage to Moby Dick by Herman Melville.
The Police and Vladimir Nabokov
5. 1980 – The Police and Vladimir Nabokov
From their 1980 album Zenyatta Mondatta, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” by The Police references Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. The famous song is still widely played on radio stations today, with Sting eternally crooning the words “Her friends are so jealous, you know how bad girls get… sometimes it’s not so easy to be the teacher’s pet”.
Politically incorrect? Yes. A classic? Definitely.
ABBA and Homer
6. 1983 – ABBA and The Iliad by Homer
Who knew that bubble gum pop singers ABBA could sneak some classic Greek references into their frothy disco tunes? In the song “Cassandra”, the lyrics allude to the beautiful woman with prophetic abilities who spurned Apollo’s advances. In retaliation, Apollo removed all of her credibility, reducing her to a useless story teller. ABBA incorporated her myth into their song.
“But none of us would listen to words of warning”, and “Sorry Cassandra, I didn’t believe you really had the power; I only saw it as dreams you would weave, until the final hour.”
The Alarm and Stephen King
7. 1983 – The Alarm and Stephen King
The Alarm is an ‘80’s band known for their moderately popular song “68 Guns” as well as touring with U2. In 1983 they released “The Stand” as a single in the UK. The pop song was light and fluffy, with a harmonica; it was in direct contrast to King’s 1000-page novel The Stand that spans many characters trying to survive as the apocalypse unfolds. Despite the lukewarm reception of The Alarm in the United States, Bono (of U2 fame) occasionally joined them on stage during their opening act. Everything was so innocent in the ‘80’s…
Metallica and Ernest Hemmingway
8. 1984 – Metallica and Ernest Hemmingway
In the thundering “For Whom the Bell Tolls” Metallica pays homage to Papa Hemmingway’s tale about guerilla soldiers, suffering civilians, and sacrifices made by a solitary American during the Spanish Civil War. The adaptation of For Whom the Bell Tolls can be found on the band’s Ride the Lightening album, and ushered in Metallica’s popular phase of military-themed power songs.
The Red Hot Chile Peppers and Dr. Seuss
9. 1985 – The Red Hot Chile Peppers and Dr. Seuss
The Red Hot Chile Peppers were radically Californian, and their whole image screamed ‘immature long-haired skateboarders’. Back in the day, they were magically delicious. On their 1985 Freaky Styley album, the last song was called “Yertle the Turtle”, a dedication to the short story written by the ultimate tongue-twister Dr. Seuss.
PJ Harvey and Flannery O’Conner
10. 1998 – PJ Harvey and Flannery O’Conner
PJ Harvey, an English alternative rock musician, based her song “The River” on the Flannery O’Connor story of the same name. Harvey conveys the depth and complexity in O’Conner’s humid Southern tale into a song layered with vibrant meaning. The song appears on Harvey’s 1998 Is This Desire album.
Poe and Mark Z. Danielewski
11. 2000 – Poe and Mark Z. Danielewski
Ok, they are brother and sister. Poe helped brother Mark Z. Danielewski get an agent and a publishing contract, and when he got published by Pantheon Books, he made sure to quote his sister’s lyrics in his 2000 best-selling novel House of Leaves. His novel launched at the same time as her Haunted album, and between the two of them they managed to interconnect in ways that most siblings avoid. Both the album and the book feed off of one another for inspiration.
The Stranglers and Isaac Asimov
12. 2003 – The Stranglers and Isaac Asimov
The Stranglers have been around since 1977 and are considered by some to be pioneers in the underground punk scene. In 2003, the group released Black and White, an album designed to introduce the band to a new generation of listeners. Included on the album was the song “Hey (Rise of the Robots)”, a tribute to Isaac Asimov’s futuristic novel I, Robot about computers and robot servants that rise up against their human masters. The band has come a long way from walkin’ on the beaches lookin’ at the peaches.
Stevie Nicks and Edgar Allen Poe
13. 2011 – Stevie Nicks and Edgar Allen Poe
Ultimate flower-child Stevie Nicks and Dave Stewart (from the Eurthymics) worked together to create 2011’s In Your Dreams album. Nicks has stated that she wrote the song “Annabel Lee” years ago when she was a teenager; there is no one more perfect on the music scene then Nicks to recreate the haunting melodies of a doomed heroine from an 18th century Poe poem. The song blends the darkness of Poe with the esoteric melody of Nicks’ voice, telling the tale of a tragic love affair between a beautiful woman and her lover. Every night, the lover that admits that he lies down by her tomb by the sea. Quaint and creepy at the same time.