There is something about books and you can tell from the way book lovers react upon spotting a library. Reading is food for the brain and motivational speaker Brian Tracy once said that it is to the brain as exercise is to the body.
Therefore, the more you read, the more you strengthen your mind. Consequently, songwriters who have had the pleasure of turning a few pages have been inspired to write songs based on what they have read. Many songs about books have been written and so far, here are some of the best.
20. Annabel Lee by Stevie Nicks
According to Awesome Stories, Edgar Alan Poe wrote one of the most famous poems “Annabel Lee” about a young girl from a rich background who fell in love with a sailor. However, the girl’s father did not approve of the relationship and the lovebirds fought for their love till death. Legend has it that it is based on Poe’s life since he was once a soldier and had fallen in love with a girl named Annabel Lee Ravanel. Nicks wrote the song when she was only 17 but did not record it until 2011.
19. Dead by Pixies
Rock lovers will appreciate this song by Pixies which draws inspiration from the Bible. In the bible, King David is attracted to Bathsheba as she bathes and he admires her from the rooftop. He cannot control himself so he sleeps with her but Bathsheba is Uriah’s wife.
She falls pregnant and to cover up his infidelity, King David ensures Uriah is sent back home from the war so he can sleep with Bathsheba and the pregnancy would be assumed his.
However, Uriah does not go back home so King David arranges for Uriah’s death. In the song, Pixies talk about Bathsheba’s belly starting to show, and the phrase “hit the crapper” refers to King David asking Uriah to go and wash his feet.
18. Book of Life by Dolly Parton
Christians believe that God writes the names of those born again in a book and that He will call out the names so that those in the list will enter heaven. Parton refers to this book as the book of life because in heaven there will be no more death. She urges people to repent and accept salvation through prayer so that their names will be in this book of life.
17. Venus in Furs by The Velvet Underground
Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch wrote “Venus in Furs” about a man who preferred to be dominated in the bedroom by the woman he loved. According to the Financial Times, Lou Reed wrote the song, drawing inspiration from the novel which he referred to as “trashy.” Although the album did not do well, the band influenced future generations of rock musicians. Punk rock’s music became intertwined with kinky sex from then on and subsequent bands borrowed The Velvet Underground’s look.
16. 1984 by David Bowie
Bowie had been obsessed with George Orwell’s book “1984” since he was a child. Therefore, it is no surprise that he wrote a song based on the novel and gave it a similar title. The sales of “1984” were impressive reaching at least 10 million in the US and a million in the UK within a year of its release.
Bowie still saw potential in the song and planned to turn it into a musical. However, Sonia Orwell denied him the rights and Bowie was furious, calling her a snob. He was forced to turn “Diamond Dogs” into a musical but all the while he insisted he wanted “1984” as a stage musical.
15. Yertle The Turtle by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Dr. Seuss wrote this children’s book about a turtle, Yertle, who wishes to expand his kingdom and uses other turtles to fulfill his desires. He orders other turtles to form a throne by climbing on each other’s backs. Eventually, the turtle at the bottom grows tired and the “throne” crumbles. Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song is about this story as written by Dr. Seuss’s fable.
14. Soma by The Strokes
In 1931, Aldous Huxley wrote the futuristic science fiction novel “Brave New World” to examine a society that revolves around science and efficiency. In the book, Huxley talks about children and how emotions are conditioned at an early age.
He appears to warn readers of the dangers of giving the government too much control over powerful technologies. The author also writes about Soma, a drug used to cure any sad emotion and too much of it causes death. So in this song by The Strokes, they reference the drug.
13. Journey to The Center of The Earth by Rick Wakeman
So far, three movies have been made based on the book by Jules Verne and Wakeman also recorded a song with a similar title in 1974. Verne wrote about a scientist who goes on a quest to find his missing brother. The scientist takes along his nephew and guide and together they stumble upon a lost world in the earth’s center.
Wakeman wanted to reenact the story so much that even his record label seemed to be uneasy about funding the project. The musician decided to partially fund the project himself. A&M, Wakeman’s record company recorded the project live at Royal Festival Hall in London and it was a sold-out event.
12. Killing An Arab by The Cure
According to Financial Review, the song is inspired by “The Stranger,” a novel by Albert Camus. The story is about a protagonist who gets into a love dispute with a girl so he murders the girl’s Algerian brother on a beach. The song was deemed racist by those who did not grasp its meaning. The Cure was even asked not to play it during a concert at Kingston Polytechnic for fear of sparking racist reactions and promoting violence.
11. Romeo by Lucky Dube
Reggae lovers will love this song by the late South African reggae artist Lucky Dube. Dube seems to have fallen head over heels in love with a woman and could only compare himself to Romeo. He admits that despite being old enough to know what women want, he still needs help understanding what this woman appreciates as tokens of love. He is not the kind to give flowers but promises to prove himself worthy of her love.
10. Ramble On by Led Zeppelin
As Rock Pasta published, Robert Plant wrote the lyrics after being inspired by “Lord of The Rings,” a book by J.R.R. Tolkien. Therefore, in the song, Plant references Frodo Baggins, the hobbit who goes to the darkest depths of Mordor to encounter the evil one. It was recorded in 1969 and some people believe that the song was symbolic of the band’s search for members, their relationship with fans, and the adventures in their tours.
9. Everyday I Write The Book by Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Costello wrote this song as a joke yet Esquire described it as the most intellectually-satisfying pop song ever written. The musician wrote the lyrics in ten minutes and the music producer urged Costello to lend it a contemporary arrangement believing it had the potential to be a hit. The producer was right because the song became Costello’s first American hit.
8. White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane
As Jefferson Airplane reveals, “White Rabbit was the first pop song to focus on the experience of hallucinogens. It is based on “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and the songwriter, Grace Slick, however, insisted that the song was not about drugs. Slick explained that the song is about teaching curiosity and was against parents who read such drug-laced story books to kids at an impressionable age. Therefore, when she shouts “feed your head,” she is urging people to get educated.
7. Romeo and Juliet by Dire Straits
Mark Knopfler allegedly was romantically involved with Holly Vincent, the lead singer of Holly and the Italians. Unfortunately, the love story ended abruptly when Vincent broke up with Knopfler over the phone as Dire Straits was touring America.
The incident inspired Knopfler to write about the bitter split, saying that Vincent only used him as a stepping stone. According to the lyrics, Vincent had promised to be with Knopfler through thick and thin, but when she found fame, she dumped him to chase wealth.
6. Oxford Comma by Vampire Weekend
A lot of debate has gone into the use of the Oxford comma, some prefer it, but others think it is irrelevant. Well, Ezra Koenig wondered what the fuss about Oxford commas was all about thus he wrote about it. According to American Songwriter, Koenig had come across the Oxford comma through a Facebook page, Students for The Preservation of the Oxford Comma.
He wondered what the big deal about the punctuation marks was, so even when he sat at a piano one day, all he could think about was the Oxford comma. However, it is symbolic, talking about how fed up he is with the wealthy who pay too much attention to what he finds irrelevant.
5. Pet Sematary by Ramones
“Pet Sematary” by Ramones was voted the Worst Original Song of the year when it was released in 1989. As the story goes, Stephen King had just written his book “Pet Sematary,” and was a huge Ramones fan. So, he invited the band to his home in Bangor, Maine while they toured in New England.
Allegedly, King gave Dee Dee a copy of his book, and the bassist went to the basement and composed a song titled the same as the novel. However, King refuted this story saying that the band never went to his house. Instead, they met at a restaurant. Regardless, King’s novel inspired the lyrics to this song.
4. Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush
Emily Bronte wrote “Wuthering Heights” and Bush penned a song with a similar title after watching the last ten minutes of a BBC mini-series of the book’s adaptation. Bush got inspired to read the book after watching the series so she could get the right background of the story. The singer penned the lyrics in 1977 during a full moon, and within one sitting at a piano, she was done. The song became the first in the UK to be a no. 1 hit written and performed by a female artiste.
3. Don’t Stand So Close To Me by The Police
Vladimir Nabokov penned “Lolita,” a novel about a middle-aged man who preys on a 12-year-old girl. When Sting decided to write the lyrics of “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”; he could only think about “Lolita.” Sting was a secondary school teacher before becoming a rock musician; he fancied young girls and they fancied him too. Ultimate Classic Rock informs us that Sting confessed he always wondered how he managed to keep his hands off the young girls thus the inspiration for the song. It talks about a teacher who’s longing for one of his students despite her being half his age.
2. Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen
In 1984, Cohen drew inspiration from his Jewish teachings to write “Hallelujah.” Some of the lyrics are about David playing a chord that pleased the lord, how King David saw Bathsheba bathing from the rooftop, and how Delilah cut Samson’s hair. All these are references from the bible. Although some believe the song is sexualized and is far from religious, there is no denying that Cohen sought some lyrics even if metaphorical, from the Bible.
1. Love Story by Taylor Swift
in her much younger years, Swift was also inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” to write the song about her version of forbidden love. According to American Songwriter, the singer fell in love with a guy her parents disapproved of because they thought he was creepy.
Swift got so mad that the lyrics flooded her mind as she lay on the bedroom floor. She later confessed that her parents were right to think that the guy was a creep. Although her parents were against her releasing the song, she fought for it, claiming she had something to prove.
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