Literature has had a tremendous impact on music from inspiring band names, concept albums that tell their own stories to songs heavily referencing books themselves. The power of literature is felt in many aspects of music. Music itself is arguably a story, being told through instrumentation and lyricism rather than written down on a page.
Classic books such as 1984 by George Orwell, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick’s and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley have inspired amazing songs throughout the decades in many different genres of music. The Smashing Pumpkins used Brave New World in their song ‘Soma’, directly referencing a fictional hallucinogen of the same name that numbs any sort of discomfort, anxiety or stress. In the song, The Smashing Pumpkins yearn for a numbness from the unbearable pressure of life, speaking of using the drug as an escape, just as one uses literature to escape from reality. The Smashing Pumpkins are not the only band to be inspired by the drug’s capabilities; deadmau5 and The Strokes have songs titled ‘Soma’ as well.
Children’s books have also inspired tracks, with the likes of Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ ‘Yertle the Turtle’, which is quite literally a funky version of the Dr Seuss tale of the same name. It’s great fun and a laugh, showing the different dimensions of literature’s impact on music. Even popular musicians such as Kate Bush and Taylor Swift have been inspired by literature with their songs ‘Wuthering Heights’ (from the Austen book of the same name), ‘Love Story’ (Romeo and Juliet), and ‘Wonderland’ (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland). As you can see from these examples, literature has an impact across nearly all genres of music, showing its power in adding a new dimension to the music we all enjoy.
My own personal favourite song that is based upon a book comes from Jimmy Eat World’s ‘Goodbye Sky Harbor’ which was inspired by A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving. The book is about a complex friendship and faith, whilst simultaneously questioning 20th century America and the American dream. Just like the book, ‘Goodbye Sky Harbor’ has many dimensions. The track lasts 16 minutes and 11 seconds and is quite repetitive, however this is reflective of Irving’s writing style and the lack of lyrics featured on the track brings a new layer to the story ,and fits perfectly for the final few chapters of the book.
As mentioned previously, many musicians have derived their stage names from literary references. A famous example is My Chemical Romance, whose name was taken from Irvine Welsh’s book Ecstasy: Three Tales of Chemical Romance. Additionally, Twenty One Pilots was inspired by the 21 pilots that died in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, and Of Mice & Men, The Velvet Underground, and The Doors are all band names inspired by popular literature, as derived from John Steinbeck, Michael Leigh and William Blake respectively.
Literature has had a huge impact on our daily lives, but it also plays a major role in the music we listen to. Though, only a few have been mentioned throughout this article many other artists such as David Bowie, Elton John, Metallica and more have used the books that have an impact on them to inspire the music they create. Literatures impact on music stretches far beyond what was mentioned in this piece, and it is arguably one of the key influences on popular music today.
For all our favourite literature-inspired tunes, check out our playlist down below!