There are so many books that have inspired musicians. Alice in Wonderland alone inspired everyone from Jefferson Airplane to Tom Petty, Lady Gaga, the Beatles, and others. Check out ALICE IN WONDERLAND; and THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS by Lewis Carroll (DB 50842; BR 12746) from the Talking Book Program collections.
Tolkien’s Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion have inspired hundreds of songs, such as Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On.” FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING: BEING THE FIRST PART OF THE LORD OF THE RINGS by J. R. R. Tolkien (DB 47486; BR 09745; LB 04282) and SILMARILLION by J. R. R. Tolkien (DB 60367; BR 11510).
And there are many songs that reference The Master and Margarita. Probably the best known is Rolling Stones: “Sympathy for the Devil.” THE MASTER AND MARGARITA by Mikhail Bulgakov (DB 37107; BR 19148).
Andrew Hozier-Byrne (who performs as Hozier) has a new album coming out in August, inspired by his experience during the pandemic. Several interviews mention that Hozier began to reference epic poetry during lockdown. Some of Hozier’s new songs are based on Dante’s Inferno and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. We have both in our collection: METAMORPHOSES by Ovid (DB 114243; BR 07318); and INFERNO by Dante Alighieri (DB 76353, BR 19903).Hozier wrote another one of the new songs after hearing Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy talk about feminism; it’s called “Swan Upon Leda,” another call-back to myth. In our collection: ONE HUNDRED ESSENTIAL MODERN POEMS (contains “Leda and the Swan”) (DB 65015).
What are some other literary works that have inspired music? We’ve found quite a few.
Kate Bush has been introduced to a new generation of fans because of her song “Running Up the Hill” being used in a streaming show. She also wrote a song called “Wuthering Heights,” based upon the 19th century English novel. WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Bronte (DB 25178; BR 22475; LB 04699).
Basing a song on Fyodor Dostoevsky seems especially impressive—even a novella. There’s a song called “From Under the Floorboards” by the band Magazine. It is based on Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground–the friend who told me about it says it gets bonus points for condensing the whole spirit of the novella into four minutes! NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (DB 37598).
Of course, I can’t talk about music based on literature without including U2, my favorite band. From their very first album, they were referencing books and poems in the lyrics—”Shadows and Tall Trees” comes from William Golding’s LORD OF THE FLIES (DB 48388, BR 09480, BR 22324), and in “The Ocean,” they refer to Oscar Wilde. BEST OF OSCAR WILDE: SELECTED PLAYS AND LITERARY CRITICISM by Oscar Wilde (DB 62711; BR 16500). Bono used the Bible as inspiration for many of his songs: for example, taking the 40thPsalm as lyrics for the song “40.” A good half of U2’s song lyrics have biblical allusions.
“Exit,” on their album The Joshua Tree, was inspired by Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song; it is probably their darkest song. THE EXECUTIONER’S SONG by Norman Mailer (DB 13985). Bono also wrote a song with Salman Rushdie. “The Ground Beneath Her Feet” was not just influenced by but directly taken from his novel; he sent a copy to Bono and asked him to set some of the words to music. GROUND BENEATH HER FEET by Salman Rushdie (DB 48279).And their latest two albums got their titles from William Blake’s poetry collections. SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE (BT 03983). For audio: SELECTED POEMS by William Blake (DB 20845).
I’m sure I’ve missed a ton of books that have inspired music, so if you’ve been yelling a title while reading this, put it in a comment below.