Songs About Books
Books are a great inspiration for songwriters. Lyricists draw inspiration and influence from literature just as much as they do from other forms of art. Numerous popular songs by groups like The Beatles and The Police as well as solo artists like David Bowie were inspired by literary works they admired.
Books like Wuthering Heights and 1984, as well as poets like Edgar Allen Poe, are honored here. Listen to these songs about books if you’re a bibliophile like me.
8 Songs About Books
1. Tea In The Sahara by The Police
Since Sting began his career as an English instructor, it is not surprising that many of his songs feature literary allusions (“Don’t Stand So Close To Me,”: a young girl’s admiration of her teacher, with a possible reference to Nabokov’s Lolita).
Paul Bowles’ novel The Sheltering Sky served as inspiration for this song. The three sisters in this story are for a drink in the Sahara with the prince. Sadly, no prince appears, and over time, the sisters’ remains are found with their cups full of sand. It’s a stunning piece of music.
2. Blue Oyster Cult – Black Blade
In the early 1980s, a musical genre known as Chu-Bops gained popularity. One bubble gum record and a miniature replica of an album cover with song lyrics would be included. What a fantastic group, in my opinion. Blue Oyster Cult’s “Cultosaurus Erectus” was one of the albums I purchased.
The printed words to the song “Divine Wind” were so unsettling that I had to have the album for myself. That first song, “Black Blade,” completely awed me.
It was based on a book series written by Michael Moorcock about a feeble prince named Elric who possessed a magical sword that sucked the life out of everyone it struck (enemies, friends, lovers, it didn’t care) to bestow superhuman strength upon its wielder. The first book in the series was checked out of the library, and I blew through it. I owe my lifelong appreciation for fantasy literature to this song.
3. The Beatles – Tomorrow Never Knows
Lyrically, The Beatles – Tomorrow Never Knows is one of the best songs about books.
This song, composed by John Lennon, and featured on his album Revolver is a pinnacle of musical achievement. He took phrases from Timothy Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience as his inspiration. Lennon explained to producer George Martin that the song should sound like a thousand monks are chanting on a nearby hilltop.
There probably weren’t many mainstream songs in the middle of 1966 that sounded like this. The pulsating take 1 recording can be found on The Beatles Anthology 2.
4. Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush
My love for Kate Bush is everlasting. Hounds of Love, one of her albums, is in my top five all-time favorites. Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, which tells the story of Emily Bront’s gothic novel of the same name, is arguably the most well-known song with literary allusions.
Catherine, in her spectral visit to her former home, pleads with her lover Heathcliff to let her in through a window. When first seen by the new tenant, Mr. Lockwood, in Chapter 3 of Wuthering Heights, Kate Bush’s operatic voice and quirky dancing capture the eerie spirit of the moment.
An interesting coincidence is that Kate Bush and Emily Bront share the same birthday.
5. Venus In Furs by The Velvet Underground
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch published the novel,l “Venus in Furs,” in 1870, and the song “Venus in Furs,” the fourth tune on the album, was inspired by it.
The book detailed a variety of Leo’s favorite pastimes. The viola of John Cale and the guitar of Lou Reed brilliantly complement each other throughout the song’s entire five minutes.
6. Grendel by Marillion
Despite my preference for snappy punk tunes, I can’t deny an appreciation for lengthy prog-rock symphonies. More specifically, I am a huge fan of Marillion’s Fish era.
Taking inspiration from Beowulf, “Grendel” is a lean, mean 17 minutes long. The band had the nerve to put out their debut album. Established bands rarely experiment with unusual musical styles until later in their careers. It’s a good song, but it’s not my absolute favorite.
The video is the primary reason this is being presented to you. Until around the 13-minute mark, when lead singer Fish dons an antique battle helmet/mask, this live performance is very basic. He begins with little singing but immediately launches his assault at 16:30. He motions with his hands and grabs an unsuspecting bystander from the crowd, then pretends to maul him.
The man’s expression is one of genuine horror (Fish is around 6 feet five inches tall, while schlubby is much shorter). This lasts for quite some time and is the most amazing thing ever. Put it on YouTube! I don’t mean to give you the impression that I’m hating on Marillion; they’re a great band. However, this is ridiculous.
7. Goodbye Sky Harbor by Jimmy Eat World
According to Jim Adkins, lead singer of Jimmy Eat World, “Anthrax always had a Stephen King song. After some deliberation, I decided to base my answer on a book I was reading.
He was so inspired by John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany that he put it to music. Not only is it a lengthy one, but it’s also quite complicated. It takes around 13 minutes for the sound to completely die out. At once hypnotic and aesthetically pleasing.
8. Blind Guardian – Nightfall In Middle Earth album
Back then in high school, I was a great metalhead, but by the time I came to college, I’d completely abandoned the genre in favor of punk and hip-hop. I went to my buddy Keith’s East Village record store, Hole In The Wall Music, to test the waters again.
I recently became obsessed with the album Heartwork by Carcass, so I asked for similar music and he obliged. Yes, the violence was impressive, but I had hoped for something grander. He cranked up Blind Guardian’s “Into The Storm,” from their Nightfall In Middle Earth album, to full blast.
This was a fantastic idea! Beautifully melodic, instantly memorable, and completely cheeseball. Everything on this CD is a reimagining of Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, even down to the dramatic interludes of the spoken word.
In front of a blazing fire with a flagon of ale in hand, waiting patiently for Tanis Half-Elven to come to the Inn of the Last Home. And though I enjoy the fantasy genre, I was never a big fan of Tolkien’s works. This is one of the songs about books I find interesting.