6 Songs inspired by literature

Guns n Roses and J.D. Salinger. Pink Floyd and George Orwell. Though they seem like rather unlikely pairings, many great rock songs have been the result of a lyricist finding inspiration in the pages of a book.

Here are a list of 6 songs that were inspired by works of literature.

1. “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane

 Once you’ve heard it, you can’t forget the spare, spooky opening sounds of 60s anthem “White Rabbit,” the aural equivalent of hashish. Take a deep breath and listen to Grace Slick’s love letter to a darker reading of Lewis Carroll’Alice in Wonderland.

AIW song.jpg

2. “Pigs (Three Different Ones),” by Pink Floyd

After reading George Orwell‘s Animal Farm and his barnyard take on revolution that they incorporated the book’s dictator pigs into their Animals album. The album is based loosely around Animal Farm themes, with “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” being about people in society with wealth and power.

AF song.jpg

3.  “The Catcher in the Rye” by Guns n Roses

Based on the novel The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger in the 2008 album Chinese Democracy. However it is surmised that the song is really about another culture-changing event that Holden Caulfield was involved in: the assassination of John Lennon in 1980. Lennon’s murderer was carrying a copy of the book when he pulled the trigger.


4. “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush

Based on the Emily Brontë novel Wuthering Heights. An 18-year-old Kate Bush was inspired to write her breakout song after seeing just 10 minutes of Wuthering Heights on TV in 1977.

“I am sure one of the reasons it stuck so heavily in my mind was because of the spirit of Cathy, and as a child I was called Cathy. It later changed to Kate. It was just a matter of exaggerating all my bad areas, because she’s a really vile person, she’s just so headstrong and passionate and… crazy, you know? And it was fun to do, and it took – a night and a half?”

WH Song.jpg

5. “Red Right Hand” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

This eerie song, cousin to a murder ballad, cadges its title from a line in Paradise Lost by John Milton: “Should intermitted vengeance arm again his red right hand to plague us?” Milton spoke of God’s vengeful hand, and Cave talks of a dark, charismatic figure who has the same bloody touch.

PL Song.jpg

6. “The Stranger Song” by Leonard Cohen

Cohen’s autumnal work, sung to a discarded woman, references Nelson Algren’s Chicago underbelly–set masterpiece The Man With the Golden Arm, about a morphine-addicted card dealer: “O you’ve seen that man before/His golden arm dispatching cards/But now it’s rusted from the elbows to the finger.”

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