Inspiration for a piece of art can come from anywhere. An artist will find inspiration in a landscape, a writer will find inspiration in a painting, and a songwriter will find inspiration in a book. Some songs only utilize small characteristics from a novel, and some will write a song to pay direct homage to the novel. Here are ten of the most well-known songs that take inspiration from works of literature.
Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush and Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Told from the point of view of Catherine Earnshaw, Kate Bush’s 1978 song shares the same name as its inspiration, Emily Bronte’s 1847 novel, Wuthering Heights. The song focuses on two characters from the novel, Catherine and Heathcliff, who, over the course of the story, share a tumultuous love story. In the song, Bush, from the perspective of Cathy, pleads with Heathcliff, whom she once rejected, to marry another. The song makes clear references to the novel, and both the song and the novel explore themes of love, passion, and nature.
Heathcliff, it’s me, I’m CathyWuthering Heights by Kate Bush
I’ve come home, I’m so cold
Let me in-a-your window
Ramble On by Led Zepplin and The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
Led Zepplin’s Ramble On takes inspiration from J. R. R. Tolkien’s 1954 novel The Lord of the Rings. The speaker of the song likens his journey to find his “girl” to Frodo and Sam’s journey to find the One Ring. The rigorous journey in the novel is similar to the journey the band goes on as they travel and play high-energy shows every night while the speaker is only ever able to think about his girl. While the references within the song can be harder to identify, there is a verse that makes direct references to the novel.
‘Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fairRamble On by Led Zepplin
But Gollum and the Evil One crept up and slipped away with her
Pet Sematary by The Ramones and Pet Sematary by Stephen King
The Ramones’s 1989 song Pet Semetary takes clear inspiration from Stephen King’s 1983 novel of the same name. Of course, this is actually due to the fact that the song was written for the 1989 movie adaptation of King’s novel. The Ramones being one of King’s favorite bands, he had asked them to write music for the movie. Since then, the song has become one of the band’s most popular songs, finding much success outside of the movie.
I don’t wanna be buried in a pet semataryPet Sematary by The Ramones
I don’t want to live my life again
Who Wrote Holden Caulfield? by Green Day and The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
Green Day’s 1991 song Who Wrote Holden Caulfield? takes direct inspiration from J. D. Salinger’s 1952 novel The Catcher in the Rye. The song itself is named after the main character of the novel, Holden Caulfield. As a character often romanticized for his dark personality and teenage angst, it’s no surprise a band like Green Day would have taken musical inspiration from him. The song, however, also highlights the mental health and self-destructive habits that influence Hoden’s choices throughout the novel.
There’s a boy who fogs his world, and now he’s getting lazyWho Wrote Holden Caulfield? by Green Day
There’s no motivation, and frustration makes him crazy
He makes a plan to take a stand, but always ends up sitting
Frankenstein by Lenny Kravitz and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Taking heavy inspiration from Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel of the same name, Lenny Kravitz’s Frankenstein tells the story of a misunderstood man begging for love and forgiveness. While Kravitz’s song makes the common misunderstanding that Frankenstein was the name of the monster and not the doctor, the message of the song is no less clear. The speaker of the song likens himself to Frankenstein, feeling damaged and controlled yet still determined to find love and understanding.
I try so hard to please youFrankenstein by Lenny Kravitz
You’re never satisfied
Will you ever release me?
Brave New World by Iron Maiden and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Iron Maiden’s 2000 song Brave New World takes inspiration from Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel of the same name. The novel is based in a dystopian society where all emotions have been eradicated, and humans are conditioned to think and act in certain ways. While it isn’t a secret that the band wrote the song about the book, the references are well hidden within the lyrics. Both the song and book, however, explore themes of individuality, control, and loss.
What you see, it’s not realBrave New World by Iron Maiden
Those who know will not tell
All is lost, sold your souls
To this brave new world
Love Story by Taylor Swift and Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Taylor Swift’s 2008 song Love Story takes clear inspiration from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, with multiple references throughout the song to the well-known play. The speaker of the song tells her story through the lens of Romeo and Juliet, as she can relate to the desire to be with someone despite hardships and disapproval. The song heavily focuses on the romantic love story aspect of the play and doesn’t include any references to the ending, likely because the song was never supposed to be associated with the darker aspect of the story.
Romeo, save me, they’re trying to tell me how to feelLove Story by Taylor Swift
This love is difficult, but it’s real
Don’t be afraid, we’ll make it out of this mess
It’s a love story, baby, just say, “Yes”
A Tale of 2 Citiez by J. Cole and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens’ 1859 novel was the main inspiration behind J. Cole’s 2014 song A Tale of 2 Citiez. While the novel explores the French Revolution in the cities of Paris and London, J. Cole explores the idea of comparing the same city, Fayetteville, North Carolina, from two different perspectives. While there seem to be conflicting views on whether the song depicts two different characters or the same speaker looking at his hometown from different angles, the twist on the original novel is still there. While the song itself makes few specific references to the book, both the song and novel explore themes of rebellion and conflict.
I know that everything that glitters ain’t goldA Tale of 2 Citiez by J. Cole
I know the shit ain’t always good as it seems
But tell me ’til you get it how could you know?
David Bowie’s 1974 song shares a name and a story with the 1949 George Orwell novel. The song itself is about the novel, which depicts a futuristic dystopian society where there are three superpowers. The novel is set in Oceania, where Winston Smith defies the society he lives in by having individual thoughts and opinions despite the measures the government takes to ensure this doesn’t happen. Bowie’s song explores similar themes of control and individualism.
They’ll split your pretty cranium, and fill it full of air1984 by David Bowie
And tell you that you’re eighty, but brother, you won’t care
You’ll be shooting up on anything, tomorrow’s never there
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John and The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road by Elton John tells the story of someone wanting to turn away from a wealthy and material life for one of simplicity. There aren’t many references in the song to L. Frank Baum’s novel, The Wizard of Oz, other than the title. The yellow brick road in the song refers to this elite life filled with glitz and glamour, similar to what the road was meant to lead to in the novel. It could also be argued that the first verse takes inspiration from the novel as it references a farm and also has the phrase “When are you gonna come down? When are you going to land?” which could reference the cyclone from the novel.
So goodbye yellow brick road
Where the dogs of society howl
You can’t plant me in your penthouse
I’m goin’ back to my ploughGoodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John
Did we miss any book-inspired songs? Let us know!
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