10 Songs with Lyrics Inspired by Literature

We probably don’t need to tell you twice about the album Beyoncé just dropped. People are flocking to the nearest available screen, be it your computer, your own phone or even over the shoulder to your fellow commuter’s phone, to fawn over the twelve tracks of Lemonade. Ever dutiful to Beyoncé’s feminist stature, the album will douse your ears with whopping amounts of female power and unflinching vulnerability. But, even more powerful are the lines between the tracks. Here Beyoncé quotes Somali-British poet, Warsan Shire. The Young Poet Laureate’s words complement the album’s message, shedding a poetic light on women’s roles, relationships, and alienation.

It’s not surprising to see the pair-up of literature and lyrics, after all both focus on rhythm and voice, one just happens to make this focus audible. Interested in this seamless connection between books and song, we took a look at other noteworthy songs that reference equally noteworthy texts.

Here’s a few of our favorites.


“White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane – Alice in Wonderland

Essentially the whole song is a reference to Lewis Carroll’s timeless tale. The closing lines capture the peak of chaos and sublime experience that Alice experiences in Wonderland:

When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen’s off with her head
Remember what the dormouse said
Feed your head
Feed your head


“1984” by David Bowie – 1984

The title says it all! This song’s discussion of oppression, censorship, and illusion has George Orwell written all over it.


“Ramble On” by Led Zeppelin – The Lord of the Rings

Do these lyrics ring a bell? For any J.R.R. Tolkien fan, they should make your ears perk right up.

“’Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor/I met a girl so fair/But Gollum, and the evil one crept up/And slipped away with her.”


“Soma” by The Strokes – Brave New World

How well do you know Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World? The song’s title is actually a reference to the drug taken by the book’s protagonist, John.


“Rocket Man” by Elton John – “Rocket Man” from The Illustrated Man

Ray Bradbury is just as well known and praised for his short stories as he is for his long form novels. In this story – housed in a larger text of stories titled The Illustrated Man – an astronaut is torn between a life of exploration in space and the family he leaves behind on Earth. Interestingly enough, “Rocketman” is also a pseudonym adopted by character Tyrone Slothrop in Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. We can’t claim any certain connection to Elton John, but a bookworm can dream.


“Fitzpleasure” by Alt J – Last Exit to Brooklyn

Despite the song’s trademark Alt J sound – dreamlike with the intermittent lullaby trills – the lyrics denote a very different story, describing a gruesome assault and rape that occurs at the end of this book, written by Hubert Selby Jr.

However, Alt J isn’t new to allegory. The song “Breezeblocks” is a reference to Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.


“Don’t Stand So Close to Me” by The Police – Lolita

If the lyrics “That book by Nabokov won’t convince you, listen to the entire song for themes of taboo, love, and longing to confirm the literary connection.


“Killing an Arab” by The Cure – The Stranger

Remember that scene on the beach in Camus The Stranger? Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the book – Meursault stabs a man he meets on the beach. It’s a climactic scene in the text, and apparently a memorable scene for The Cure too. The song focuses on the killing scene and the existential crisis Meursault deals with in the text.

I can turn 
And walk away
Or I can fire the gun
Staring at the sky
Staring at the sun
Whichever I chose
It amounts to the same
Absolutely nothing


“Yertle the Turtle” by Red Hot Chili Peppers – Yertle the Turtle

Again, the song’s title speaks for itself. It’s an allusion to the Dr. Seuss story about a turtle that tramples over others to get to the top.


“Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones – The Master and the Margarita

Mick Jagger himself posits the song’s origins in the pages of the Bulgakov book. In the text, Satan pays a visit to Soviet Russia, where he ends up staying after falling in love with the country. He even changes his name to Vladimir.


Do you have a favorite lit-inspired song? Share it with us in the comments!


Featured image courtesy of The Independent