Literary Songs

10 Rockin’ Songs That Reference Classic Literature

It’s a little-known fact that to be a good songwriter, you’ve got to be a good storyteller. To pull something from within you that reaches other people ain’t an easy task. Sometimes you need a little help—a little inspiration, if you will. This is exactly what some of music’s most talented people, and some of my favorite rock ‘n rollers, have done.


There’s nothing quite as grand as when you hear a story within a story. How meta, right? Below are ten musicians and groups that’ve dropped some of the greatest authors’ literature into their songs. It takes a legend to understand a legend and they fit books into tunes better than anyone could. Check out these classics and their lines that paid homage to, well, the classics.


1. “Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones


What it references: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov


Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s soul and faith
And I was ’round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain


2. “Thieves in the Night” by Black Star
What it references: The Bluest Eye by (the incredible) Toni Morrison


Not strong (Only aggressive)
Not free (We only licensed)
Not compassionate, only polite (Now who the nicest?)
Not good but well behaved
(Chasing after death, so we can call ourselves brave?)
Still living like mental slaves
Hiding like thieves in the night from life


3. “Brave New World” by Iron Maiden


What it references: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley


What you see is not real, those who know will not tell
All is lost sold your souls to this brave new world


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


What it references: Animal Farm by George Orwell


Big man, pig man, ha ha, charade you are
You well heeled big wheel, ha ha, charade you are


5. “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane


What it references: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll


And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you’re going to fall
Tell ’em a hookah-smoking caterpillar
Has given you the call
Call Alice
When she was just small


6. “Ramble On” by Led Zeppelin


What it references: The Lord of the Rings series by J. R. R. Tolkien


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.


7. “Richard Cory” by Simon and Garfunkel


What it references:  Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poem “Richard Cory”


They say that Richard Cory owns one half of this whole town,
With political connections to spread his wealth around.
Born into society, a banker’s only child,
He had everything a man could want: power, grace, and style.


8. “Tom Sawyer” by Rush


What it references: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain


Though his mind is not for rent
Don’t put him down as arrogant
His reserve, a quiet defense
Riding out the day’s events
The river


9. “The Catcher in the Rye” by Guns ‘N Roses


What it references: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger


Oooh, the Catcher In The Rye Again
Won’t let ya get away from him
(Tomorrow never comes)
It’s just another day…
Like today


10. “The Ghost of Tom Joad” by Bruce Springsteen


What it references: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck


The highway is alive tonight
But nobody’s kiddin’ nobody about where it goes
I’m sittin’ down here in the campfire light
Searchin’ for the ghost of Tom Joad


How’s all that for a little crossover? Rock on bookworms.
Feature Image Via Yaroslav Blokhin on Unsplash