Top Ten Tuesday: Songs Inspired by Books

This week, The Broke and the Bookish are setting a Blogger’s Choice for their Top Ten Tuesday meme. In looking over their list of past topics, I decided instead to put together a list I was thinking of a while back, but didn’t really have time for. I’m listing ten songs inspired by works of literature. I’ve tried to avoid some of the more obvious choices, and use this to not only spotlight some books I’ve loved but also present some of the diversity of music I listen to. At first this was going to be a list of bands name checking authors, which might be one I put together the next Wild Card week Broke and the Bookish sets, but looking through my collection of music, I found there was a much more interesting list focusing on songs directly inspired by books. Enjoy, and if there are any I’ve missed you wanted to bring to my attention, drop those in the comments below.

1. “Pattern Recognition,” Sonic Youth. William Gibson’s mind-bending Science Fiction launched the whole concept of cyberpunk, so it’s kind of fitting one of the most innovative rock acts of the past 30 years should draw inspiration from him for this track off their album Sonic Nurse.

2. “Ghost World,” Aimee Mann. In the same way Sonic Youth and William Gibson are a natural combination, Aimee Mann’s introspective, sly songwriting fits well with Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel.

3. “2+2=5,” Radiohead. Orwell’s writing has actually inspired a number of British music acts, such as Pink Floyd and David Bowie. For my money, though, this track from Hail to the Thief is the standout of the bunch. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZfBR5G8FZ8

4. “The Ground Beneath Her Feet,” U2. More of a collaboration intended to dovetail with the novel of the same name than something independent and inspired by the writer, U2 nonetheless distills Salman Rushdie’s retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice into a compelling piece of music.

5. “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” Sufjan Stevens. One of the oddest ducks on this list, Sufjan Stevens is also one of the most interesting songwriters working today, and drawing from Flannery O’Connor is further proof of his quirky, thoughtful sensibilities.

6. “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen has always identified strongly with Steinbeck, so it’s a little surprising it took him so long into his career to evoke the hero of The Grapes of Wrath. (Or, if you prefer, here’s the Rage Against the Machine version).

7. “The Sensual World,” Kate Bush. Molly Bloom’s speech to close Ulysses was gorgeously lyrical to begin with, so it really only makes sense someone would eventually set it to equally gorgeous music.

8. “Sigh No More,” Mumford and Sons. When looking to write a romantic song, you really can’t go wrong cribbing from Much Ado About Nothing.

9. “Scentless Apprentice,” Nirvana. Patrick Suskind’s dark novel Perfume is the kind of book that crawls under your skin, clearly it had an effect on Kurt Cobain.

10. “Pet Sematary,” The Ramones (NOT, as my son thought, Plain White T’s). Alright, of the titles on the list this is a bit of an outlier. I can’t really justify King’s novel as being on quite the same plain as the other titles here, in terms of literary value. Also, the song was written as a theme to the movie version, so it’s less the product of the band’s love of King’s book and more of a cash grab. Nonetheless, no one ever said a cash grab couldn’t end up as fun as this song. I was happy to see it resurrected for the Frankenweenie soundtrack even if they didn’t see fit to use the original.

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