From Cthulhu to Yeats: Some Of Our Favorite Songs Inspired By Literature

Posted by Carrie Jo Tucker

The Cure (Photo via)

Morrissey taught us that Keats and Yeats are on our sides, Syd Barrett set James Joyce’s poem V from Chamber Music to, well, music (Stevie Nicks did something similar with Edgar Allen Poe’s “Annabel Lee”), and heavy metal vocalists are obsessed with Victorian horror.

Literature and music go together like cheddar cheese and grape jelly – er, okay, maybe that’s just my weird proclivity. Let’s say peanut butter and grape jelly! Read on for some of our favorite literary bedfellows.

Inspired by 1984, George Orwell
Thom Yorke sings “where two & two alwaysmakes a five” – the symbol of unreality in Orwell’s classic 1984. All hail to the doublethink.
Based on “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, Edgar Allan Poe
Someone call the Gendarmerie! This is just one of MANY literary references in the well-read British heavy metal band’s repertoire.
Based on The Call of Cthulhu, H. P. Lovecraft
“He watches/lurking beneath the sea/great Old One.” What is it with metal bands and literature? Under all that hair, they’re just secret lit nerds.
Based on Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer
Singer Robert Smith has admitted the tune was “a very straight lift” from the 1969 tale of time-traveling children; lyrics like “All the faces/All the voices blur/Change to one face/Change to one voice” are reinterpretations of lines from the novel.
While name-checking John Keats, W.B. Yeats, and Oscar Wilde, Morrissey also scolds us about plagiarism: “If you must write prose poems/the words you use should be your own/Don’t plagiarize or take on loan/’Cause there’s always someone, somewhere/With a big nose, who knows.” Duly noted, Moz.
Inspired by Perfume by Patrick Süskind
“Every wet nurse refused to feed him.” Indeed, not many people wanted much to do with Perfume’s creepy antihero Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a perfume apprentice born without scent.
“I’m not as sad as Dostoevsky/I’m not as clever as Mark Twain/I only buy a book for the way that it looks/when I put it on the shelf again.” A satirical poke in the eye of posers.
“John Willmot penned his poetry/riddled with the pox/Nabakov wrote on index cards/at a lectem, in his socks.”
An author himself (And the Ass Saw the Angel, The Death of Bunny Munro), most of Nick Cave’s lyrics are pure, clever poetry.
Parklife (Blur)
Blur’s entire 1994 album Parklife was inspired by Martin Amis’s black comedy London Fields. The quintessential British band + the quintessential British writer = TLA (that’s ‘80s speak for “True Love Always”, you whippersnappers. Now, get off my lawn!)
What’s your favorite lit-inspired song?

Carrie Jo Tucker is a Brooklyn-based, Florida-born freelance writer and the author of I Love Geeks: the Official Handbook (Adams Media). She’s been writing since she was old enough to scribble with a crayon, and her earliest work focused on horses, unicorns and man-eating hazardous waste. She’s since expanded her subject matter to man-eating hazardous unicorns. Follow her on Twitter @cjotucker and Instagram @cjotucker.