The 10 Best Literary Songs for a Bookish Dance Party

(Image via

Long has the world believed that the kids at the rock shows could never be the same ones devouring books in their free time. Of course, "the world" is wrong about a lot of stuff, but they definitely missed the mark when it comes to smarts and songs. We've collected ten great pop and rock classics for your partying pleasure. Rock on and read on!

1. “Birdhouse in Your Soul” – They Might Be Giants  
If you’re a fan of this classic band, you know their lyrical subjects are offbeat and diverse… one might even call them Quirky. This catchy tune is written from the point of view of a night light, and still manages to reference Homer’s The Odyssey:

“There’s a picture opposite me
Of my primitive ancestry,
Which stood on rocky shores and kept the beaches shipwreck-free.
Though I respect that a lot
I’d be fired if that were my job
After killing Jason off and countless screaming Argonauts.”



2. “Whip It” – Devo
This new wave classic got heavy airplay on the radio and in early days of MTV, but its suggestive title and accompanying controversial video have resulted in a misinterpretation of the song. Whatever naughty places your mind goes to, the lyrics are a tribute to Thomas Pynchon’s onion-like layers of parodies in Gravity’s Rainbow; a parody of a parody that pokes fun at Americana. Fun fact: the guitar riff is taken from Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman.


3. “Time to Dance” – Panic! at the Disco  
No party is complete without at least one song with the word “dance” in the title, so you might as well make it one with a nod to Chuck Palahniuk’s "Invisible Monsters". The novel features a character whose favorite eye shadow is called “Aubergine Dreams” which shows up in this lyric:

“Boys will be boys, hiding in estrogen
And wearing Aubergine Dreams.”


4. “This Charming Man” – The Smiths 
Morrissey often uses literature to inspire his song lyrics and “This Charming Man” is no exception. In Henry Green’s novel Loving, one of the characters, a caretaker of a castle, accuses his pantry boy of being “jumped-up” and “not knowing his proper place.” Fans of The Smiths will recognize that as the inspiration for this refrain:

"Ah! A jumped-up pantry boy
Who never knew his place
He said ‘return the ring’
He knows so much about these things."


(Image via

5. “Shadrach” – Beastie Boys 
This rap trio straight outta Brooklyn do more than fight for their right to party. On this track, they name drop J.D. Salinger, Charles Dickens, and throw in an Old Testament reference for good measure. They chant “Shardach, Mesach, and Abednago,” the names of three biblical characters saved by divine intervention. 


6. “Off to the Races” – Lana Del Rey 
Del Rey’s entire first album, Born to Die, is steeped in references to Vladmir Nabakov’s Lolita, with numerous songs about seductive yet innocent girls, with a dead giveaway on the songs entitled “Lolita” and “Carmen” (one of Humbert Humbert’s nicknames for the object of his obsession). But nowhere is Lana more explicit than in “Off To The Races” which borrows the first line from Nabakov’s classic: "Light of my life, fire of my loins, be a good baby, do what I want."


7. “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” – The Police 
Speaking of Lolita, Sting’s background as an English teacher shows through in the lyrics to this song—fittingly, about a teacher’s infatuation with a student:

“It’s no use. He sees her.
He starts to shake and cough
Just like the old man in
That book by Nabokov.”


(Image via

8. “Book Lovers” – The Divine Comedy
This one is for the hardcore literary types, because the lyrics are a roll call of more than 70 different authors. These include ones you wouldn’t expect to hear a musical shoutout for, such as Milan Kundera, AS Byatt, and Kazuo Ishiguro. Of course you could play any song by The Divine Comedy seeing that the band’s name itself is a reference to Dante’s work of the same name.  


9. “Resistance” – Muse 
George Orwell’s 1984 inspired numerous bands including Radiohead and The Rolling Stones. Muse takes the dystopian theme of the book and focuses on the relationship between its central characters, Winston and Julia, creating an anthem about overcoming adversity through love:

“Love is our resistance
They’ll keep us apart
and they wont to stop breaking us down
Hold me our lips must always be sealed”


10. “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” – Frankie Goes to Hollywood 
You may be more familiar with their ‘80s hit “Relax,” but Frankie Goes to Hollywood had other great songs including this epic tribute to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan.” The lyrics,

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A pleasuredome erect

clearly mimic Coleridge’s original lines: "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree." Why shouldn’t verse written in the 18th century inspire a synth-driven song that’ll get the party started?


These suggestions are perfect for getting ready for a night on the town or just psyching yourself up to read that next novel. To help you out we've created a Youtube and Spotify playlist for your listening pleasure. 


Margarita Montimore

Margarita Montimore

Margarita writes upmarket fiction and is represented by Victoria Skurnick at Levine Greenberg Rostan. She also transcribes and pokes fun at her old journal entries at The Diary Project. When not wrangling her ever-growing book and movie collections or feeding squirrels and chipmunks, she dreams of the day time machines are built so that she can return to the 1980s. Follow her on Twitter at @damiella.