When literature and music merge, the result is often monumental: time and time again musicians find inspiration for their lyrics in literature. These two art forms obviously cross-pollinate each other. Bob Dylan, for example, emphasises the enormous influence that authors like Fyodor Dostoyevsky had on him. Numerous bands from the metal scene, rock, folk and more look for their impressions in epochal fantasy and horror novels, even in high literature so it’s getting pretty hard to reliably say how often authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and his Middle-earth world have already been musically processed. Here are 10 examples of the ingenious interaction between literature and music…
Bohemian Rhapsody- Queen / The Stranger – Author Albert Camus
The renowned French writer and philosopher Albert Camus was the inspiration for one of Queen’s biggest and most complex hits: “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Freddie Mercury wrote the lyrics himself. He based it on the theme of the novel: an artist who doesn’t care about conventions and doesn’t want to be subordinated to social standards. According to Mercury’s long-time personal assistant Peter Freestone, Freddie came to terms with his coming out as a homosexual man by writing the song. What an impressive synergy of music and literature!
Sympathy for the Devil – The Rolling Stones / The Master and Margarita – Author Mikhail Bulgakov
“The Master and Margarita” is the best-known work by the Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov and a classic of 20th century Russian literature. The novel describes life in Moscow in an allegorical, humorous and satirical way. The Stones were inspired by this absurd yet all-too-real tale for their song “Sympathy For The Devil”. A literary classic transformed into a rock classic. In the song, Mick Jagger lets the devil speak, answering the question of who murdered the Kennedys: “Actually, it was you and me.”
Rime of the Ancient Mariner – Iron Maiden / The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is a narrative poem written by the British literary figure Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1798. Even in those days, this poem caused a sensation as a ballad, especially as it knocked many language experts off their feet and thus continues to influence the English language to this day. Numerous quotations from the ballad have entered the English language as anecdotes. Obviously, the poet also influenced Iron Maiden. They celebrate the ballad for 14 minutes!
Animals – Pink Floyd / Animal Farm – Author George Orwell
Pink Floyd are undoubtedly among the greatest icons of spherical storytelling. With the album “Animals”, they have immersed themselves in the visionary world of the exceptional writer George Orwell. The album is based on Orwell’s novel “Animal Farm”, the dystopian fable from 1945, in which the animals rise up against the rule of their human owners. ‘’With your head down in the pig bin saying, ‘’Keep on digging’’.” The album itself describes capitalism and the victims of it.
Ramble on – Led Zeppelin / The Lord Of the Rings – J.R.R Tolkien
With his work “The Lord of the Rings”, Tolkien has provided many bands with an accurate template for the best fantasy world, Middle Earth, and especially it’s dark land of Mordor. His inspiring Middle-earth narrative obviously contains an endless supply of inspirational fodder, which musicians and bands are happy to help themselves to. Among the best-known representatives are Led Zeppelin with “Ramble On”. In the song from 1969, they interpret the fantasy novel and do not refrain from direct quotations in their lyrics. And the best part: There are said to have been no copyright disputes! Jimmy Page’s solo is soft, persistent and violin-like: Very fitting, don’t you think?
Charlotte Sometimes – The Cure / Charlotte Sometimes – Penelope Farmer
Okay, The Cure’s biggest hit is still “Friday I’m In Love”. They, or rather their front man, Robert Smith, show their connection to literature in another song. The kaleidoscopic eccentric Robert Smith has a favourite book, and it’s a children’s book called “Charlotte Sometimes” written by Penelope Farmer. Smith used the children’s book as a model for the 1981 song carrying the same name, “Charlotte Sometimes”.
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds – The Beatles / Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carrol
The vanguard for psychedelic music, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, is no less a literary work than “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carrol. The children’s book was first published in 1865, and about a century later the Beatles took up the theme of the ever-searching white rabbit and turned it into “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. The song was written during one of the Fab Four’s strongest LSD periods.
The British housewife Lucy Vodden claimed in 2007 that the title was in fact NOT about LSD, but about her. When she was three years old, she went to kindergarten with Lennon’s son Julian. When John picked his boy up, he showed him a picture he had painted himself and said: “That’s my friend Lucy at school”.
Moon over Bourbon Street – Sting / Interview with a Vampire – Anne Rice
Sting is not only an icon as a singer and bass player. At the same time he is known for his intellectuality and a slight tendency towards the extraordinary. The Police song “Moon Over Bourbon Street” is based on the novel “Interview with a Vampire” by the American author Anne Rice, in which a drunk – frustrated by the death of his wife and unborn child – walks through the streets of New Orleans and is bitten by a vampire.
Sting read the book after a Police concert in New Orleans at his hotel in the famous French Quarter. Looking out at the deserted street, he wrote down his thoughts on Moon Over Bourbon Street.
Romeo and Juliet – Mark Knopfler / Romeo and Juliet – William Shakespeare
“Romeo and Juliet”, the most well known tragedy to have ever left William Shakespeares pen, tells the bittersweet story of two lovers whose families are only reconciled by the death of the two. Numerous artists from classical music, pop and rock have taken up the theme for themselves. For example, Mark Knopfler with the ballad by the same name “Romeo and Juliet”, which famously became a worldwide success for him. In his lyrics, he describes the scene in which Juliet finds fame, leaves her Romeo and moves away from the neighbourhood where they first met.
All Along the Watchtower – Bob Dylan / Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
“All Along the Watchtower” was originally penned by Bob Dylan, although the title later gained momentum in a significantly modified version by Jimi Hendrix. According to the rumors, the title is based on the horror novel “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley, one of the horror classics par excellence. Especially since most of Bob Dylan’s lyrics are spiced with aphorisms, the connection is easy to imagine.
There are numerous other examples of the congenial synergy of literature and music. What both art forms have in common is that they are constantly on the lookout for the extraordinary and also like to pass the ball to each other. Critics, literary experts and music fans often interpret something that is not there into pieces of music. And just as often, the musicians do not contradict. Why should they?