10 Songs Inspired by Books

Jul 12

For the love of books… statues have been sculpted… songs have been sung…

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Here are 10 random songs inspired by books…

1. Whip Whip It by Devo

According to SongFacts.com,1

Jerry Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh formed Devo when they were students at Kent State University. Jerry told us how this song came together:

“Whip It, like many Devo songs, had a long gestation, a long process. The lyrics were written by me as an imitation of Thomas Pynchon’s parodies in his book Gravity’s Rainbow. He had parodied limericks and poems of kind of all-American, obsessive, cult of personality ideas like Horatio Alger and ‘You’re #1, there’s nobody else like you’ kind of poems that were very funny and very clever. I thought, ‘I’d like to do one like Thomas Pynchon,’ so I wrote down ‘Whip It’ one night. Mark had recorded some sketches for song ideas in his apartment, and when we’d get together every day to write, rehearse and practice, we would listen to everybody’s snippets of ideas. He had this tape with about 8 things on it, and one of them had a drum beat that was very interesting, it became the ‘Whip It’ drum beat. Then 3 other songs had pieces of what became the ‘Whip It’ song, except they were in different time signatures and different tempos. I put them all together into one composition. All the parts of the song got rolled into one song. Then we started putting the lyrics over the top of it and liked the idea of how it was working out. We started practicing it every day, until we got it to the point where we really liked it and we thought it was really snappy. Then we recorded it. We didn’t like it any better or any less than any of the other songs we were doing, and we had no idea it would become a hit.”

2. Tomorrow Tomorrow Never Knows by The Beatles

It was inspired by Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert’s book The Psychedelic Experience, which Lennon would read while tripping on LSD. Lennon recorded himself reading from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, played it back while tripping on LSD, and wrote the song.2

3. The The Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber

This song and the play was based on the book The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, a french writer.

4. Soulmate Soulmate by Natasha Bedingfield

Bedingfield told CNN’s Shanon Cook that this song was inspired by John Gray’s book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. She explained: “The book is just all about how men and women are different and how we kind of have to explain to each other, because we’re speaking in a different language — how to love in the way that we need it.”3

5. Don't Don’t Let Me Fall by Lenka

This song was inspired by No One Belongs Here More Than You, a collection of short stories by the writer, director and performance artist Miranda July. Lenka explained to Spectrum Culture: “It is a collection of short stories and she has this very unique, amazing warts-and-all way of accessing the human psyche and all its flaws and putting it out there. All your fears and all the things that are so weird about being a human with emotions. So, I was fully absorbed in this book and that day when I was writing – I was writing a song with a friend – I guess it was like, it didn’t turn out like this, but it was intended to be, lyrically a very wounded, scared person falling in love, hoping that the person’s not going to trample on their heart. But it sort of musically, particularly once we went into the studio and had David Campbell do the string arranging, turned into this orchestral very lovely song. So, it turned out like a lullaby, which is really quite weird. I guess a parent/child relationship has a lot of insecurities as well, so that is how it came about.”4

6. Guns November Rain by Guns N’ Roses

The lyrics and the video are based on a short story by Del James called Without You. The story is part of a collection called The Language Of Fear, which was brought back to market in 2008 after being out of print. The new version of the book contains an intro by Axl Rose, who wrote: “Del James has a personal knowledge of most of the situations he writes about, and has a love of the gutter from having been there.” James contributed lyrics to 2 Guns N’ Roses songs: The Garden and Yesterdays, and has directed several music videos.5

7. Don't Don’t Stand So Close To Me by The Police

The line “Just like the old man in the book by Nabokov” refers to the novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, which is about an older man who pursues underage girls. Sting based this song on the book. Sting mispronounces the author’s name – the “bo” should be stressed. Also, in the novel Lolita, Humbert is not quite an old man.6

8. China China In Your Hand by T’Pau

This song was inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, specifically, a line about Frankenstein’s dreams crumbling: “Don’t push too hard, your dreams are china in your hand.”7

9. Dodo Dodo by David Bowie

The Diamond Dogs album is based on the novel 1984 by George Orwell. This song didn’t make the cut, but was released in 1990 with the reissue of the album. The song is about a betrayal, similar to the theme of the novel. The Dodo is an extinct bird, and in this song the breed of human they claim to be is extinct, and they are now like everyone else, shown in the lyric, “brainwashing time.” Another reference to the novel and “Big Brother” is the line, “Can you wipe your nose, my child, without them slotting into your file a photograph?”8

10. Morning Morning Has Broken by Cat Stevens

Stevens got the lyrics from a hymn book he found at a bookstore while looking for song ideas. It was a children’s hymn by Eleanor Farjeon, who also wrote a lot of children’s poetry. Stevens explained on The Chris Isaak Hour: “I accidentally fell upon the song when I was going through a slightly dry period and I needed another song or two for Teaser And The Firecat. I came across this hymn book, found this one song, and thought, This is good. I put the chords to it and then it started becoming associated with me.”9

I did a little more research on this last song and the children’s hymn was named the same. Here is what I found about it on Wikipedia,

The hymn originally appeared in the second edition of Songs of Praise (published in 1931), to the tune “Bunessan”, arranged by the composer Martin Shaw. In Songs of Praise Discussed, the editor, Percy Dearmer, explains that as there was need for a hymn to give thanks for each day, English poet and children’s author Eleanor Farjeon had been “asked to make a poem to fit the lovely gaelic tune”. A slight variation on the original hymn, also written by Eleanor Farjeon, can be found in the form of a poem contributed to the anthology Children’s Bells, under Farjeon’s new title, “A Morning Song (For the First Day of Spring)”, published by Oxford University Press in 1957.

“Bunessan” had been found in L. McBean’s Songs and Hymns of the Gael, published in 1900. Before Farjeon’s words, the tune was used as a Christmas carol, which began “Child in the manger, Infant of Mary”, translated from the Gaelic lyrics written by Mary MacDonald. The English-language Roman Catholic hymnal also uses the tune for the hymn, “This Day God Gives Me”. Morning has Broken is played in the 9/4 time signature with a waltzing “3/4” feel.

  1. http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=722 []
  2. http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=114 []
  3. http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=15491 []
  4. http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=15987 []
  5. http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=2904 []
  6. http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=1220 []
  7. http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=5952 []
  8. http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=19661 []
  9. http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=289 []

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