Top Ten Songs Inspired by Books

Musicians often turn to literature for inspiration. Among other reasons, it makes writing lyrics easier.

I've imposed a limit of one song per artist/author for my top ten for the sake of variety. It led me to leave out many brilliant works.

The Top Ten

1 1984 - David Bowie

There have been dozens of songs inspired by George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, performed by artists from the Eurythmics (who provided the movie's soundtrack) to Radiohead. However, there are no fewer than five on David Bowie's 1974 album Diamond Dogs. He was planning a musical adaptation of the novel, but Orwell's widow refused to give him the rights. Rightfully so, in my opinion--Bowie makes incredible music, but his flair for the dramatic (the story of Ziggy Stardust, for instance) wouldn't have suited the novel's mood. - PetSounds

2 The Cask of Amontillado - Alan Parsons Project

This track comes from the Alan Parsons Project's 1976 concept album Tales of Mystery and Imagination, which is entirely based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe and often takes lyrics directly from his poetry and stories. - PetSounds

3 Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season) - The Byrds

"Turn! Turn! Turn! " was written by Pete Seeger and originally performed by The Limeliters, but The Byrds' ethereal harmonies and jangly guitars propelled it to the top of the charts in 1965. With words taken nearly verbatim from The Bible's Book of Ecclesiastes, it has the distinction of being the US #1 hit with the oldest lyrics. - PetSounds

4 The Battle of Evermore - Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin were huge J.R.R. Tolkien fans. Two songs on their 1971 masterpiece, IV, were inspired by the Lord of the Rings--"Misty Mountain Hop" and "The Battle of Evermore". The latter's lyrics include references to "Avalon" and the "Dark Lord". - PetSounds

That's awesome. Lord of the Rings and Led Zeppelin are one of the greatest things in existence.

5 White Rabbit - Jefferson Airplane

From Jefferson Airplane's 1967 album, Surrealistic Pillow, "White Rabbit" dropped many references to Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, including the Red Queen, the hookah-smoking caterpillar, and of course the White Rabbit. It also dropped many references to psychedelics. How it sneaked past the censors is a mystery to me, but it reached #8 on the US Billboard Hot 100. - PetSounds

6 The Ghost of Tom Joad - Bruce Springsteen

The title track of The Boss's 1995 album references John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath--Tom Joad is one of the main characters. Its third verse paraphrases a famous speech from the novel. - PetSounds

7 Dante's Inferno - Iced Earth
8 Wheel of Time - Blind Guardian

Based on Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series.

This is one of the most impressive modern songs I've ever heard. - Metal_Treasure

9 Crimson King - Demons and Wizards

Based on The Dark Tower (series) - Stephen King. - Metal_Treasure

10 Rocket Man - Elton John

Bet you didn't know this one! Elton's lyricist, Bernie Taupin, was inspired by a short story called "The Rocket Man". The author: Ray Bradbury, best known for Fahrenheit 451. Released in 1972, the song hit #2 on the UK charts. Interestingly enough, its producer, Gus Dudgeon, had worked with David Bowie on "Space Oddity" three years earlier. Similarities between the two tracks are evident. - PetSounds

Thanks! Great source that I wasn't aware of to another of my "favorite" songs - especially from that time period (a la Space Oddity) when space travel was a very new, lonely and much more risky adventure. - Billyv

The Contenders

11 Lord of the Rings - Blind Guardian
12 Heaven Denies - Demons and Wizards
13 Venus in Furs - The Velvet Underground

From The Velvet Underground's 1967 album, The Velvet Underground & Nico, "Venus in Furs" is about two characters from Leopold van Sacher-Masoch's novel of the same name. - PetSounds

14 Dracula - Iced Earth
15 Thorn - Blind Guardian
16 Sympathy for the Devil - The Rolling Stones

Mick Jagger was inspired to write the opener of the Stones' 1968 album, Beggars Banquet, by the works of Charles Baudelaire and Mikhail Bulgakov, specifically the latter's The Master and Margarita. - PetSounds

17 Majesty - Blind Guardian

Inspired by the Lord of the Rings - Metal_Treasure

18 Paperback Writer - The Beatles

This wasn't inspired by one particular book. Rather, it's an ode to lliterature in general. "Paperback Writer" is significant in that it was the Beatles first single to veer from the typical love song course. It performed well, topping the charts in eight different countries. Quite a feat in the pre-social media world of 1966. - PetSounds

19 1984 - Spirit

RIP to Spirit's lead guitar/vocalist Randy California, he died a hero saving his 13-year old son in dangerous Hawaiian surf.
By the way, he received the name Randy California from none other than Jimi Hendrix, when Hendrix had a pickup band with two guys named Randy in it, though we never really heard from the one Hendrix labeled "Randy Texas".

Not to be confused with David Bowie's tune from the 1970's, this song was released in 1969 and featured a hard-rocking sound, but was suddenly stopped as it headed up the charts because many radio stations in the US and UK banned it from airplay.

20 Nightfall - Blind Guardian

This song is from their high rated concept album 'Nightfall in Middle-Earth' (1998), which is entirely based on J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion.

The singer and lyricist has been a huge Tolkien fan since his childhood. - Metal_Treasure

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List Stats

45 listings
3 years, 5 days old

Top Remixes

1. Wheel of Time - Blind Guardian
2. Dante's Inferno - Iced Earth
3. Crimson King - Demons and Wizards
1. The Cask of Amontillado - Alan Parsons Project
2. 1984 - David Bowie
3. Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season) - The Byrds



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