Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Musicians Show Off Book Smarts in Song Lyrics

Listening to music, it's easy to get caught up in the beat or the overall feel of the song. Yet, if you stop and really listen to the lyrics of some songs, you might be surprised to discover some serious literary references being dropped.
The Rolling Stones performing in 1968.
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Take, for instance, the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil." It's pretty much common knowledge that the song, from the Stones' 1968 album Beggars Banquet, was inspired by The Master and the Margarita, a book by Mikhail Bulgakov that Mick Jagger had read. However, Jagger has also gone on record as saying he was influenced by the French poet Charles Baudelaire in writing "Sympathy for the Devil." Jagger told Rolling Stone magazine in a 1995 interview, "I think that was taken from an old idea of Baudelaire's, I think. But I could be wrong. Sometimes when I look at my Baudelaire books, I can't see it in there. But it was an idea I got from French writing. And I just took a couple of lines and expanded on it."

Including the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil," the people at ShortList Magazine have come up with "25 Songs That Reference Books." Another obvious choice comes from the music of Led Zeppelin. "Ramble On," from the 1969 album Led Zeppelin II, mentions names that will be familiar to fans of J.R.R. Tolkien. Here is a lyric from the song: "'Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor/I met a girl so fair/But Gollum, and the evil one crept up/And slipped away with her." These references are from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books. (In the comments section of the ShortList article, readers suggested additional artists who were inspired by Tolkien, among them the German metal band Blind Guardian.)

ShortList also makes it known that David Bowie's 1974 album Diamond Dogs is chock-full of references to the George Orwell novel 1984. At least three songs on the album refer to 1984, including "We Are the Dead," and more obviously, "Big Brother" and "1984." Case in point, here are lyrics from the song "1984": "They'll split your pretty cranium and fill it full of air/And tell you that you're eighty, but brother, you won't care/Beware the savage jaw of 1984." (One commentor pointed out that, besides Bowie, Rage Against the Machine also repeatedly referenced 1984 in their 1999 album The Battle of Los Angeles, with three songs on the album - "Testify," "Sleep Now in the Fire," and "Voice of the Voiceless" - featuring mentions of Orwell's novel.)

Other musicians who've shown off book smarts in the lyrics of their songs are, according to ShortList: Radiohead ("Dollars & Cents"), The Strokes ("Soma"), Joy Division ("Atrocity Exhibition"), the Velvet Underground ("Venus in Furs"), Nirvana ("Scentless Apprentice"), the Pixies ("Dead"), Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds ("Red Right Hand"), Leonard Cohen ("Hallelujah"), and more. Readers of the article added: Jefferson Airplane ("White Rabbit"), the Mountain Goats ("Love Love Love"), MGMT ("The Handshake"), Noisettes ("Atticus"), Kate Bush ("Wuthering Heights"), Regina Spektor ("Baobabs"), Panic! At the Disco ("Time to Dance"), and lots more.

To see all "25 Songs That Reference Books," and the many more that music-loving commentors said were missed, go to the ShortList article at THIS LINK.

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