So, what is it that inspires bands to write songs? Yes, we all know that sex, drugs, booze and jolly japes come into the equation. But occasionally, just occasionally, something altogether more highbrow hovers into view, and musos get all literary on our asses.
10 Classic Rock Songs Inspired by Literature
Sometimes it isn't about booze'n'birds.
There are considerably more examples than you might expect. But just to dip toes in an aqueous solution, here are 10 which quickly spring to mind.
Anthrax Among The Living
From the 1987 album of the same title, this was based around the Stephen King novel The Stand. The plot is about a post-apocalyptic crisis, as a lethal flu strain escapes its militaristic containment, and threatens global annihilation. Very thrash metal! The album’s artwork was rumoured to have been based around The Stand as well, in particular the character of the tyrannical Randall Flagg, but drummer Charlie Benante, who came up with the idea, has denied this.
Stevie Nicks Annabel Lee
From the 2011 album In Your Dreams, la Nicks actually wrote this when she was 17 years old, and then promptly forgot about it for several hundred years or so. It’s an adaptation of an Edgar Allen Poe poem of the same title. And this deals with one of Poe’s favourite themes: the death of a beautiful woman. Somehow the combination of Nicks and Poe seems obvious. The doomed nature of the latter’s work and life is perfect for a Nicksian outpouring.
Blue Öyster Cult Black Blade
From the 1980 album Cultosaurus Erectus, this is a rarity among literary inspired songs, in that it was co-written by the man whose fiction was a huge influence here. Michael Moorcock is the man in question, and the song is based on Elric, perhaps his most celebrated character, who wields the soul-sucking sword named Stormbringer (yes, we know about the Purple connection!). Moorcock also wrote lyrics for BOC songs Veteran Of The Psychic Wars and The Great Sun Jester.
Hawkwind Damnation Alley
From the 1977 album Quark, Strangeness And Charm, this is based around the Roger Zelazny novel of the same title. Yet again, we are in a hellish world, ripped apart by a nuclear war. A film adaptation came out in 77, but this song was first performed the previous year, so wasn’t conjured up because of the movie, which was fairly rubbish anyway. What was Damnation Alley? A treacherous route linking Los Angeles and Boston.
Metallica For Whom The Bell Tolls
From the 1984 album Ride The Lightning, it was based on the classic Ernest Hemingway 1940 novel of the same title, which was set in the Spanish Civil War. The song itself revels in one scene from the book, where soldiers are slaughtered during an air raid. Trivia tarts might wish to make something of the fact that the Hemingway book was published about the same time as Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun, which inspired Metallica’s One.
Led Zeppelin Misty Mountain Hop
From the 1971 album Led Zeppelin IV, this was inspired by the Misty Mountains mentioned in The Hobbit. There are songs throughout the Zeppelin catalogue which are based on Tolkien characters and plots, but this one got its start after Robert Plant was jailed overnight, having been caught in Hyde Park after dark. With nothing better to do, he obviously began to dream about the famed Middle-earth mouth mountain range. As you would.
Ramones Pet Sematary
From the 1989 album Brain Drain, this was originally written for the movie adaptation of the Stephen King novel. King loved the band, and there are constant references to them in his books. The song became one of their biggest hits.
Jefferson Airplane White Rabbit
From the 1967 album Surrealistic Pillow, this isn’t actually an Airplane song. Well it is, but was written by Grace Slick before she joined the band. It’s inspired by Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and Through The Looking-Glass, and the drug connotations are obvious. In fact, the seemingly innocuous references to Lewis Carroll’s masterworks might have helped this drug-soaked counter culture anthem to get past radio censors and onto the air in America. Cunning
Iron Maiden To Tame A Land
From the 1983 album Piece Of Mind, this was one of a number of literary inspired songs on the album (others include Where Eagles Dare and The Trooper). It’s based on the Frank Herbert epic Dune, and that was the track’s original title. But when Maiden wrote to the author seeking permission to call it Dune, he replied by stating he didn’t like ‘heavy rock bands, and especially rock bands like Iron Maiden’. Ouch! Bruce Dickinson reacted by calling the anti-metal writer a “cunt” onstage in Sweden. The saga of the song title is almost worthy of a track being written in its own right
Rolling Stones Sympathy For The Devil
From the 1968 album Beggars Banquet. Mick Jagger was responsible for much of the writing on the song, and has admitted be took inspiration from the Mikhail Bulgakov novel The Master And Margarita. Originally in Russian, it was translated into English in 1967, and he was given a copy by Marianne Faithfull. Jagger also acknowledged the influence of French poet Baudelaire, but it’s certainly Bulgakov’s brilliant depiction of Lucifer that most informs the lyrics.