20 Songs About Books

Songs about books bridge the captivating world of literature with the expressive realm of music, creating a unique auditory experience that highlights the influence of classic and contemporary literary works on various artists. These tracks, ranging from Kate Bush’s interpretation of “Wuthering Heights” to Metallica’s take on “One,” showcase how musicians transform the themes, stories, and characters from beloved books into compelling songs.

1. “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush

“Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush is directly inspired by Emily Brontë’s novel of the same name, a fact that has fascinated listeners since the song was first released. Kate Bush captures the novel’s haunting atmosphere and tumultuous romance through her ethereal voice and emotive lyrics, effectively transporting listeners to the moors and into the heartache of the book’s characters.

The song not only immortalizes the story’s essence but also showcases Bush’s unique ability to intertwine literature with music, creating an unforgettable, atmospheric piece that resonates with fans of the book and music lovers alike. Through “Wuthering Heights,” Kate Bush has created a timeless tribute to Emily Brontë’s masterpiece, demonstrating the profound impact that literature can have on music.

2. “Gravity’s Rainbow” by Klaxons

“Gravity’s Rainbow” by Klaxons shares its title with Thomas Pynchon’s complex and critically acclaimed novel, hinting at a thematic and stylistic connection between the two works. While the song does not directly narrate the plot of Pynchon’s novel, it captures its essence through abstract lyrics and a kaleidoscopic sound that mirrors the novel’s intricate structure and its themes of paranoia, technology, and the quest for meaning in chaos.

The Klaxons manage to encapsulate the novel’s dense and layered narrative into a musical experience that is both enigmatic and engaging, drawing parallels to Pynchon’s narrative style and his ability to blend disparate elements into a cohesive whole. Through “Gravity’s Rainbow,” the band invites listeners to explore the novel’s themes in a new and compelling medium, showcasing the song’s depth and the novel’s enduring influence on contemporary culture.

3. “Scentless Apprentice” by Nirvana

“Scentless Apprentice” by Nirvana is a visceral musical interpretation of Patrick Süskind’s novel “Perfume,” a story that delves deep into the dark and morbid aspects of human obsession. The song, with its intense and raw energy, reflects the novel’s grim narrative about a man with a superior olfactory sense, turning to murder in his quest to create the world’s finest perfume.

Nirvana captures the novel’s macabre themes through their signature grunge sound, with Kurt Cobain’s haunting vocals and aggressive guitar riffs mirroring the story’s unsettling atmosphere. “Scentless Apprentice” showcases Nirvana’s ability to translate complex literary themes into powerful music, providing a sonic exploration of “Perfume”‘s dark narrative.

4. “I Am The Walrus” by The Beatles

“I Am The Walrus” by The Beatles is a mesmerizing blend of surreal imagery and abstract lyrics that draws inspiration from the nonsense verse of Lewis Carroll, particularly his works like “Through the Looking-Glass” and “The Walrus and The Carpenter.” The song’s lyrical content, filled with enigmatic phrases and peculiar characters, reflects Carroll’s influence in its playful manipulation of language and thought-provoking absurdity.

The Beatles, through this iconic track, not only pay homage to Carroll’s unique style but also push the boundaries of musical storytelling, incorporating a blend of rock and orchestral sounds. The song’s vivid, dreamlike quality captures the essence of Carroll’s whimsical literature, inviting listeners to dive into a world where reality and fantasy merge seamlessly, mirroring the fantastical adventures found in his books.

5. “1984” by David Bowie

“1984” by David Bowie is a direct nod to George Orwell’s dystopian novel of the same name, encapsulating the story’s themes of surveillance, control, and rebellion against a totalitarian regime through its lyrics and mood. Bowie’s fascination with Orwell’s work not only influenced this particular track but also shaped the concept of his album “Diamond Dogs,” where elements of a post-apocalyptic world blend with Orwellian dystopia.

The track’s dramatic and foreboding sound mirrors the novel’s oppressive atmosphere, with Bowie using his music to explore and critique societal and political issues. Through “1984,” David Bowie transforms Orwell’s vision into a sonic experience, reflecting on the power of art to confront and question the realities of its time, thereby cementing the song’s place as a creative intersection between literature and music.

6. “Ramble On” by Led Zeppelin

“Ramble On” by Led Zeppelin weaves the magical and adventurous spirit of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” into rock music, with lyrics that vividly reference the quest and fantasy elements of the novel. This song stands out as an homage to Tolkien’s Middle-earth, mentioning “Gollum” and “the evil one” in its journey through lyrical landscapes that echo the epic quests of the book’s characters.

Through “Ramble On,” Led Zeppelin brilliantly marries the realms of music and fantasy literature, crafting a song that not only resonates with fans of rock but also with lovers of Tolkien’s work. The blending of Robert Plant’s distinctive vocals with the narrative of “The Lord of the Rings” showcases the band’s creative ability to draw inspiration from literature, adding a layer of depth and storytelling to their music.

7. “The Small Print” by Muse

“The Small Print” by Muse taps into the timeless narrative of making a deal with the devil, drawing a thematic parallel to the legend of “Faust.” The song delves into themes of temptation, sacrifice, and the consequences of one’s choices, mirroring the moral and existential dilemmas faced by Faust in the legendary tale.

While not explicitly mentioning “Faust,” the song’s lyrical exploration of bargaining one’s soul and the heavy cost associated with such a pact reflects the essence of the Faustian legend. Muse’s energetic and intense musical composition amplifies the song’s themes, effectively encapsulating the cautionary aspects of the story. Through “The Small Print,” Muse brings a modern rock perspective to the ancient story, highlighting the relevance of its lessons in contemporary life.

8. “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane

“White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane masterfully uses “Alice in Wonderland” as a metaphor for the psychedelic experiences that defined the 1960s counterculture. Specific lines in the song reference characters and elements from Lewis Carroll’s classic, such as “the hookah smoking caterpillar” and “the Red Queen,” to illustrate the surreal and transformative aspects of these experiences.

The song parallels Alice’s journey, with its expanding and contracting realities, to the mind-altering journeys induced by psychedelics, capturing the essence of questioning and exploring one’s consciousness. Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” emerges as a compelling invitation to venture down the rabbit hole, using Carroll’s story as a framework to explore and challenge perceptions of reality through the lens of psychedelic exploration.

9. “Catcher in the Rye” by Guns N’ Roses

“Catcher in the Rye” by Guns N’ Roses delves into the themes of alienation and disillusionment, drawing a clear inspiration from J.D. Salinger’s iconic novel. The song reflects the novel’s narrative voice and its critique of society’s phoniness, mirroring the protagonist Holden Caulfield’s journey through a period of introspection and rebellion.

The thematic similarities between the song and the novel are evident as Guns N’ Roses tap into the emotional turmoil and existential questioning that define Caulfield’s character. Through “Catcher in the Rye,” the band captures the essence of Salinger’s work, translating its poignant themes into a rock medium, and inviting listeners to contemplate the complexities of adolescence and identity.

10. “One” by Metallica

“One” by Metallica is a powerful musical adaptation of themes from Dalton Trumbo’s anti-war novel “Johnny Got His Gun.” The song hauntingly conveys the story of a soldier who, after being severely injured in war, finds himself trapped in a state of isolation, unable to communicate with or perceive the outside world, much like the novel’s protagonist.

Metallica’s “One” masterfully captures the novel’s anti-war message, emphasizing the physical and psychological toll of conflict. The song’s intense and somber composition, coupled with its graphic music video featuring scenes from the film adaptation of the novel, serves as a poignant reminder of war’s devastating effects, making a strong statement against the dehumanization and suffering caused by armed conflict.

11. “Shelter from the Storm” by Bob Dylan

“Shelter from the Storm” by Bob Dylan, while not directly referencing “Moby Dick,” can be seen as echoing themes similar to those in Herman Melville’s epic tale, particularly in the quest for solace and understanding in a tumultuous world. Dylan’s lyrics about seeking refuge from a harsh and unforgiving storm can be metaphorically linked to the relentless pursuit of the white whale, a journey fraught with adversity and the desire for redemption or a place of safety.

The song’s narrative of finding sanctuary, possibly in another person or in a moment of peace, resonates with the existential search and struggle that characterizes “Moby Dick.” Through “Shelter from the Storm,” Bob Dylan articulates a universal longing for comfort and protection in an unpredictable world, reflecting themes of the human condition that are as present in Melville’s work as they are in Dylan’s lyrical storytelling.

12. “Sylvia Plath” by Ryan Adams

“Sylvia Plath” by Ryan Adams is a poignant tribute to the famed poet and novelist, delving into the complex emotions and themes that characterized Plath’s life and work. Adams’ lyrics reflect a deep connection and understanding of Plath’s struggle with mental health and her search for identity, themes prevalent throughout her poetry and her novel “The Bell Jar.”

The song captures the sense of melancholy and introspection that is synonymous with Plath’s writing, offering a musical exploration of her poetic landscape. Through “Sylvia Plath,” Ryan Adams not only pays homage to the tragic figure but also brings her emotive and evocative themes into the realm of music, allowing listeners to experience the depth and intensity of Plath’s world through his melodic composition.

13. “Charlotte Sometimes” by The Cure

“Charlotte Sometimes” by The Cure takes its name and inspiration directly from Penelope Farmer’s novel, creating a seamless crossover of themes and narrative between the song and the book. The song mirrors the novel’s story of identity, confusion, and the disorienting experience of time travel that the protagonist, Charlotte, undergoes, switching places with someone from the past.

Through its haunting melody and reflective lyrics, The Cure captures the essence of Charlotte’s emotional journey and the surreal experience of living another life in another time. “Charlotte Sometimes” stands as a testament to the band’s ability to weave complex literary themes into their music, creating a song that not only pays tribute to Penelope Farmer’s novel but also expands its reach to a new audience, inviting them to explore the depths of Charlotte’s story.

14. “Tales of Brave Ulysses” by Cream

“Tales of Brave Ulysses” by Cream is deeply influenced by Homer’s epic poem, “The Odyssey,” with lyrics that paint vivid pictures reminiscent of Odysseus’s long and arduous journey home. The song specifically references the mythical and enchanting elements of the ancient text, such as the siren’s call, illustrating the allure and danger that the hero faces.

The psychedelic sound of Cream complements the lyrical homage to “The Odyssey,” evoking the poem’s themes of adventure, temptation, and the quest for home. Through “Tales of Brave Ulysses,” Cream transports listeners to the fantastical world of Homer’s creation, blending rock music with classical literature to explore the timeless appeal of the hero’s journey.

15. “Lolita” by Lana Del Rey

“Lolita” by Lana Del Rey emerges as a controversial yet captivating interpretation of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, reflecting the complex themes of desire, obsession, and the manipulation of power dynamics. Del Rey’s choice to draw from “Lolita” has sparked discussions about the complexities of the novel’s themes and how they align with the singer’s exploration of young love and its darker, more problematic undercurrents.

The song weaves in the novel’s thematic essence with Del Rey’s signature style of sultry and melancholic lyricism, blurring the lines between innocence and seduction, much like Nabokov’s narrative. Through “Lolita,” Lana Del Rey invites listeners to delve into the nuanced and morally ambiguous territory that the novel navigates, showcasing her ability to reinterpret and voice classic literature’s intricate themes in modern pop culture.

16. “Tom Joad” by Woody Guthrie

“Tom Joad” by Woody Guthrie is a soul-stirring ballad that encapsulates the spirit and struggles of the character Tom Joad from John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.” Guthrie’s song narrates Joad’s journey and transformations, highlighting his resilience and moral evolution as he navigates the hardships of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, echoing the novel’s portrayal of struggle, injustice, and the quest for dignity.

The song’s lyrical depth and Guthrie’s earnest delivery serve as a tribute to the enduring fight against social injustice, mirroring Tom Joad’s commitment to standing up for what’s right as depicted in Steinbeck’s narrative. Through “Tom Joad,” Woody Guthrie not only brings Steinbeck’s character to life in a new medium but also amplifies the novel’s themes of solidarity, resilience, and the pursuit of a better life against all odds, solidifying the song’s place as a powerful piece of protest music.

17. “Hurdy Gurdy Man” by Donovan

“Hurdy Gurdy Man” by Donovan weaves a tapestry of spiritual themes that may find echoes in Hermann Hesse’s novel “Siddhartha,” exploring concepts of enlightenment, the search for meaning, and the interconnectedness of all things. While Donovan’s song does not explicitly mention “Siddhartha,” its mystical lyrics and the emphasis on a spiritual journey resonate with the novel’s exploration of self-discovery and the quest for spiritual fulfillment.

The song’s enigmatic lyrics invite listeners to ponder deeper truths and the nature of enlightenment, much like Siddhartha’s experiences by the river and his encounters with different walks of life that guide him towards spiritual awakening. Through “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” Donovan captures the essence of a spiritual quest, paralleling “Siddhartha”‘s narrative with lyrical storytelling that encourages introspection and the pursuit of inner peace.

18. “Pet Sematary” by The Ramones

“Pet Sematary” by The Ramones was crafted as a haunting tribute to Stephen King’s novel of the same title, embedding the book’s eerie and spooky atmosphere into a rock song. King, a noted fan of the band, inspired The Ramones to create a track that encapsulates the novel’s themes of death, resurrection, and the chilling consequences of tampering with the boundaries of life and death.

The song’s lyrics, infused with references to the novel’s storyline and its unsettling vibe, evoke the creepy essence of King’s tale, mixing catchy melodies with a sense of foreboding. “Pet Sematary” by The Ramones not only pays homage to Stephen King’s horror classic but also succeeds in translating its macabre atmosphere into a rock anthem, showcasing the band’s ability to convey complex narratives through their music.

19. “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Shakira

“Love in the Time of Cholera” by Shakira is inspired by Gabriel García Márquez’s novel, weaving its themes of enduring love and the passage of time into her music. The Colombian singer-songwriter, like Márquez, explores the depth and persistence of love through her lyrics, reflecting the novel’s portrayal of love as an ever-present force, capable of transcending the challenges of time and circumstance.

Shakira’s interpretation brings a fresh, musical perspective to the novel’s themes, offering listeners an emotive exploration of love’s complexities and its power to endure against all odds. Through her song, Shakira pays tribute to García Márquez’s masterpiece, highlighting the universal nature of love and its profound impact on the human experience, thereby connecting her work to the rich literary heritage of her homeland.

20. “My Antonia” by Emmylou Harris feat. Dave Matthews

“My Antonia” by Emmylou Harris feat. Dave Matthews beautifully adapts Willa Cather’s novel “My Ántonia,” capturing the essence of nostalgia and the immigrant experience that are central to the novel’s narrative. The song’s lyrics reflect on the enduring bond between the characters and their shared memories, echoing the novel’s themes of longing, resilience, and the search for identity amidst the challenges of the American frontier.

The collaboration between Emmylou Harris and Dave Matthews adds a poignant layer to the song, their harmonies invoking the deep sense of connection and affection for the past that the novel portrays. Through “My Antonia,” the artists bring Cather’s story to life in a new medium, offering a tribute to the novel’s exploration of the complexities of friendship, memory, and the immigrant journey in shaping the American experience.