Music has long been a way of handling all that life throws at us, from songwriters channeling their personal experiences into the lyrics to those of listening who feel a little bit better when we put on our favorite song and feel like the lyrics could be about our lives. But sometimes, songwriters' inspiration comes from not falling in love or having their heart broken but instead from the pages of their favorite book or the lines of a beloved poem. Here are 19 songs whose origins are in literature.
19. Queen - The Invisible Man
Classic literature has played a role in plenty of songs, and rock band Queen's "The Invisible Man" is just one example, taking its name from the classic sci-fi book. Written by drummer Roger Taylor after reading--presumably, the H.G. Wells novel--the lyrics play with the paranormal aspects of the story, referencing an invisible man creeping around unnoticed, with a music video to match.
18. The Beatles - Tomorrow Never Knows
Musical legends The Beatles got psychedelic in 1966 with "Tomorrow Never Knows," the closing track on Revolver, and so some of their lyrical inspiration should be no surprise. John Lennon wrote some of the song's lyrics based on The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner, most notably the lines, "Turn off your mind/Relax and float downstream."
17. The Strokes - Soma
Rock band The Strokes' track "Soma" references the sci-fi novel Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. The name -and first few lines-- were teaken from a fictional drug in the novel. The lyrics "Soma is what they would take when/Hard times opened their eyes/Saw pain in a new way" explain the calming function of the drug, which is distributed for free and taken to combat negative emotions.
16. Led Zeppelin - Ramble On
The upbeat "Ramble On" from Led Zeppelin II is a guitar-filled song about a man heading off to find his woman, but it also includes multiple references to J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. The opening lines are taken from a poem Tolkien wrote in Elvish, and the trilogy is also referenced near the end of the song. The lines, "'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," reference the volcanic plains of Middle Earth from Tolkien's novels, as well as villain Gollum, a Hobbit corrupted and disfigured by the powerful One Ring. However, the song's writer, frontman Robert Plant, later said the references made no sense and embarrassed him. Still, "Ramble On" isn't the only song which shows Led Zeppelin's love of Tolkien--"Misty Mountain Hop" takes its name from a location in the series, and "The Battle of Evermore" mentions the creepy, black-clad wraiths. And the band was by no means the only one to reference the trilogy, either.
15. The Ramones - Pet Sematary
When Stephen King's horror novel "Pet Sematary," about a burial ground which resurrects anything and anyone buried there, got a film adaptation, punk band The Ramones--a favorite of King's--wrote a song for it. Released in 1989, its verses include numerous references to death and burial, while the chorus mirrors the novel's plot more directly: "I don't wanna be buried/In a pet cemetery/I don't want to live my life again." And although a number of Ramones songs are more recognizable now, "Pet Sematary" was the band's biggest Top 10 hit.
14. Pink Floyd - Pigs (Three Different Ones)
Classic-rock band Pink Floyd's most political work most often originated with the outspoken Roger Waters, and this was the case with Animals, a political album with a loose basis in George Orwell's novel Animal Farm. The inspiration is most notable in "Pigs (Three Different Ones)," which hearkens back to the novel's pessimistic ending and presents pigs as people who Waters considers to be at the top of the social ladder.The song also spawned the band's iconic inflatable pig, which is still a staple of Waters' solo performances, floating around arenas emblazoned with a number of political statements and references to current events.
13. Donovan - Riki Tiki Tavi
For the most part, Donovan's upbeat "Riki Tiki Tavi" has verses focused on political commentary, but the song takes its name from a character in Rudyard Kipling's novel The Jungle Book. The lyrics also mention the novel quite directly, as Donovan sings, "Everybody who read the Jungle Book knows that Riki Tiki Tavi's a mongoose who kills snakes," and Donovan goes on to use the mongoose as a metaphor throughout the rest of the lyrics. An earlier version of the song also includes commentary on drug use.
12. My Chemical Romance - To the End
Early 2000s rock band My Chemical Romance took its name from the Irvine Welsh book Ecstasy: Three Tales of Chemical Romance, so it's no surprise that literature provided lyrical inspiration, too. The dark "To the End" from sophomore concept album Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge was inspired by the William Faulkner story "A Rose for Emily," a story of a woman who poisons her husband when she suspects he's gay.
11. Muse - United States of Eurasia
Rock band Muse has a discography full of songs with political themes, and at least one of them was inspired by a book. Frontman Matthew Bellamy wrote "United States of Eurasia," lead single on The Resistance, after reading The Grand Chessboard by Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Polish-born advisor to former president Jimmy Carter. The book suggests that Europe, Asia and the Middle East need to be controlled by America to secure the oil supply. The song also contains elements of George Orwell's 1984.
10. Elton John - Rocket Man
Now one of Elton John's most famous songs, lyricist Bernie Taupin was inspired by science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury's short story "The Rocket Man"--and by a similar song by band Pearls Before Swine. The story is told from the perspective of a child whose father is an astronaut.
9. Dire Straits - Romeo and Juliet
Few romances are as famous as Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, a play which tells the story of two young lovers caught between their feuding families and the deadly consequences that has. Rock band Dire Straits used the play--and its musical retelling, West Side Story--for their 1980 song "Romeo and Juliet," with a "lovestruck Romeo" and his Juliet in a more modern twist, where Juliet moves on from the romance after finding fame. Lyrics allude to memorable scenes from the play, like Romeo beneath Juliet's window, and some reference the play's tragic ending: "Juliet, the dice was loaded from the start/And I bet, and you exploded into my heart/And I forget, I forget the movie song/When you gonna realize it was just that the time was wrong, Juliet?" The song was inspired by personal experience, though, as frontman Mark Knopfler wrote it about his relationship with singer Holly Vincent, who he thought was using him to help her career. The song was also faithfully covered by The Killers for their B-sides album, Sawdust.
8. Taylor Swift - Love Story
The story of the star-crossed lovers has been returned to time and time again in pop culture, so it's no surprise that Dire Straits wasn't the only band to find songwriting inspiration from it. One of pop icon Taylor Swift's early, still country-twinged hits was 2008's "Love Story," with its lyrics referencing and at times outright retelling the famous play. Swift said at the time that she was "really inspired" by the story but also based the song on personal experience, citing a relationship her parents didn't approve of. The song references a father that doesn't want his daughter, "Juliet," with her "Romeo" The lyrics also reference another famous book, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
7. Jefferson Airplane - White Rabbit
One of Jefferson Airplane's most famous, recognizable songs, written by Grace Slick is packed with references to drugs--but they also reference Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass, starting from the title and opening line "One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small." The references continue throughout, from mentions of mushrooms to the character of a caterpillar smoking hookah to the line "go ask Alice." Slick considered the song a criticism of parents who read stories to their children that were filled with drug references, saying, "In all those children’s stories, you take some kind of chemical and have a great adventure."
6. Metallica - For Whom the Bell Tolls
Metal band Metallica turned to literature for inspiration plenty of times, but one of the most famous examples is "For Whom the Bell Tolls," inspired by Ernest Hemingway's novel of the same name about the Spanish civil war. The lyrics specifically reference a scene from a subplot in the novel where five men are killed by an airstrike, although the song aims to comment on the futility of war. Metallica was also inspired by literature when writing "The Call of Ktulu," based on horror writer HP Lovecraft's most famous story, "The Call of Cthulu."
5. Magazine - Song from Under the Floorboards
Post-punk band Magazine found inspiration from Dostoyevsky, resulting in one of the band's most famous songs, "Song from Under the Floorboards," based on Notes from Underground. The lyrics serve to summarize the main themes of the book.
4. The Cure - Charlotte Sometimes
While some of The Cure's biggest hits were love songs, one of their early releases in the '80s is based on a children's book. Single "Charlotte Sometimes," with overlapping vocals and deep guitars, was based on Penelope Farmer's book of the same name, with some lyrics taken from the book nearly verbatim. Even frontman Robert Smith called the song "a very straight lift." But it wasn't the band's first time turning to literature for musical inspiration--the controversial track "Killing an Arab" is based on Albert Camus' novel The Stranger.
3. Blue Oyster Cult - Black Blade
'70s rock band Blue Oyster Cult is known for hits like "Don't Fear the Reaper" and "Burnin' for You," but for "Black Blade," they turned to fantasy literature. "Black Blade" is based on Michael Moorcock's character Elric of Melniboné, and Moorcock himself even helped write the lyrics after guitarist Eric Bloom wrote him a fan letter.
2. David Bowie - 1984
In the early '70s, glam-rock icon David Bowie was planning a musical based on George Orwell's novel 1984--but because Orwell's widow wouldn't give Bowie permission to do it, the project never came to fruition. But Bowie had already begun writing songs, so instead, he included some of them on his 1974 album Diamond Dogs. The most notable example is "1984," with lyrics alluding to mind control from the book. "Big Brother" and "We Are the Dead" also explore Orwell's concepts, and in a way, Diamond Dogs is a concept album telling its own dystopian story, which Bowie called a "glitter apocalypse." And although Bowie's vision of 1984 never came to be, a different book later inspired a different musical--Lazarus, based on the novel The Man Who Fell to Earth, was staged in 2015, featuring new and old music of Bowie's.
1. Stevie Nicks - Annabel Lee
Is it any surprise that Stevie Nicks turned to writer Edgar Allan Poe for lyrical inspiration? When Nicks was 17, she set Poe's poem "Annabel Lee" to music and finally released it on her 2011 album In Your Dreams, using many of the lines exactly as Poe had written them. It's not the only song from In Your Dreams that was inspired by literature, either--"Moonlight (A Vampire's Dream)" was inspired in part by the Twilight series, although Nicks had written parts of the song much earlier about her relationship with Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham.