Songs With Literary References

Under my previous post, on pre-19th-century literature, discussion briefly turned to some post-19th-century music.

That happened after commenter "Dave B. (ultrabop)," in offering an example of earlier literature, mentioned One Thousand and One Nights -- which led to a discussion of Renaissance's lengthy 1970s tune "Song of Scheherezade." That gave me the idea to write today's post about songs that reference fictional works and/or authors.

Music that mentions literature is very enjoyable for fans of both those arts, and for anyone who likes the thrill of spotting connections in culture. Also, songs that cite books can have more intellectual depth than the average tune. And people hearing lit-laced lyrics might read the book if they haven't before. What's not to like about that?

I'll begin with Led Zeppelin's "Ramble On," part of which alludes to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. " the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair, but Gollum and the evil one crept up and slipped away with her..."

Then there's 10,000 Maniacs' "Hey Jack Kerouac," which not only name-checks the author of On the Road but Allen Ginsberg as well ("Allen baby, why so jaded?"). Speaking of Ginsberg, he helped write -- and recites lyrics on -- the Clash's "Ghetto Defendant."

Two other examples of socially conscious music with literary inspiration? Bruce Springsteen's "The Ghost of Tom Joad" and Woody Guthrie's "Tom Joad," which of course both reference the character in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.

Another performer with a Guthrie-like country tinge is Rosanne Cash, who created a musical ode to a certain French author titled "The Summer I Read Colette."

While I'm not positive there are connections, The Moody Blues' "You Can Never Go Home" and Yes' "Starship Trooper" certainly bring to mind the titles of Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again and Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers. (I have not read those two books.)

There's also Al Stewart's "Nostradamus" song based on Nostradamus' sort-of-fictional The Prophecies.

Two more tunes with literary aspects: Rush's "Tom Sawyer" (obviously sharing the name of Mark Twain's iconic character) and Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" (inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland).

Any thoughts about the songs I mentioned? And if you'd like to name other songs that reference literature and/or authors, please do; I know there are many I missed. (If you hesitate to include links in comments, just "name that tune" and I'll look it up and listen!)


In his often-humorous Comic (and Column) Confessional memoir, Dave Astor recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz ("Peanuts") and Bill Watterson ("Calvin and Hobbes"), columnists such as Ann Landers and "Dear Abby," and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, and various authors. On the personal front, Dave chronicles the malpractice death of his first daughter, and his divorce and remarriage. Contact him at to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book -- which includes a preface by Heloise and back-cover blurbs by "The Far Side" creator Gary Larson, among others.