World Book Day: 7 songs inspired by books
World Book Day is Thursday 5th March, and encourages children of all ages to celebrate the power of reading and explore the pleasures of books.
This year marks the 23rd annual World Book Day. we’ve rounded up some of the more well-known, and unusual, songs and artists that have drawn inspiration from their favourite books to write their own stories through lyrics.
7. 1984 by David Bowie
Nineteen Eighty-Four is the 1949 dystopian novel written by George Orwell that takes place in an imagined future where war, government surveillance and a totalitarian state have taken over.
David Bowie was a big fan of the book and compared growing up in post-war Bromley to the grim-living conditions of Orwell’s imaginary Oceania: “You always felt you were in 1984, that’s the kind of gloom and immovable society that a lot of us felt we grew up in…it was a terribly inhibiting place.”
Bowie had wanted to create a rock musical production of the novel and used music as the bridge to join his own post-apocalyptic world and the novel.
Appearing on a talk show in 1973, he said he was working on a TV adaptation of the novel called The 1980 Floor Show and debuted specifically written music for the soundtrack – however, his dream was not to be.
He was denied the rights to the novel by the author’s estate and had to turn his album 1984 into the ‘concept’ album Diamond Dogs, which still references the novel with tracks such as 1984 and Big Brother.
6. Firework by Katy Perry
It’s been almost a decade since Katy Perry released Firework as part of her multi-award winning album Teenage Dream, but did you know it was inspired by one of grittiest cult classics of all time, On the Road by Jack Kerouac?
Perry was introduced to the book by her then boyfriend and subsequent husband Russell Brand, who likened her to the paragraph in which Kerouac describes his favourite people as those ever-burning ‘roman candles across the night’ who fizz with life and never say a boring or commonplace thing.
This resonated with her: “When I heard that I was like, that is who I feel like I am, who I want to be, who I want to surround myself with -- those firework people.
"It’s just all about you igniting the spark inside of you.”
5. 1950 by King Princess
In 2018, Michaela Strauss, aka King Princess, released her debut single 1950. It has since been listened to over 322 million times on Spotify.
The song takes inspiration from her favourite book and cult classic The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith.
Recently adapted into the film Carol, the book tells the love story of Therese, a young department store worker, who falls in love with an older, married customer called Carol.
During the 1950’s, homosexuality, though not lesbianism, was illegal in the UK and over 30,000 gay and bisexual men were convicted of criminal behaviour before its legalisation in 1967.
King Princess pays homage to this period of history and the culture that was forced to hide and express itself through secret art forms, whilst also nodding to her own stories of unrequited love.
4. Pet Sematary by the Ramones
Written in 1983 by infamous horror novelist Stephen King, Pet Sematary tells the story of the Creed family who relocate to a small town in Maine that is plagued by death and haunted by a cemetery in the woods.
The novel was first adapted into a film in 1989, and as a self-confessed life-long Ramones fan (they’re even mentioned in the book) King commissioned them to write a song specifically for the score. However, there’s confusion as to the origin of their song Pet Semetary.
In Marky Ramone’s memoir, Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone, he said the band were invited for dinner at King’s house, and it was then that he handed Dee Dee a copy of Pet Semetary. However, King denies this ever happening and doesn’t even remember mentioning the book.
Either way, Pet Semetary heavily impacted the lives of both the band and the author.
The song ended up being one of the Ramones’ biggest hits and gained them more TV time than any other track, and King has confessed that out of all his horror novels, this is the one that scares him the most.
3. Sympathy for the Devil by the Rolling Stones
Sympathy for the Devil was written by Mick Jagger and released on the Stones 1968 comeback album Beggars Banquet.
Mick Jagger was heavily influenced by Mikhail Bulgakov’s controversial book The Master and Margarita, gifted to him by his then-girlfriend, Marianne Faithfull.
The book was written in the Soviet Union between 1928 and 1940, during Stalin’s regime, and tells a story of the devil arriving in Moscow to cause murder and mayhem, accompanied by his muse Margarita.
Jagger likened himself to the Master in their number one hit Sympathy for the Devil by personifying himself as the devil and confessing to historical atrocities that have been committed throughout history.
Some of the lyrics even directly mirror passages in the book.
The track was highly controversial amongst religious groups and occultists, and only added fuel to the rumours that the band supported Satanism (whose previous album was titled Their Satanic Majesties Request).
2. Ramble On by Led Zeppelin
Ramble On is an early song released by Led Zeppelin in 1969 as part of their Led Zeppelin II album.
Written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, the song was inspired by JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series and tells the story of Sam and Frodo’s journey as if a woman was the object of the narrator’s obsession, instead of the infamous ring: “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.”
Robert’s fascination with the Tolkien series spans further than Ramble On, many of their other songs are inspired by Lord of the Rings (such as Stairway to Heaven) and he even named his dog Strider after the character Aragorn, who is also referred to by this name.
1. Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush
Probably the most famous of literary-music references, Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush was inspired by Emily Bronte’s 1847 novel.
After catching the last 10 minutes of a TV show, Kate Bush decided to read the book and discovered she shared the same birthday as the author.
Still unnerved by this uncanny coincidence, some ten years later, she was inspired to turn it into a song and in the early hours of 5 March 1977, when she was just 18, she wrote her own Wuthering Heights (although she’d already written over a hundred songs by this point).
The track was released in January 1978 as the first single from her debut album The Kick Inside, and is sung from the perspective of the Wuthering Heights character Catherine Earnshaw, pleading at Heathcliff's window to be allowed in.
It quotes Catherine's dialogue, including the chorus lyric "Let me in! I'm so cold!" and "Bad dreams in the night".
Bush recorded her vocals in one take.
With this track, Bush became the first female artist to have an entirely self-penned number one hit in the UK, spending three weeks at number one.