Some musicians wear their reading habits on their sleeves.
‘Don Quixote’ by Gordon Lightfoot, Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘Centerfold’ by the J. Geils Band come to mind.
Others require a little detective work. The title of Sting’s album, ‘Nothing Like The Sun’, is borrowed from Shakespeare’s 130th sonnet, ‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun’. In the Police song, ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’, Sting makes sure we don’t miss the ‘Lolita’ theme by referring to ‘that book by Nabokov’.
Some songs retell the original story, as with Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ from ‘Alice In Wonderland’. More obscurely, Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’ is thought of as the inspiration for John Lennon’s ‘I Am The Walrus’, but the dialogue in the background is from a performance of ‘King Lear’.
Bob Dylan has been under fire lately for plagiarism, but one of his most haunting songs, ‘Every Grain Of Sand’, only hints at William Blake and The Bible as sources. Speaking of borrowing, Pete Seeger boldly took the words to The Byrds hit ‘Turn Turn Turn’ directly from Ecclesiastes. No copyright problems there.
An example of timeless source material is Steely Dan’s ‘Home At Last’, which casts the singer as Homer’s Ulysses ‘tied to the mast’. Some authors seem to never lose their ‘cool’ factor for songwriters. John Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes Of Wrath’ inspired both Mumford & Sons’ ‘Dust Bowl Dance’ and Springsteen’s ‘Ghost Of Tom Joad’. And is George Orwell’s ‘1984’ the book that launched a thousand songs?
When I was working on the lyric for ‘Beautiful Goodbye’, recorded by Amanda Marshall, I tried to channel Raymond Chandler, author of noir classics like ‘The Big Sleep’ and ‘Farewell My Lovely’.
“I’m fed up with my destiny
This place of no return
Think I’ll take another day
And slowly watch it burn”
Every song tells a story!
Christopher Ward, Canada’s original MuchMusic VJ, wrote the worldwide No. 1 hit “Black Velvet.” His songs have been recorded by Diana Ross, The Backstreet Boys, Amanda Marshall, and many others, and he’s been seen as a judge on YTV’s The Next Star. He lives in Toronto.
The Markerting Coordinator at Dundurn, lover of books, tea and dancing in the rain.