Musician and author crossover and linkage is nothing new. Many authors have contributed lyrics to songs, or had their words adapted to song lyrics. Authors, for example Stephen King, use song lyrics when introducing chapters or sections of some novels. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that the two groups are intertwined. Here are some of the musical works that have been inspired by works of literature. This is just a small sampling of the many songs and albums that fit the description. Enjoy the music and the words!
1. Animal Farm by George Orwell – Pink Floyd’s Animals
Orwell makes his first appearance on this list with Pink Floyd’s Animals album. The songs, “Dogs”, “Sheep”, “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” are thematically tied to the personification in Animal Farm. Lyricist Roger Waters doesn’t draw from the plot of the book, instead leaning into the idea of people as predators (“Dogs”), followers (“Sheep”), and ruthless despots (“Pigs”). Orwell’s book was an attack on Stalinism; however Waters’ lyrics are more of a condemnation of capitalism.
2. Clockwork Angels by Kevin Anderson – Rush’s Clockwork Angels
This one is a bit of a reverse. Rush lyricist Neil Peart developed the basic story and wrote the lyrics that outlined the story in concept. The lyrics became song “chapters” that drove the plot. Later, writer Kevin Anderson, who was a friend of Peart’s, wrote the novelization based on the outline the songs presented. Anderson described the novel as “In a young man’s quest to follow his dreams, he is caught between the grandiose forces of order and chaos. He travels across a lavish and colorful world of steampunk and alchemy, with lost cities, pirates, anarchists, exotic carnivals, and a rigid Watchmaker who imposes precision on every aspect of daily life.” This was Rush’s final studio album.
3. The Diary of Anne Frank – Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
This is a difficult one. Apparently, Neutral Milk Hotel’s songwriter Jeff Magnum was inspired to write the songs on this album after reading the famous book. To the casual listener the link is tenuous at times. I would invite you to read the book and listen to the music and form your own conclusions.
4. The Stories of Edgar Allan Poe – The Alan Parsons Project’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination
The Alan Parsons Project was most active in the 1980’s and 1990’s and are best know for their instrument piece “Sirius” which was used as the Chicago Bulls entrance music before games. The song continues to get used at many athletic events, you’d probably recognize the music if you heard it. Their albums were thematic in style, especially their first record that had songs based on works of Edgar Allan Poe. Songs included “The Raven”, “To One in Paradise”, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Cask of Amontillado” and others. The remastered edition includes some narration by the late Orson Welles to complete the mood.
5. Moby Dick by Herman Melville – Mastodon’s Leviathan
American heavy metal band Mastodon second album is a concept piece inspired by the Herman Melville novel Moby Dick. The cover art and song titles including “I am Ahab”, “Seabeast”, and “Island” leave no doubt that they are serious.
6. The Snow Goose: A Story of Dunkirk by Paul Gallico – Camel’s Music Inspired by The Snow Goose
Gallico’s novela is a simple story of friendship concerning an artist living alone in a lighthouse, a young local girl, and the wounded goose who they nurse back to health. The story is set against the backdrop of war and the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940. The book was published in 1941. Camel is a progressive rock group from England that recorded a critically successful instrumental album based on the story in 1975. Threatened with a lawsuit from the author the title of the album was changed to Music inspired by The Snow Goose.
7. 1984 by George Orwell – David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs and Anthony Phillips’ 1984
Orwell’s famous novel has inspired at least two thematic albums and numerous other songs and band names. Rock and Roll Hall of Famer David Bowie’s 1974 album Diamond Dogs was at first intended to by more closely related the novel, but the Orwell estate denied Bowie the rights. The second half of the album still strongly carries the 1984 theme with songs like “1984” and “Big Brother”.
Anthony Phillips was the original guitarist in the band Genesis, leaving the group in 1970 before they had great success. After leaving Genesis he has recorded at least 30 instrumental albums. His 1984 album is much more electronic and modern than his usual English folk guitar leanings. The album was named after it was recorded because Phillips thought that both the book and the music shared the same sense of drama.
8. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov – The Alan Parsons Project’s – I Robot
The second album by The Alan Parsons Project was intended to be specifically tied to the stories by Asimov. Lyricist Eric Woolfson had apparently discussed the project with the author and had gotten his blessing. Later, however, the concept was changed to be more generally thematic in nature. The songs concern robots in general and how their rise comes with the decline of man. Like all of APP’s albums a variety of guest vocalists are employed.
9. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne – Rick Wakeman’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth
Wakeman is best known as the keyboardist in the band YES during their popular 1970’s period. On his own he has released thematic, keyboard-based albums including this one that recreates the basic story from Verne’s novel. It is a sprawling piece with a traditional rock band, an orchestra, a choir, and a narrator all involved. It was recorded live in concert because the record company balked at the cost of a studio recording. The recording reached #1 on the UK album charts and #3 on the U.S. Billboard chart. Wakeman also recorded an album based on the stories of King Arthur. Side note: John Symmes, Jr. was a proponent of the “Hollow Earth” theory in the early 19th century. There is a monument to his idea in a park in Hamilton, OH. You can read about it here https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/hollow-earth-monument
10. War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells – Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds
In 1938 Orson Welles produced his famous radio adaptation of the book and in 1953 the movie was released starring Gene Barry. Later Steven Spielberg put Tom Cruise to work battling the Martians in his adaptation. But Jeff Wayne’s 1978 War of the Worlds is a full-blown musical retelling of Wells’ novel. Covering 2 CD’s it spawned a top 5 hit song in the U.K., “Mostly Autumn” which was sung by Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues. Sir Richard Burton provided narration. Later it became a staged musical production with multiple tours and even some video games were produced.
11. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – Bo Hansson’s Lord of the Rings and Johan de Meij’s Symphony #1
Tolkien’s trilogy, as well as The Hobbit and The Silmarillion have made their way into popular culture in quite a few songs (“Misty Mountain Hop” by Led Zeppelin is just one example) and band names (Gandalf’s Fist, Marillion, Shadowfax etc.). If you are not familiar with Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy’s song about Bilbo Baggins then stop what you are doing and go find it.
Bo Hansson was a Swedish musician who released four instrumental albums in the 1970’s to moderate success. Two of these were inspired by novels. The Lord of the Rings was one of these (Watership Down by Richard Adams was the other).
Johan de Meij is a Dutch composer/conductor whose 1st Symphony is inspired by Tolkien’s series. It is composed of five movements (Gandalf, Lothlorien, Gollum, Journey in the Dark, and Hobbits). The Symphony has been recorded four times, including a version in 2008 by the London Symphony Orchestra.
12. Songs of Distant Earth by Arthur C. Clarke – Mike Oldfield’s Songs of Distant Earth
Clarke’s novel of mankind moving to space as Earth’s time comes to an end was the inspiration for Oldfield’s “new age/ambient” music piece. Oldfield is best known for his composition “Tubular Bells”, a section of which was used as the theme music for the movie The Exorcist. For this piece Oldfield did not follow the plot directly and attempted to create sounds he considered to be more futuristic. Clarke himself contributed to the album’s liner notes with information about the conversion of his short story into the novel itself.
13. The Writings of Charles Darwin and Richard Dawkins -Nightwish’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful
It is probably safe to assume that there are not many albums influenced by evolutionary biology. However, the Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish followed such a path for its 2015 album entitled Endless Forms Most Beautiful. The title comes from a line in Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Famous biologist Richard Dawkins reads short passages from his books on evolution as an introduction to some of the songs. Songwriter Tuomas Halopainen describes the album as a homage to the “beauty of life, the beauty of existence, nature, science.”