13. “1984” – David Bowie
Originally intended to be the music for a musical based on George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, David Bowie’s 1974 record Diamond Dogs is occupied with numerous songs inspired by the book. Highlighted by a comically groovy guitar effect, Bowie’s version of “1984” is definitely a whole lot funkier than the novel.
14. “Young Glass” – Hey Rosetta!
Frontman Tim Baker was inspired to write “Young Glass” after reading J.D. Salinger’s short stories Franny and Zooey. In this energetic, string-filled, rock number, Baker directs his lyrics to young Franny and sympathizes with her disillusionment of the world by telling her that she’s not alone.
15. “Reading in Bed” – Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton
Emily Haines’ moody piano-based solo project is a lot different from the music she makes in Metric or as part of the Toronto collective Broken Social Scene. From her 2006 record Knives Don’t Have Your Back, “Reading in Bed” is done in a slow waltz with Haines practically whispering her lyrics. In the first verse, Haines describes the on goings of various people but in the second, questions writing songs about “all of your lives unled, reading in bed.” Haines touches on an important struggle in her melancholic number; why do you need to go out when you can have an adventure without ever leaving your bed?
16. “Ramble On” – Led Zeppelin
One of the many J.R.R Tolkien inspired songs from Led Zeppelin, the narrator in “Ramble On” goes on a journey through Middle Earth that’s very different from Bilbo’s or Frodo’s. Straying from Tolkien’s original vision, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant’s protagonist finds a pretty girl in Mordor only to have Gollum take her away.
17. “Sonnet 43,” “Sonnet 20,” “Sonnet 10” – Rufus Wainwright (and William Shakespeare)
puts three of Shakespeare’s Sonnets to music in his 2010 record, which borrows part of its title from Sonnet 43, All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu. Wainwright successfully pulls off this feat by interpreting Shakespeare’s words in a dramatic, piano-centered, way that heighten the existing emotions.
18. “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” – Pink Floyd
Roger Waters rewrites Animal Farm for Pink Floyd’s 1977 conceptual album Animals. Drawing on the themes of George Orwell’s novella, Waters passionately critiques the social and political landscape in Britain in the 1970s. Although the whole album is worth any Orwell fan’s time, divided into three different stories, the epic “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” is the most powerful track.
19. “Animal in Man” – Dead Prez
Yes, another Animal Farm song, but if you’re in a pinch, Dead Prez’s “Animal in Man” summarizes the book almost as well as Wikipedia does. “Animal in Man” covers some major plot points and, with Dead Prez rapping, “it’s a very thin line between animal and man,” a major metaphor. Dread Prez also works in the phrase “fraudulent pigs” which makes the song a treat.
20. “Every Day I Write The Book” – Elvis Costello
writes his own book on lust and heartbreak in his ‘80s pop hit “Every Day I Write The Book.” Costello’s narrator, “a man with a mission in two or three editions,” outlines romantic failures in the chapters of his book. Between the fat, dated bass line and the background singer, the song is a little cheesy but ends with a brilliantly biting closing line, “I’d still own the film rights and be working on the sequel.”
21. “Offred” – Dan Mangan + Blacksmith
Dan Mangan + Blacksmith do well summarizing Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale in their ominous sounding song, “Offred.” Named after the book’s main character, “Offred” captures the desperate mood of the novel thanks to a dense instrumental composition and suitably abstract lyrics. “Offred” hits its stride when Mangan repeats Atwood’s moving words, “they changed my purpose.”
22. “The Ghost of Tom Joad” – Bruce Springsteen
In a traditionally sparse folk style, Bruce Springsteen brings John Steinbeck’s character Tom Joad from The Grapes of Wrath to ‘90s America. In typical Springsteen fashion, he weaves in narratives of the American people and compares their economic hardships to the Great Depression. A few years later, Rage Against the Machine reinvented “The Ghost of Tom Joad” as an angry rap-rock song for their cover album Renegades. Tom Morello and The Boss later covered it together, which blended their influences for the masses.
23. “I Am Ahab” – Mastodon
Atlanta metal band Mastodon’s album Leviathan is based entirely around Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. The concept album masterfully takes on what’s considered the greatest American novel and follows the white whale, Queequeg, and the power of the sea with a lyrical prowess. In “I Am Ahab,” Mastodon poetically summarize Captain Ahab’s quest for revenge in a chaotic and adrenaline fuelled number.
24. “We Are All Accelerated Readers” – Los Campesinos!
Los Campesinos! keeps the trend of quirky indie-pop bands writing songs about books going with their upbeat hit “We Are All Accelerated Readers.” Appearing in their 2008 record Hold on Now, Youngster… Los Campesinos! make a case against relationships built on a mutual love of movies, music, or books. In the final moments of the song, the band comes together for a fun chant: “since we became accelerated readers, we never leave the house.” In this case, it’s an unromantic sentiment that unfortunately is not going to save the relationship.