#5 Songs With Literary References That You Didn’t Know About

Songs almost always address specific emotions, perceptions, claims, memories, ventings, protests, and even the creation of a lyrical self completely alien to its composer. Different lyrics have the power to bring out unique feelings in each person, and often also end up transforming and inspiring those who listen to them.

Moreover, compositions can also tell stories and reference historical facts. It is possible that in one verse or another you will recognize the name of another artist, place, band, or even some work. Many artists use other names to create a new aesthetic and setting for their music. 

Some composers create something new not only from a quote, but from a whole context. Many songs have been inspired by books and great literary classics, be they from the country itself or names from around the world. With this in mind, check out some songs that were made from famous literary works:

  1. 1. Don’t Stand So Close To Me, The Police – Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

    Lolita is a novel that carries immense controversy and polemic. Vladimir Nabokov wrote the work from the viewpoint of a pedophile, who is in love with a 12-year-old girl. Since the story is told from his point of view, we have an unreliable narrator. Vladimir's intention was not to romanticize the situation, but, unfortunately, that ended up happening. Lolita inspired songs, movies, and even a young and "daring" girl aesthetic related to her name, while the character was just a child. The song Don't Stand So Close To Me, by the band The Police, illustrates the fetishized relationship between a young schoolgirl and her teacher. Inspired by Nabokov's work, the 1980 song recreates the image of the misguided romanticization of young girls, but quotes the referential book from an external viewpoint in the verse: "Just like the old man in that book by Nabokov”.

  2. 2. 1984, David Bowie - 1984, George Orwell

    1984 is one of the most famous dystopias. Journalist George Orwell created a dark world, ruled by a totalitarian regime and watched by "Big Brother", who monitors and controls the actions of everyone living there. Orwell criticized the various dictatorial models of the time, which experienced the immersion of Nazi-fascist, totalitarian, communist policies, extreme military policies, among others. George had a communist bias, but in his work he analyzes the limits that a socioeconomic model can reach in order to continue in power. David Bowie released a song with the same name, citing the constant vigil of 1984 and the feeling of imprisonment: "Tomorrow's never there, beware the savage jaw of 1984".

  3. 3. Admirável Gado Novo, Zé Ramalho; Brave New World, Iron Maiden; Admirável Chip Novo, Pitty - Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

    Aldous Huxley's Brave New World has inspired not only one, but several songs, both Brazilian and international. The book joins 1984 (George Orwell) and Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury) in the trio of the most famous dystopias dealing with different characteristics of futuristic and dark worlds, all with some relation to the political aspects of the present. In the plot, the author deals with large-scale reproductive technology and the robotization of human beings. Zé Ramalho, a Brazilian singer, related the work to the Brazilian sociocultural picture, criticizing the mass culture and the alienation policies in the country, metaphorizing it in the song "Admirável Gado Novo".

    "You who are part of this mass

    That passes from the projects of the future

    It's so hard to have to walk

    And to give much more than to receive". 

    Pitty, another brazilian singer, alluded to the dystopia with "Admirable New Chip," in which she describes the robotization of human behavior due to work routines and social conventions. "System crash, someone has disfigured me," writes the singer. 

    Iron Maiden also picks up Aldous in "Brave New World”. The song builds even more real and intense on the dystopian setting of Brave New World: "What you see is not real, those who know will not tell, all is lost sold your soul, to this brave new world."

  4. 4. Dom Quixote, Engenheiros do Hawaii - Dom Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes

    With much poetry and sensitivity, the Brazilian band Engenheiros do Hawaii assumes the role of Don Quixote and creates a lyrical self that observes the episodes of the hero's story, creating a narrative about his feelings and perceptions. Engenheiros embodies Quixote and poetically explains how the noble warrior saw his world differently and the emotional reasons he had for that, creating from Cervantes' classic work a meaning of identification with different people, who see themselves in the music (and in the book!).

    "All right, it may even be

    That dragons are windmills

    All right, whatever it is

    Be for the love of lost causes"

  5. 5. Elegia, Caetano Veloso - Elegy: going to bed, John Donne

    Caetano was inspired by John Donne's poem to compose Elegia, using the same artistic resources that the English author used to create his muse. With sensual characteristics and a strong presence of eroticism, the Brazilian singer recreated Donne's far-fetched language in a new reading of Elegia and the romance around it.

    "I free myself by becoming your slave

    Where my hand falls, my seal I engrave".

Often, songs that reference literary works end up introducing new people to these books, doing a work of intersection between the two cultural medias that, in the end, manage to meet and convey similar feelings and ideas. Besides the ones listed in the article, we also have Milton Nascimento referencing "The Catcher in the Rye" (J. D. Salinger) in "Seller of Dreams", Greta Van Fleet making a new allusion to Aldous in "Brave New World" and another many songs that are inspired by different stories. If you want to hear the tracks mentioned above and some others inspired by books, click here to check the playlist.


The article above was edited by Julia Queiroz.

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