I couldn’t resist this week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic from the Broke and the Bookish, which is all about books and music, my two favourite things! The topic this week is songs I wish were books but instead I decided to pick my Top Ten songs inspired by literature. I even got a bit over-excited and have created a little Spotify playlist (with a few extras added in!) is case any of you are inspired to listen!
1. Wuthering Heights – Kate Bush
Heathcliff, it’s me, it’s Cathy
I’ve come home….
Well come on. It had to be on the list didn’t it? I knew this song before I read the book and spent my primary school years having it sung to me because of my name. Kate Bush manages to capture the wildness, the spirit and the dark romance of Bronte’s classic perfectly
2. Tread Softly – Tiny Ruins
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
Tiny Ruins are a band from Auckland in New Zealand fronted by the gorgeous voice of singer/ songwriter Hollie Fullbrook. I’ve been captivated by this band since hearing the beautiful song ‘Me at the Museum, You at the Winter Gardens’ and this version of WB Yeats’ He Wishes for The Clothes of Heaven is equally captivating.
3. The Ghost of Tom Joad – Bruce Springsteen
The highway is alive tonight
But nobody’s kiddin’ nobody about where it goes
I’m sittin’ down here in the campfire light
Searchin’ for the ghost of Tom Joad
When you think of Bruce Springsteen, it’s usually the crowd-pleasing anthems of Born in the USA and Dancing in the Dark that come to mind, but I do love the quieter, more introspective albums like Nebraska and the gorgeous The Ghost of Tom Joad. Taking inspiration from the character from The Grapes of Wrath, Springsteen’s acoustic album is heavily influenced by literature, each sparse, poignant song like a novella of the desperation of ordinary people trying to live and ordinary live but trapped by poverty and depression.
4. Alice – Tom Waits
And I must be insane
To go skating on your name
And by tracing it twice
I fell through the ice
Not just one song, but an album of wonderfully odd songs, Tom Waits’ Alice was written for theatre director Robert Wilson’s stage adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale. Waits is perfectly suited to the weird and the wonderful and this whole album evokes a ramshackle carnivalesque world of lost girls, strange creatures and mad hatters.
5. Big Julie – Jarvis Cocker
And this song may lead her far away
But tonight it seems to light the way
And she can almost see the future shine
And everything’s in tune and everything’s in time
It will play until the day Big Julie rules the world
Big Julie rules the world
Last week, Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker presented a documentary on Radio 4 about Carson McCuller’s whose writing he is drawn to for its musicality and focus on the outsiders in life. Big Julie takes inspiration from her book The Member of the Wedding and opens with McCullers herself reading an abridged version of the opening paragraph and the lyrics of the song borrow freely from the text McCullers other masterpiece, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.
6. Sylvia Plath – Ryan Adams
I wish I had a Sylvia Plath
Busted tooth and a smile
And cigarette ashes in her drink
The kind that goes out and then sleeps for a week
Ryan Adam’s Gold is one of my favourite albums of all time and Sylvia Plath is less of an ode to the poet herself and more an ode to the idea of her, a type of woman, a Sylvia Plath who will be complicated, dark and intriguing. Which is, I suppose, a little bit odd….
7. Scentless Apprentice – Nirvana
Like most babies smell like butter
His smell smelled like no other
He was born scentless and senseless
He was born a scentless apprentice
In Peter Suskind’s masterpiece Perfume, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the historical novel’s protagonist, is a perfume apprentice with hypersomnia, which gives a person a strong sense of smell, but ironically was born without a body scent. Kurt Cobain was on record as saying it was his favourite book – he carried it everywhere and reread it constantly before using it as the inspiration for this song.
8. Suzanne – Leonard Cohen
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind.
So, this is a little bit of a cheat, but Leonard Cohen’s classic song Suzanne began life as a poem ‘Suzanne Takes You Down’ which was included in his Selected Poems, 1956 – 1968. Cohen turned several of his poems into songs, including True Love Leaves No Traces and Queen Victoria and Me
9. A Good Man is Hard to Find – Sufjan Stevens
Once in the backyard,
she was once like me,
she was once like me.
Twice when I killed them,
they were once at peace,
they were once like me.
A Good Man is Hard to Find is Flannery O’Connor’s dark story of the brutal murder of an entire family by a killer on the loose called The Misfit and contains a moment of connection between the killer and one of his victims, the elderly grandmother. In this song, Sufjan Stevens sings from the point of view of The Misfit, using the same empathy as the grandmother in the original story.
10. Tear in Your Hand – Tori Amos
So you say you don’t wanna stay together anymore
Let me take a deep breath babe
If you need me Me and Neil’ll be
hangin’ out with the dream king
Neil says hi
This song is not entirely inspired by a work of literature but does make reference to Neil Gaiman and his Dream King character. Amos recorded Tear in Your Hand on her 1991 demo for Little Earthquakes and a mutual friend, upon hearing the reference introduced the pair. They have remained friends ever since and Gaiman returned the favour by immortalising Amos as a talking tree in his book Stardust.
So there you have it! If you have a look at my playlist, you’ll see I whittled this down from about 25 possibilities!
Have you any favourite songs inspired by literature? Or any music you think would be a good soundtrack to your favourite book?