To celebrate World Book Day, we’ve taken a look at the successes and failures of book/band cross-pollination…
Pitchfork deliciously pinned down the intolerable pretentiousness of bands that like to hawk laboured literary allusions at every opportunity in their review of Editors’ ‘In This Light And On This Evening’. “You know that kid in your dorm who took a semester’s worth of intro lit and philosophy classes as a license to use the word “Kafka-esque” at every opportunity? [This] is for that guy.”
Bands shoehorning in bookish references just to sound smart is pretty nauseating stuff – who really believes that the object of Johnny Borrell’s affections in ‘In The City’ had really “been reading Bukowski for days”? Any girl with a predilection for old Charlie is surely far smarter than to waste time on such a namedropping cretin. And if Chapel Club’s Lewis Bowman mentions his love of Hemingway one more time, we might be forced to set him an exam on the significance of death in For Whom The Bell Tolls.
But with a bit of grace, sometimes the marrying of literary and lyrical can lend extra significance, whichever way the borrowing goes. Jonathan Franzen’s recent novel, the acclaimed Freedom, has two of its main characters go to a Bright Eyes concert, perhaps exactly what you’d expect of its chronically environmentally-conscious, repressed protagonist, Walter.
And Frankie & The Heartstrings’ recent single, ‘Tender’, sees Frankie Francis reading to his beloved from F Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is The Night, a touching move in a relationship that goes the way of Nicole and Dick Diver’s (ie, terribly) over the course of the album (which also whips its title from Knut Hamsun’s Hunger, the smartypants).
Interestingly, our top ten albums that borrow from books crosses over a fair bit with World Book Day’s official top 10 as voted by teenagers. Thank fuck, no-one (to our knowledge) as written an album about Twilight (soundtrack songs exempted) or the heinously written Da Vinci Code just yet.
It’s interesting, though, that books that most of us read as children endure, winding up as the basis of concept albums and songs both loosely and meticulously in hock to the novels that inspired them.
1. Neutral Milk Hotel – ‘In The Aeroplane Over The Sea’
Although the band have never openly admitted it, Neutral Milk Hotel’s second album is believed to be about the life and death of Anne Frank, whose diary appears eighth in the World Book Day teen list.
2. David Bowie – ‘Diamond Dogs'
To his chagrin, Bowie never obtained the rights to make his dream theatrical production of 1984 (ninth in the WBD teen list), but Orwell’s message screams from this 1974 release, which is often credited as anticipating the death of glam to make way for the arrival of punk.
3. Muse – ‘The Resistance’
Another band citing 1984 as an influence. Who’d ever have thought that Muse, apocalyptic conspiracy theorists extraordinaire, might be inspired by perhaps the most famed tale of government corruption? Well, I never.
4. Kate Bush – ‘Wuthering Heights’
Alright, it’s a song rather than an album, but even the most talented of voice actors couldn’t hope to do the windswept, desperate romance of Emily Brontë’s only novel the wide-eyed manic justice that Kate Bush does it.
5. Pink Floyd – ‘Animals’
Difficult prog about George Orwell’s thorny Animal Farm, marking his third appearance on this list…
6. Klaxons – ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’
Hands up everyone who went out and bought Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Novel for £3 from HMV after Klaxons named one of the songs off their debut after it? Hands up if it’s still sat unread on your bookshelf, gathering dust? Those that have read it, how many of you actually understand it? There we go.
7. Anais Mitchell – ‘Hadestown’
This one’s based on the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice – that’s technically literary, right? Anyway, Mitchell transports the myth to post-Depression New Orleans, taking the role of Eurydice to Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon’s Orpheus, and it’s abso-flipping-lutely gorgeous.
8. The Cure – ‘Killing An Arab’
Another song, but as anyone who’s ever taken a French A-level can attest, The Cure’s retelling of Fronch doom-monger Albert Camus’ The Stranger (Or L'Étranger if we’re being proper about it) makes finding an angle for the usually tedious rigmarole of coursework a significantly more pleasant experience.
9. Led Zeppelin – ‘Led Zeppelin IV’
The last in their self-titled journey pinched from Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings saga. In a battle between rock dinosaurs and orcs, who would win? FIGHT!
10. The Libertines – ‘Narcissist’
Ending with a song, then, but you could hardly compile a list of literature/music hybrids without a nod to Oscar Wilde’s Picture Of Dorian Grey. If Lord Henry and Dorian Gray were the 1800s’ biggest narcissists, then their 2000s equivalent are most certainly Pete and Carl, who, substance abuse and aging notwithstanding, will be forever frozen in time as Biggles and Bilo.