Literary Ditties: Songs somehow inspired by literature

Franny and Zooey
Franny and Zooey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At this point it is probably pretty clear that I am a music junkie. I am constantly listening to music, even when I am reading. I will also admit that I tend to like songs more once I find out that they were based off books, or reference literature in the lyrics. So I thought to myself; why not make a list? The internet loves lists. I love lists. Let’s make a list! And so I did.

Song: Sermons (Vs. The Gospel) by Cold War Kids


Literary Influence: Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

The first line that tipped me off to this song’s potential influence was “just watching from the stairs, fat lady always claps her hands.” The “fat lady” is a running theme throughout Franny and Zooey so that was a red flag for me. Once I looked up the lyrics, I realized that the whole song fits with the book. Upon further research I found that Nathan Willet, lead singer of Cold War Kids, is a huge Salinger fan and the song was in fact inspired by Franny and Zooey.

Song: Rabbit by Matt Duke

Literary Influence: Rabbit, Run by John Updike

I have never read any of the books in the Rabbit series in their entirety but I have read excerpts from Rabbit, Run. Matt Duke’s song captures the tone and theme of the novel in just a few minutes. Duke has said that Updike is one of his favorite authors and biggest influencers. A few other tracks on this album (Kingdom Underground) are based off novels as well. In fact, the whole album was originally going to be a concept album based off Paradise Lost however the idea was scratched.

Song: Romeo and Juliet by Dire Straits

Literary Influence: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

So this one was a bit obvious. The title is a blatant tribute to the original work. The rest of the song tells the story of two people named Romeo and Juliet who are love struck but something just isn’t working out. It’s like a modern, gritty, Knopfler version of the classic tale.

Song: A Picture of Dorian Gray by The Television Personalities

Literary Influence: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde


Like the last track, this one is a bit obvious. The title of the song references the work itself. The song even mentions a picture of Dorian Gray hanging up in a mansion that the singer is inviting everyone to come see. So while the song doesn’t really capture the themes or tone portrayed in the short story, the incorporation is enough for me. While we are on the topic of Dorian Gray, the song ‘Narcissist’ by The Libertines is loosely based off the character Dorian Gray.

Song: Soma by The Strokes

Literary Influence: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

In the novel Brave New World, soma is a fictional hallucinogenic drug of which the consumption was universally endorsed. The first line of The Strokes song is “soma is what they would take when hard times opened their eyes” which is a direct reference to the novel although the connections start to dwindle from there. However I must say that in my research, Brave New World inspired more songs than any other book that I could find. Well done, Huxley.


Also, while we are on the subject I would like to mention that Arctic Monkeys got the name for their first album “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I am Not” from the novel Saturday Night, Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe.