by Larry Knox, Art Director
If you listen to contemporary music, there’s a good chance you will eventually come across a lyric, or a song title, that references a familiar work of literature. Always an enjoyable moment for me, I consider it a wink from the artist who is revealing a little bit about themselves and their creative process.
This can often work in reverse as well. How often have you stumbled across a book title, phrase, or theme that sounds familiar only to realize it was a lyric in a favorite song? The song often takes on a new meaning at this point. It’s as if you just heard it for the first time — a free download, if you will.
In some cases, band or artist names are derived from works of literature or even their authors that have profoundly influenced artists at some point on their artistic journey (Bob Dylan/Dylan Thomas comes to mind).Handfuls of these are fairly well known among music aficionados and pop culturalists such as: The Doors (Aldous Huxley), Steppenwolf (Hermann Hesse), Soft Machine and Nova Express (William S. Burroughs).
There are also lesser-known bands and artists (many older or on independent labels) that take the literary route to give their particular vision a unique, but often hidden, voice. Here are a few. (And as always, feel free to add to more in the comments section below).
Soft Machine from a novel by William Burroughs
Nova Express from a novel by William Burroughs
The Doors, ‘If the doors of perception were cleansed, All things would appear … infinite’– Blake then a book-title, The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley.
Flock of Seagulls, after the novel by Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingstone Seagull
The Grateful Dead, although the story goes that it was chosen at random from a dictionary, the Grateful Dead is also a type of folktale in which a dead person, who has been mistreated in life or not been given a proper burial, rewards the stranger who rectifies his injustice–thus the term “grateful dead.”
Grace Pool, character in Jane Eyre
Ministry of Love, from 1984
Manhattan Transfer, title of a novel by John Dos Passos
New Riders of the Purple Sage, from the Zane Grey novel, Riders of the Purple Sage
Oberon William Shakespeare's play, A Midsummer Night's Dream
101ers, the torture room in 1984
Steppenwolf from a novel by Hermann Hesse
Sixpence None the Richer, phrase from Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
Tears for Fears, book by Arthur Janov
This Mortal Coil, Hamlet, III, 1.
Uriah Heep -the villain in David Copperfield
Veruca Salt, the spoiled rich girl from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Weena Morloch, character from Wells’s Time Machine
The Fall, from the Albert Camus book.
The Dead Milkmen, from Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon
Level 42, from Douglas Adams' The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Modest Mouse, from the story "The Mark On The Wall" by Virginia Woolf:
"I wish I could hit upon a pleasant track of thought, a track indirectly reflecting credit upon myself, for those are the pleasantest thoughts, and very frequent even in the minds of modest mouse-coloured people, who believe genuinely that they dislike to hear their own praises."
Collective Soul from Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead
Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories, from the book by J.D. Salinger.
Silverchair, from the C.S. Lewis book The Silver Chair.
Bob Dylan, the Dylan, as mentioned before, is a reference to author, Dylan Thomas.
The Boo Radleys – character from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird
Genesis - The Bible
Moby (singer/songwriter Richard Melville Hall) According to Hall, his middle name and the nickname "Moby" were given to him by his parents because of an ancestral relationship to Moby Dick author Herman Melville.
Humble Pie is a phrase used often in English Literature, most famously by Uriah Heep in Dickens' David Copperfield
The Caulfield Sisters, named after Holden's sister Phoebe from Catcher in the
Secret Goldfish, also from Catcher in the
Rollerskate Skinny, from Catcher in the
Faith No More, from the 1983 book by John Shelby Spong
Judas Priest, The Bible John 12:7: "From the heart of Judas, a priest born to be." (Actually the name is derived from a Bob Dylan song, which was most likely taken from the above source...)
The Feelies, from Brave New World
The Ophelias after the character in Hamlet
The Catcher in the
I would imagine a list of song titles and lyrics inspired by literature would be considerably longer,but I’ll save that for another blog post.