Ever since I can remember, I have loved books. I started reading at a relatively early age, and even before that, I loved being read to. I have ploughed through classics like Jane Eyre and Dracula, I’ve relished fantasy titles from Sara Douglas and Philip Pullman, attempted to deduce the answer to puzzles posed by Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes, and writhed in horror at the discomforting work of Nick Cave, and done the same at the appallingly poor quality of writing pumped out by Stephanie Meyer.
I am also a long-time music fan (obviously), so I am naturally delighted when these two passions collide in the form of a song full of literary allusion.
This week, I have collected together ten tunes that engage both my love of reading and my passion for music, all tied together with a neat, pun-based headline. Maybe this playlist will bring you to a new understanding of a beloved tome; perhaps it will bring a new artist to your attention; or maybe it will simply remind you of that title you’ve been meaning to read for months. Whatever the reason, I hope that these songs will inspire you to pick up a hardback, paperback or your e-reader and let yourself be taken to a new world via the glory that is the written word.
You can find the playlist right here, but for the addition of the visual medium and a bit of banter, you’ll have to click the jump!
1. Oedipus – Regina Spektor
If you’re not familiar with the source material, this song references the Ancient Greek myth of Oedipus, king of Thebes, famous for killing his father and marrying his mother, fulfilling a prophecy that brought misfortune down on his kingdom. You may also be familiar with his other major contribution to popular culture, via Sigmund Freud’s work on the concept of the Oedipus complex, which is all a bit icky so can we just move on please? Okay, good.
Note that I mention that it only references the myth. That’s because that’s pretty much all it does: the song doesn’t really reflect the full extent of the story, and regularly diverts from the myth in its lyrics. That said, it does touch on some of the themes of the original tale, like parental rejection, the relationship between mother and son, and fate and how it effects people right from the moment of their birth.
Thankfully, it’s not quite as incestuous as the original version, but it’s potentially just as tragic, questioning the potential of the protagonist and giving just a glimpse into how lonely he may actually be.
2. Evelyn Evelyn – Evelyn Evelyn
Evelyn Evelyn is a musical duo made up of a set of conjoined twins called Evelyn and Evelyn Neville, who have led anything but a charmed life. While their album reflects on a number of events in their unfortunate lives, it is the graphic novel based on their lives that gives the full, terrible story of how they came to be the delightfully dark songwriters they are today. When I first read it, I was struck not only by the tragedy of the tale, but also by their amazing ability to get through almost anything. It is truly an epic tale. If I told you half of it, you wouldn’t believe me. You’ll just have to read it for yourself.
3. Wuthering Heights – Kate Bush
Okay, I confess, I picked this theme almost entirely because I wanted to share this piece of magnificence with you.
I honestly love this song and this video (and its sister version) because it is just so incredibly daft and yet kind of amazing all at once. It’s a big song that sticks in your head and is instantly recognisable, and thankfully manages to be all that without making you remember just how horrid all the characters in Bronte’s book actually are. Definitely an example of a song that greatly improves on the source material.
4. Defying Gravity – Wicked
Unfortunately, I missed the chance to see this incredible musical when it ran in Australia a few years back. This cut even harder because of how much I loved both Wicked by Gregory Maguire (and its sequels) and the original source material for that adaptation, L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Add to that just how much I love this particular tune, performed at the climax of the first half, and you can imagine just how bitter I am at the fact that I didn’t get the chance to see it. (Hint: it’s a lot.)
While the book it is based on is a hell of a lot darker than the resulting stage show (and an incredible read), ‘Defying Gravity’ is so rich and empowering and so incredible that it easily stands on its own two feet, making it easily my favourite Broadway show tune ever.
Also, yes, I totally almost cried watching that performance. Shut up.
5. Our Sunshine – Paul Kelly
Based on the Robert Drewe book about Ned Kelly, this is a jaunty bluegrass tune that I don’t doubt the legendary bushranger himself would have enjoyed.
Paul Kelly has a real knack for taking literary elements and weaving a musical marvel out of them (other cases include “Everything’s Turning To White” and “Sweet Guy”, about a Raymond Carver story and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde respectively, and a whole swathe of Biblically themed tunes). With this tune, he demonstrates this incredible talent once again, conjuring images of a gallant highwayman hero of the Australian bush.
6. Mr. Raven – MC Lars
My path to this track was a tricky one, but certainly one I am glad to have trod.
You may have noticed that this playlist is quite heavy in terms of the representation of rock and pop, and that is in part due to the fact that I could not think of a single song in the hip hop or dance genres that would fit my theme. I asked a few others, both online and around the house, but nobody could really offer me something to mix things up off the top of their heads.
Finally, I went to my mum for help. She suggested that there would probably be something about Edgar Allan Poe’s works, so I threw his name into a Spotify search and came up with a different tune by MC Lars, which was actually pretty damn underwhelming. However, I noticed that he had an entire EP dedicated to the macabre American writer, so I dug a little further into his back catalogue and found this little gem from his 2006 debut, which not only got my stamp of approval, but also got a thumbs up from my mum, who is generally pretty sceptical of rap in general.
So thanks to EAP, thanks to MC Lars, and thanks Mum!
7. 1984 – David Bowie
No prizes for guessing what book this based on, but you will get extra points for knowing that Bowie based a good chunk of his Diamond Dogs album on the work of George Orwell. I would have tried to offer a little more analysis, but to be perfectly frank, I was simply too wrapped up in the groovitational pull of this track to be bothered. It’s just that freaking great, okay?
8. Jamaica Inn – Tori Amos
This song hails from the album The Beekeeper, possibly my favourite of Amos’ releases, and references the 1936 novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier, a tale of pirates and ship-wreckers that lived along the coast of Cornwall in the 1800’s. The lyrics reflect on the place of trust in both love and in life and death situations, as well reminding the listener that believing those we love and rely upon, while noble, can also end in our downfall.
Death, lies and destruction over a delicate piano piece. What more could you ask for?
9. Don’t Love Too Long – The Whitlams
Based on the poem O Do Not Love Too Long by W. B. Yeats, this is easily one of the saddest tracks from Tim Freedman’s early career. Sure, The Whitlams have a bit of a reputation for being a tad depressing, but back in the early 90s, their songs still regularly held an element of hope in their lyrics, even if it was slightly misplaced. However, this rewriting of Yeats’ poem declares that there is no success to be found in endeavours of the heart, with the morose, slightly honky-tonk piano part removing any inkling that such things could ever end well. While the band went on to regularly reflect on topics like suicide, drug abuse, rejection and isolation, none of their songs ever reached the same degree of self-pity as the one that sang of an Irish poet’s broken heart.
10. Meet Me In The Middle Of The Air – Tripod and Eddie Perfect
Whether or not you are a believer, it is hard to deny that The Holy Bible has been the most influential book in Western culture. Its fingerprints are everywhere, be it in our political system, literature, film, television, and inevitably, music.
As I’ve already noted, Paul Kelly is magnificently good at taking the words of another and making something new and beautiful that is entirely his own. This song is another example of that, taking its inspiration from Psalm 23, and first featuring on his bluegrass album, Foggy Highway.
However, when musical comedy group Tripod joined with Eddie Perfect to perform a cover of this tune on ABC’s The Sideshow, this song finally found its true place. The harmonies are incredible, yet the delivery is full of heart-wrenching emotion (due to the passing of ABC Television Technical Director, Ewa Kamirski, to whom the performance was dedicated), with a slight crack at the start of the song only furthering the power of the performance. It is easily one of the most moving television moments I have ever had the honour of experiencing. If you don’t feel at least something while watching that video, you may in fact have no heart.
And so it came to pass that Noni and her readers came to the end of their journey through the worlds of music and literature. Noni asked if there was anything she had missed in her list, and the readers left comments in the box below, sent her a tweet, or dropped by Facebook to let her know. Once that was done, they all went on their merry way, cheerfully humming along to “Wuthering Heights”, because they couldn’t get it out of their heads.
And they all lived happily ever after.