In this two part article I’m going to examine how literature has influenced and inspired music and artists, from band names, song lyrics and titles and concept albums.
One of the most common references to a literary influence in music is the band name. Some are obvious while others require familiarity with the themes of the books themselves. This association with the titles of books often gives a good indicator of the artists’ philosophies and the message they aim to convey in their lyrics.
Some are playful, like the Pooh Sticks.
Others make a statement, like 80s indie rockers The Grapes of Wrath, named after the John Steinbeck novel set in the Great Depression in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl about the struggles of those families during that time. Others still are surprising, Steely Dan named after a sex toy from Naked Lunch by William S Burroughs.
The list of band names inspired by book titles or references is long but here are just a few:
Heaven 17 the fictional band from A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. Also inspired by Burgess’ cult classic, Moloko, electro duo Roisin Murphy and Mark Brydon. The name is taken from Burgess’ invented language, Nadsat, the word for Milk.
Los Angeles’ psychedelic rock band The Doors’ literary influence is two fold, taken from The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley’s account of his psychedelic experiences on mescaline. Huxley’s title was inspired by a William Blake poem from the Marriage of Heaven and Hell: “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”
Veruca Salt, indie rock band, hailing from Chicago in the 90s took their name from the spoiled rich girl in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Steppenwolf, writers of rock classic road song Born to be Wild, were inspired be by the existential novel of their band’s name by Hermann Hesse: One man’s spiritual journey to self knowledge.
Joy Division, originally called Warsaw changed their name to this novella title by Yehiel Feiner under the pseudonym Katzenik 135633 (his Auschwitz tattoo number) about the Jewish Joy Divisions: a group of women used as sex slaves to serve Nazi soldiers.
The Fall, one of the most prolific post punk bands in the UK named themselves after the 1956 novel The Fall by Albert Camus. The book is yet another existentially fuelled novel, searching the truth, examining innocence and wrestling with the idea of non-existence.
The Velvet Underground took their name from a work of nonfiction by Michael Leigh, about sleazy world of wife swapping and other sexual kinks that took place in American suburbia.
The Seattle outfit Modest Mouse took their name from a passage in the Virginia Woolf story The Mark On The Wall.
Belle & Sebastian took inspiration from the beloved children’s story by Cecile Aubry about the adventures of a six year old Sebastian and his pet dog Belle.
Co-Founder Synergic Records