Paperback writers and neverending stories: books in songs!

Here’s a fun post for you, which I thought of while walking home through heavy rain one afternoon during lockdown. Some songs about books (or which reference them, at least) – here we go…

‘Paperback Writer’ – The Beatles (1966). ‘Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book? / It took me years to write, will you take a look?’ There’s a slightly seedy tone to the writer’s plea to be published, which suggests the trashy reputation that cheap paperbacks had. I think there’s a bit of snobbery even now about paperbacks…

‘Books and Water’ – Ian Dury and the Blockheads (2002). Books and water / Bricks and mortar / Books and water / You can do what you like on a Saturday night / But you ain’t coming home if you feel alright.’ Ian Dury gets an extra mention here for ‘Profoundly in Love with Pandora,’ the TV theme for The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, based on the book by Sue Townsend.

‘Marvin’ – Stephen Moore (1981). ‘I’m so depressed I could expectorate / My moving parts are in a solid state / I want to rust in peace, switch off and lie / In that great junk yard in the sky.’ One of a few novelty songs featuring Marvin the Paranoid Android, one of which, ‘Reasons to be Miserable’, is a parody of Ian Dury’s ‘Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3’.

‘Wuthering Heights’ – Kate Bush (1978). ‘Heathcliff, it’s me, I’m Cathy / I’ve come home, I’m so cold / Let me in through your window.’ A reference to the creepy moment when the ghostly Cathy appears at the window in Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel. Emily and Kate share a birthday – July 30th. An extra mention here for her song ‘The Sensual World’, inspired by James Joyce’s Ulysses.

‘Singing in My Sleep’ – Semisonic (1998). ‘I’ve been living in your cassette / It’s the modern equivalent / Singing up to a Capulet / On a balcony in your mind.’ Falling in love while listening to a mix tape made by an admirer. A nice reference to Romeo and Juliet there but without any of the tragedy. I wonder what songs Romeo would have chosen?

‘Belle’ – from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, sung by Paige O’Hara and Richard White (1991). ‘Oh, isn’t this amazing? / It’s my favourite part because you’ll see / Here’s where she meets Prince Charming / But she won’t discover that it’s him ’til chapter three.’ Introducing bibliophile Belle, different to the other townspeople.

‘The NeverEnding Story’ – Limahl, composed by Giorgio Moroder (1984). ‘Rhymes that keep their secrets / Will unfold behind the clouds / And there upon a rainbow / Is the answer to a neverending story.’ The title track of the children’s film based on the (much superior) book by Michael Ende and more recently the subject of a comedy moment in the TV show Stranger Things.

‘I Am a Rock’ – Simon and Garfunkel (1966). ‘I have my books / And my poetry to protect me / I am shielded in my armour.’ A song about hiding away from the world to avoid being hurt. Paul and Art get another bookish mention here for the song ‘The Dangling Conversation’, which mentions Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost. And of course, one of their albums is entitled Bookends.

‘White Rabbit’ – Jefferson Airplane (1967). ‘One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small / And the ones that mother gives you, don’t do anything at all / Go ask Alice, when she’s ten feet tall.’ Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking-Glass (the song references both books) inspired this psychedelic song.

‘2 + 2 = 5’ – Radiohead (2003). ‘Are you such a dreamer / To put the world to rights? / I’ll stay home forever / Where two and two always makes a five’. One of many songs out there inspired by George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Radiohead also get another bookish nod for their song ‘Lozenge of Love’ (1994), the title of which is a phrase in a Philip Larkin poem, ‘Sad Steps’.

‘The Invisible Man’ – Queen (1989). ‘I’m the invisible man / I’m the invisible man / Incredible how you can / See right through me’. H G Wells’ 1897 novel is about a man (not a nice man at all, it must be said) called Griffin who finds a way to turn himself invisible but the condition is permanent. This song was written by Roger Taylor.

I’m sure there are a lot more, but these are the ones I can think of. Have you got any favourite bookish songs?

9 thoughts on “Paperback writers and neverending stories: books in songs!”

  1. I love this! Its great how we can find inspiration in random places!
    I love the song ‘Lost Boy’ by Ruth B, it’s a great ballad inspired by Peter Pan and his Lost Boys.

    1. Thanks! I don’t know the song, I will check it out. Peter Pan has been very influential in popular culture.

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