A Few Literary Songs

I’m about to spend two days on trains and such journeys always warm the epic literary cockles of my heart…

This can begin in only one place: out on the wiley windy moors with Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights”. Deeply strange even though it is so familiar, the song and dance in tandem are like nothing before or since as far as I can tell. It’s all beautiful, but at the same time quite unsettling.

From Emily Brontë to Victor Hugo, as odd-men-out of punk The Stranglers perform “Toiler on the Sea” live in 1983. The album version is much quicker and edgier, but this more leisurely interpretation is hypnotically intoxicating. I’d never noticed quite how many keyboards Dave Greenfield used – no wonder he was derided as being proggy!

Down the hole to Wonderland for Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” now, which obviously draws out many of the parallels between Alice’s adventures and the effects of recreational hallucinogens. It’s a bit portentous and induces a few cringes now, but equally the lack of self-reflection is charming. This version runs into “Somebody to Love” and has a weird introduction.

Oscar Wilde was referenced implicitly here by The Smiths, but “A Picture of Dorian Gray” was put into song by the Television Personalities. It’s also been a live staple for The Futureheads, whose more muscular version is here (accompanied by rather jarring movie footage).

No-one brings “A Rose for Emily“, in the Zombies’ haunting (and way ahead of its time) Faulkner-inspired curiosity. This version is from the recent re-formation tour which I am looking forward to catching later in the year at the ATP Bowlie.

And finally, an old favourite: John Henry Bonham, playing the drum solo from Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick”. 2:00-2:08 is simply breathtaking. Drawing on the same literary source, an honourable mention must go to Mountain’s sadly under-rated “Nantucket Sleighride”.

Oh alright, one more. I couldn’t leave this out, since its probably the most well-known rock-lit interaction. The less said about this, however, the better.

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Published in: on August 26, 2010 at 9:56 pm  Comments (7)  

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  1. Well, I had no idea that the Zombies had tackled Faulkner. I’m teaching him this term, and I always set that story, so I shall get my students to listen.

    You might add another Kate Bush – ‘The Sensual World’ (a treatment of Joyce’s Molly Bloom): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJc64xncBt4

    And this droll Ballardry:

    • Ooh, good call Mr B. Also I studiously avoided any ego trips but perhaps in the comments it is permissible to mention Shortcut, Views of Hauteville and Beat Drive among many others from the Dead Spies back catalogue…

      • I’d say about 30% of the Spies back catalogue had some literary basis – oh, and in addition to the three you mentioned, don’t forget that Steinbeck was once our witness…

        Was Le Fou about a literary character? I forget…

      • Oh yes, rising to Timberline, I’d forgotten that. Le Fou was Picasso though.

  2. Here’s the Cure’s Killing an Arab, in an overdubbed version that you probably won’t know, and with video footage (Arab not included) of the wonderfully craggy old man from the Standing on a Beach/Staring at the Sea compilation.

    At the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s 666, a double-album interpretation of the Book of Revelation by Aphrodite’s Child (the Greek prog-rock band that Vangelis was in before he went solo).  The stand-out track is The Four Horsemen, but I also like (among several others) the strangely upbeat The Beast.

    • Good grief, Killing an Arab was a calamitous oversight from one who considers himself a Cure fan. Thanks. That version is great – I’d often wondered what that old chap’s story was. He is almost a cross between Beckett and (with a little more bathos) Trigger from OFAH.

      I’d never come across Aphrodite’s Child, so that was quite a Revelation itself! It seems to be somewhere between Rush and Mountain, and rather enjoyable, cheers.


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