Angie Moon featured on The Hippie Shake’s Rhythm and Muse Blog – Classic Rock Songs Based on Books and Poems

Hello everyone! I’ve been featured on the vintage inspired clothing brand The Hippie Shake’s blog Rhythm and Muse with a blog post about five classic rock songs inspired by literature. This blog post was an idea that I had in my head for a while, to talk about classic rock songs based on literature, and what better place to realise the idea than through this collab with The Hippie Shake?

You can read the original post here.

If you want even more classic rock based on books and poems, I have a few deep cuts to share with you. And because I live in Ireland, I had to make sure a few of them have Irish connections. Anyway, classic rock says… “Respect the classics, man!

1. “Dearg Doom” – Horslips (1973)

“Dearg Doom” is Horslips’ best known song and considered one of the best Irish rock songs and they were pioneers of the genre of Celtic Rock, fusing Irish trad music and rock and roll. Guitars playing jigs and reels plus some traditional Irish instruments like the uilleann pipes, tin whistle, or bodhrán (a type of drum). The band didn’t have very much success and by the 80s, they broke up. However, thanks to “Dearg Doom” being sampled in Ireland’s 1990 World Cup song “Put ‘Em Under Pressure”, the band had a revival in popularity and interest. Just like Rory Gallagher, Horslips weren’t afraid to play shows in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland even at the height of The Troubles, in fact, their last gig was played at Ulster Hall in Belfast in 1980 and at the encore they played a cover of a song with a fitting title, The Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time”.

Horslips were best known for their concept albums based on Irish mythology: The Táin and The Book of Invasions. The former came out in 1973 and was recorded because The Abbey Theatre in Dublin wanted Horslips to make the music for a stage adaptation of The Táin. It’s is a concept album based on the Táin Bó Cúailnge, a famous legend of Early Irish literature, so it’s definitely one that you’re going to want to listen to from start to finish. This is the album that “Dearg Doom” is on. The Táin Bó Cúailnge is considered Ireland’s version of The Iliad. The story is about a war between two Irish regions: Ulster in the north and Connacht in the west, over a prize bull. Musically, the song is based on the traditional folk song “O’Neill’s March”.

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If this isn’t enough Irish mythology for you, give Thin Lizzy a try. Can’t recommend their music enough. “Black Rose (A Rock Legend)” basically sums up a lot of Irish mythology and history in 7 minutes, even referencing Cúchulainn. “Emerald” is the killer closing track of their 1976 classic album Jailbreak, inspired by Irish mythology complete with some Celtic sounding twin lead guitar riffs.

Want something less rock and roll? Listen to Planxty. They’re a band from the 70s who did a lot of Irish folk songs, as well as folk songs from Scotland and England and even some Balkan influences!

2. The Happy Prince – The La De Da’s (1969)

Continuing on the Irish theme we have another song based on books written by Irish people, except this one’s gonna take us to the 19th century. One of the most famous Irish writers from that era was Oscar Wilde. He was better known for works like The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest, but did you know he also wrote some children’s stories? The Happy Prince was one of them, published in a collection of children’s stories called The Happy Prince and Other Tales. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s pretty similar to The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. Basically a swallow lands on a sentient golden statue of a prince in the town square and the statue sees suffering in the town and tells the swallow to give its resources: the gold and the gemstones to the people in the town to improve their lives. The statue loses its beauty and the swallow dies and the prince’s heart and the swallow go to heaven.

A New Zealand garage rock band wanted to take their music to the next level and so in 1967 their bassist Trevor Wilson decided to write a concept album based on The Happy Prince. The idea was divisive among the band members with only keyboard player Bruce Howard liking the idea and so it sat dormant while the band gigged in Australia. Eventually they recorded the album there with the support of a writer from Melbourne named Adrian Rawlins, who loved the idea and narrated the story in between the songs, in an Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake sort of way. It was a groundbreaking album in Australian rock history because it was the first de facto 8-track recording in the country, but that’s because two four track recorders were synchronised. In those days, Australia was way behind technologically compared to the UK and the US. Not only that, but it was the first concept album from down under. Unfortunately, it was a commercial flop at the time of release, but artistically, it’s great and underrated.

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Mutliple bands have performed songs about Dorian Gray: Television Personalities, Nirvana (the psychedelic rock band from England, not the famous grunge band), Cherry Five (an Italian prog rock band), and The Sweet (a more art rock sound, after Brian Connolly’s departure from the band). Not related to music but the 1970 film adaptation starring Helmut Berger is really good (also he’s bisexual).

The Rolling Stones referenced the famous 1895 trial in the music video for “We Love You”. Patti Smith read part of De Profundis in 2016 at the former chapel of Reading Prison as part of an exhibition called Inside: Artists and Writers in Reading Prison. Pete Shelley wore a green carnation in the music video for “Homosapien”. Ray Davies wrote an unreleased song called “Green Carnation” and in a TV performance of “Sunny Afternoon” he wore a carnation on his lapel, although it’s unknown what colour it is, as the clip was in black and white. Jim Morrison is buried in the same cemetery as Oscar Wilde, Père Lachaise in Paris.

3. “The Song of Wandering Aengus” – Donovan (1971)

Continuing with the Irish writers theme, this song is based on a William Butler Yeats poem. While Donovan was born in Scotland, he’s half Irish and very much proud of his Irish roots and calls Ireland home. His name is Irish too. Growing up, Donovan loved reading poetry and he wanted to be like the beatniks he looked up to. He didn’t just like beat poetry and Bob Dylan, but also older poets. You can see this love of older poetry in his 1971 double album HMS Donovan. What makes this album different from his better known psychedelic songs is that this is also an album for children, something the whole family can enjoy. After his wife, Linda Lawrence got pregnant with the couple’s first child, Donovan decided to work on an album of children’s songs. After 3 years in the making, it came out in July 1971.

The album is made up of music set to poems by Lewis Carroll – from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, a version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, a version of nonsense poem “The Owl and the Pussycat” by Edward Lear, “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” by Eugene Field, “Queen Mab” – words by Thomas Hood and inspired by the fairy in Romeo and Juliet, along with some original songs written by Donovan. And of course we can’t forget “The Song of Wandering Aengus” from W.B. Yeats’ The Wind Among The Reeds, published in 1899, but originally published two years earlier in a magazine called The Sketch. W.B. Yeats called the poem “the kind of poem I like best myself – a ballad that gradually lifts … from circumstantial to purely lyrical writing”. It was inspired by a Greek folk song called “The Fruit of the Apple Tree”, but with Irish influences too, Aengus being the Irish god of youth, love, summer, and poetic inspiration. Now that’s what I call classic rock going to English class!

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Other folk musicians like Judy Collins (as “Golden Apples of the Sun”), Terry Callier (as “Golden Apples of the Sun”), and Dave Van Ronk performed their own versions of “The Song of Wandering Aengus”.

If you want more songs based on W.B. Yeats poems, listen to “The Stolen Child” by folk rock band The Waterboys and “Easter” by prog rock band Marillion. The former is “The Stolen Child” set to Irish folk music (some lines from the original poem are omitted, which is typical for a lot of poems that become set to music). The latter is a song about The Troubles inspired by the poem “Easter, 1916”. Lead singer Steve Hogarth travelled to Ireland a few times in the 80s and had a very good experience travelling there and so he wrote the song as a message of hope for Irish people.

Thin Lizzy’s “Black Rose” name checks WB Yeats in the lyric “While William Butler waits” (sorry zoomers, his name is not pronounced as yeets). The 60s psychedelic rock/electronic band Silver Apples named themselves after a line from “The Song of Wandering Aengus” – “the silver apples of the moon”.

4. “Lady Eleanor” – Lindisfarne (1970)

“Lady Eleanor” by folk rock band Lindisfarne is based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”. Lindisfarne, named after a tidal island off the Northeast coast of England – in Northumberland, were formed in Newcastle upon Tyne in the late 60s. “Lady Eleanor” was one of the band’s first singles, from their debut album Nicely Out of Tune, released on Tony Stratton-Smith‘s Charisma label. It was not a chart hit initially, but with the success of “Meet Me On The Corner” from their follow up album Fog On The Tyne, “Lady Eleanor” was re-released as a single and peaked at #3 on the British charts, becoming their highest charting hit – a sleeper hit.

“The Fall of the House of Usher” is a short story originally published in 1839 in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine and re-published the following year in Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, a collection of Poe’s previously published short stories. A man sees his long lost friend, Roderick Usher, after Usher sends him a letter asking for help because he’s mentally ill. Overall, a melancholy story with themes of madness, family, and isolation. Could this be the blueprint for gothic rock? Unfortunately, Poe did not make any royalties off the publishing on this book, with his publisher Lea & Blanchard only paying him in 20 free copies of his book. He was one of the first Americans to make a living as a writer, not only writing poems and short stories, but also working at a literary critic and editor. But that often didn’t make ends meet, so he often turned to gambling. Because of exploitative publishing deals, poor working conditions at periodicals, and the lack of copyright protections, he died in poverty. He was only 40. The cause of death is still unknown.

Edgar Allan Poe’s influence lives on today in the goth subculture and the now popular dark academia aesthetic. He was one of the central figures of Romanticism in the United States and an early adopter of the more accessible short story format, making his work well-loved in English classes.

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Phil Ochs set Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Bells” to music on the track of the same name off the album All The News That’s Fit To Sing. Definitely something worth listening to! An obscure psychedelic rock band called The Glass Prism released an entire album in 1969 based on the Poe’s work called Poe Through The Glass Prism. On the album cover, you can see the band dressed like dandies with one of the band members holding a raven. Queen had a song called “Nevermore” on the album Queen II. The Alan Parsons Project released an album called Tales of Mystery and Imagination in 1976 based on various stories and poetry by Edgar Allan Poe. Artists like Lou Reed and The Grateful Dead recorded songs based on “The Raven”, Poe’s most famous work. Iron Maiden’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue” is inspired by the short story of the same name, considered the first modern detective story.

5. “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” – Buzzcocks (1979)

Buzzcocks frontman Pete Shelley was not just a punk rocker, but also one who loved to read, as you can tell from his stage last name, a tribute to his favourite Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. While studying at the Bolton Institute of Technology, he formed Buzzcocks and inspired by the Sex Pistols, they started making punk rock music. The literary inspiration didn’t stop there. It can also be found in the song “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays”, based on Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. The song was released as a single in 1979 and reached #29 on the UK charts.

Brave New World is a 1932 dystopian novel set in the future where there’s a World State. People don’t reproduce like we know it, but rather are made in test tubes. People don’t think for themselves, they undergo mental conditioning from infancy and sleep-learn and adults take happy pills called “soma” that keep the people happy and delusional. Your place in society is pre-determined and there are different castes and conformity is the way. One of the main characters, Bernard Marx, is a misfit who stands out for being shorter than others in his high caste, the alphas, and not only that, he thinks for himself. He goes to New Mexico with Lenina, a beta, where society is completely different, described as a “savage reservation”. While there, they meet a man named John who was born naturally to the Director and Linda. John was born and raised in this “savage reservation” and Linda was stuck there, unable to return home and she still sleeps around with the men in the village, a habit that is not looked kindly upon, she also had an addiction to soma and died because of it. John thinks for himself and loves reading Shakespeare. He decides to come back to the World State city of London with Bernard and Lenina, where he becomes a celebrity. Lenina has a crush on John and John likes her, but doesn’t like how forward she is. John feels like he fits in nowhere and rebels against this conformist, consumerist society. John and Bernard, along with their friend Helmholtz are exiled. John later kills himself in the countryside after being seen as a spectacle for self-flagellating to purify himself of society.

“Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” clearly refers to the happy pills in Brave New World and people having their thoughts controlled and not knowing

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60s rock band The Doors named themselves after Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, about Huxley’s psychedelic experience under the influence of mescaline.

The 1969 sci-fi themed one-hit wonder, “In The Year 2525” by Zager & Evans is also based on Brave New World. References to test-tube babies and a pill you take that dictates your thoughts are made in the lyrics.

Iron Maiden released an album in 2000 called Brave New World.

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