"Classics Rock! is the best of both worlds--music and books."
-- CNBC.com "Bullish on Books" blog

Friday, May 29, 2009

Now My Heart is Full/Morrissey

The lead track from Morrissey's 1994 album Vauxhall and I features the names of several characters from Brighton Rock, Graham Greene's 1938 noir thriller about a violent teenage criminal: Dallow, Spicer, Pinkie, Cubitt. However, it appears that Morrissey came to the novel via the film version. According to a note on the web site Wor(l)d of Morrissey, "Dallow, Spicer, Pinkie, Cubitt are all characters of Brighton Rock, a 1947 movie directed by John Boulting and taken from Graham Greene's homonymous novel."

Submitted by Ron Hogan

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)/Squeeze

This song from Squeeze's album Argybargy includes the line A Harold Robbins paperback, invoking it as the epitome of the trashy beach read. The problem facing us was: which Harold Robbins paperback? The guy wrote about 25 novels, not to mention several books by other writers that were published under Robbins' name after he died. We decided to take a logical approach: Since Argybargy was released in 1980, the most likely candidate was Dreams Die First, which came out in paperback in 1978. Unfortunately that book is out of print now--so much for logic. Instead, we went with our fallback choice, The Carpetbaggers, the best known and most successful of Robbins' novels.

Submitted by Tom Beusse

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Namesake/Anaïs Mitchell

Is familiarity with Anaïs Nin's erotic novel A Spy in the House of Love a prerequisite for modern songwriters? You might think so, considering how often it turns up in popular music. Published in 1954, the book concerns a married woman (thought to be a fictionalized version of Nin herself) who carries on multiple affairs and thinks of herself as "an international spy in the house of love." We'll focus here on Anaïs Mitchell's allusion to the author and the book, as hers is among the more direct as well as the more recent references. The song's title provides the first clue, but it also includes these lines: Oh, but I, in the name of my namesake/Am a beautiful fly on the wall/Of your four-chambered heartbreak/A spy in the house of your love. (The Four-Chambered Heart was the title of a previous Nin novel, published in 1950. Along with A Spy in the House of Love, it is part of a five-novel sequence known as Cities of the Interior.)

Other references:
The Spy, from The Doors' 1970 album Morrison Hotel, features the line I'm a spy in the house of love.

A line from the novel, "I am an international spy in the house of love," served as an epigraph in the liner notes of Carly Simon's 1979 album Spy.

The dB's 1984 album Like This includes a song called A Spy In The House Of Love.

The 1988 album What Up, Dog?, from Was (Not Was), includes a song called Spy In The House Of Love.

Deborah Holland recorded her song There's a Spy (in the House of Love) with Animal Logic on their self-titled first album in 1989. More recently Holland re-recorded the song as (There's a) Spy in the House of Love (note the traveling parentheses) with her new group, The Refugees, for the album Unbound, released this year.

The English rock band The House of Love took their name from the novel, and called their 1990 collection of b-sides and rarities A Spy In The House Of Love.

Junction Seven, a 1997 album by Steve Winwood, features a song called Spy In The House Of Love.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I Robot/The Alan Parsons Project

A near miss: I Robot (1977), the second album from The Alan Parsons Project (following Tales of Mystery and Imagination), was supposed to be based on themes explored in the nine linked short stories featured in Isaac Asimov's book I, Robot, published in 1950. Asimov was reportedly enthusiastic about the idea, but apparently the rights were unavailable, so the final album's connection to the book is tenuous at best, and the title was subtly changed: The comma was removed.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Tales of Brave Ulysses/Cream

The hero of Homer's epic The Odyssey is featured in this song, from Cream's 1967 album Disraeli Gears, but he appears under the Latin rendering of his name, Ulysses: And you touch the distant beaches/With tales of brave Ulysses/How his naked ears were tortured/By the Sirens sweetly singing. The reference is to an episode in The Odyssey, an account of the ten-year journey undertaken by Odysseus (Ulysses) to get home following the Trojan War. His course takes him past the island of the Sirens--mythical women whose irresistible song lures sailors to shipwreck on the rocks. He orders his crew to fill their ears with beeswax, then has himself lashed to the mast so he can hear the music for himself. When he hears the Sirens' song, he begs to be released, but his men stand firm and the ship passes by safely. The girl featured in "Tales of Brave Ulysses" is associated with the Greek goddess of love: Her name is Aphrodite/And she rides a crimson shell. Aphrodite appears in The Iliad, Homer's account of the Trojan War, and can be said to have helped instigate that conflict by enabling Paris's abduction of Helen, Queen of Sparta, the event that precipitated the war.

Submitted by Beth Calamia Scheckel

Thursday, May 21, 2009

7 Chinese Bros./R.E.M.

The title of this song, from R.E.M.'s second album Reckoning (1984), is apparently a reference to a children's book called The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Huchet Bishop, with illustrations by Kurt Wiese, published in 1938. This retelling of a Chinese folk tale features five identical brothers with superhuman powers, including one who can "swallow the sea." The cryptic lyrics of the song refer to Seven Chinese brothers swallowing the ocean. Interestingly, a different version of the same story was published under the title The Seven Chinese Brothers in 1990--six years after "7 Chinese Bros." was released. (While recording this song, lead singer Michael Stipe--trying to find his vocal groove--"sang" the liner notes of a Gospel album, which happened to be in the recording studio, over the "7 Chinese Bros." melody. This warm-up exercise later appeared as Voice Of Harold on R.E.M.'s 1987 rarities album Dead Letter Office.)

Submitted by William Scheckel

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wuthering Heights/Kate Bush

Kate Bush's debut single, from her 1978 album The Kick Inside, is based on Emily Brontë's classic 1847 novel Wuthering Heights, and features specific references to the book's main characters, Heathcliff and Catherine. There is a spooky aspect to the song, as it seems to depict the dead Catherine returning as a spectre, pleading at Heathcliff's window to be admitted to the house (Heathcliff, it's me, I'm Cathy, I've come home/I'm so cold, let me in...). A similar scene occurs early in the novel, before the main story is told via flashbacks. Bush re-recorded the song for a greatest hits album, The Whole Story (1986).

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tower of Babel/Elton John

From Elton John's 1975 album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, this song portrays a morally corrupt age and summons stories from the Old Testament to suggest sin and degradation: It's party time for the guys in the Tower of Babel/Sodom meet Gomorrah, Cain meet Abel. These episodes all occur in the Book of Genesis. Elton employs an unconventional pronunciation for the word "Babel" ("Bay-bul") but at least it allows him to rhyme it with "Abel."

Submitted by Bob McLeod

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mother Russia/Renaissance

A song about Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, from Renaissance's 1974 album Turn of the Cards. Following World War II, Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to a Soviet labor camp for criticizing Joseph Stalin in letters to a friend (Punished for his written thoughts/Starving for his fame, as the lyrics have it). His experiences in the camp formed the basis for his first novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962), which served as an inspiration for the songwriters. With a running time of more than nine minutes, "Mother Russia" is a case of a short book inspiring a long song.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Ghost of Tom Joad/Bruce Springsteen

This song, from Bruce Springsteen's 1995 album of the same name, has a contemporary (mid-1990s) setting but depicts financial hardships that parallel those of the Great Depression as depicted in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Springsteen makes the connection between the two eras by alluding to Tom Joad, the main character of the novel. In particular, the later verses paraphrase a speech by Tom that appears near the end of the book (Now Tom said "Mom, wherever there's a cop beatin' a guy/Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries/Where there's a fight 'gainst the blood and hatred in the air/Look for me Mom I'll be there..."). Springsteen was also inspired by an earlier Woody Guthrie ballad, Tom Joad, as well as by the 1940 film version of The Grapes of Wrath, directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda as Tom. Bruce captures the character of Tom Joad in a five-minute song almost as well as Ford and Fonda did in a two-hour movie.

Submitted by Bob Davison

Thursday, May 14, 2009

He Do the Police in Different Voices/The Loud Family

Singer/songwriter Scott Miller has long cited T.S. Eliot as his "primary literary influence," and this is evident in the title of this song, from The Loud Family's 1993 album Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things. "He Do the Police in Different Voices" was Eliot's working title for a long poem that would ultimately be known to the world as The Waste Land. Eliot, in turn, seemed to be referencing Charles Dickens's novel Our Mutual Friend , in which the elderly widow Betty Higden brags about her adopted son Sloppy's ability to read aloud: "You mightn't think it, but Sloppy is a beautiful reader of a newspaper. He do the Police in different voices."

Submitted by Matthew Budman

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I Should Be Allowed to Think/They Might Be Giants

The opening line of this song, found on TMBG's 1994 album John Henry, is from Allen Ginsberg's extended poem Howl: I saw the best minds of my generation/Destroyed by madness, starving hysterical. Variations of the line occur throughout the song: I saw the best bands of my generation/Applied by magic marker to drywall, and more directly, I was the worst hope of my generation/Destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical. The song sounds a bit like a resentful rant by an adolescent who's not allowed to glue a poster to the wall...but we'll leave the interpretation up to you.

Submitted by Ron Hogan

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Calypso/Suzanne Vega

In the context of Suzanne Vega's song, from her 1987 album Solitude Standing, Calypso refers to the sea nymph of Greek myth. In Homer's The Odyssey, Calypso falls in love with the hero, Odysseus, and imprisons him on her island for seven years, until the gods convince her to let him go. Vega depicts Calypso awaiting their final dawn together, when Odysseus will depart forever: Now today/Come morning light/He sails away/After one last night/I let him go.

Monday, May 11, 2009

White Rabbit/Jefferson Airplane

Another blast from the psychedelic Sixties, this classic from Jefferson Airplane's 1967 album Surrealistic Pillow combines imagery from two novels by Lewis Carroll--Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865, and its 1871 sequel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There--with a lot of drug references. The song seems to suggest that this type of literature, in which characters consume magic mushrooms and drink potions to make themselves bigger or smaller, might induce children to take drugs.

Submitted by Carrie Jenott

At the Mountains of Madness/H.P. Lovecraft

A rare case where the song shares the name of the book and the band shares the name of the author. A psychedelic rock band of the late Sixties, H.P. Lovecraft took their name from the American horror writer H(oward) P(hillips) Lovecraft, best known for his cycle of stories about the Cthulhu Mythos. The band's name alone would not qualify them for inclusion here (see The Ground Rules), and besides, they later shortened it to just Lovecraft (take that, H.P.). However, this song, from their second album H.P. Lovecraft II (1969), seems to have been inspired by one of Lovecraft's (that's the writer, not the band) short novels, At the Mountains of Madness, about a terrifying expedition to the Antarctic. The song is also featured on their Live at the Filmore: May 11, 1968 album.

Submitted by Robert L. Fleck

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season)/The Byrds

Written by Pete Seeger in 1959, and originally recorded by him in the early Sixties, this song was popularized by The Byrds with their 1965 version, which gave the title to their second album. The lyrics are taken more or less directly from the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes, hewing close to the King James version. Seeger added the "Turn! Turn! Turn!" refrain and the last line, "I swear it's not too late." This is a song that has enjoyed any number of seasons, having been recorded by dozens of artists over the last half century.

Submitted by Kenneth C. Davis