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

Friday, October 30, 2009

For Halloween: Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive/Men at Work, and More

For Halloween, we're featuring Dr. Heckyll & Mr. Jive, from Men at Work's 1983 album Cargo. The song offers a musical spin on Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The title--with the first letters of Jekyll and Hyde transposed--offers a clue that the song is a variation on Stevenson's classic tale of split personality. Instead of a respectable doctor turning into violent brute, as in the original, the lyrics have a socially awkward mad scientist (Hey hey, he fumbles for what to say) transformed into a suave man-about-town (Hey hey, he's cool in every way)--essentially the same premise as the 1963 Jerry Lewis film The Nutty Professor. The video for the song features a Sherlock Holmes figure--suggestive of mystery writer Loren D. Estleman's 1980 novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes, which pitted the sleuth against the Jekyll/Hyde duo. [England Dan and John Ford Coley released a 1978 album with the title Dr. Heckle & Mr. Jive.]

Here are some other musical selections, featured in previous posts, that are suitable to the season:

Moon Over Bourbon Street by Sting, about a vampire, based on Anne Rice's novel Interview With The Vampire.

Tales of Mystery and Imagination by The Alan Parsons Project, an entire album of songs based on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe.

The Resurrectionist by the Pet Shop Boys, based on Sarah Wise's book about body snatchers, The Italian Boy.

Scentless Apprentice by Nirvana, about the misanthropic mass murderer featured in the novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind.

At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft, which, not surprisingly, is based on At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft, a short novel about a terrifying excursion to the Antarctic.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Justified and Ancient (Stand by The JAMs)/The KLF with Tammy Wynette

Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, the anarchic duo known as The KLF (which stands for Kopyright Liberation Front), were heavily influenced by The Illuminatus! Trilogy, three novels written by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. The three books--The Eye in the Pyramid, The Golden Apple, and Leviathan--were published individually in 1975 and as a single volume in 1984. The trilogy serves up a dense, satirical melange of conspiracy theories, religious cults, alternate history, and talking porpoises (to name just a few elements), all leavened liberally with sex, drugs, and yes, rock and roll. A previous incarnation of The KLF, The JAMs, took its name from The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, a group featured in The Illuminatus! Trilogy that is devoted to sowing chaos and discord in order to disrupt the plans of The Illuminati, who secretly control the world. (The KLF were similarly inspired to sow anarchy in the corporately controlled music industry.) The song "Justified and Ancient" was recorded in a number of versions and contexts by The JAMs and The KLF, but its most notable incarnation occurred in a 1991 release (available on the album The White Room/Justified & Ancient) with country singer Tammy Wynette handling lead vocals. The subtitle of this version, "Stand by The JAMs," is a nod to Wynette's hit Stand By Your Man. Under the name The Timelords, the duo released additional recordings and a 1988 book, The Manual, which details how anyone can create a #1 single.

With a nod to Ron Hogan.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Casanova in Hell/Pet Shop Boys

On the web site Absolutely Pet Shop Boys, Neil Tennant describes the song Casanova In Hell, from the Pet Shop Boys' 2006 album Fundamental: "I’d had the idea of writing a song called ‘Casanova in Hell’ from reading a book about him. . . . It’s a short novel, Casanova's Homecoming by Arthur Schnitzler, who was the Viennese writer at the tum of the twentieth century and it sort of draws upon the idea that Casanova is getting older. . . . A woman laughs at him because she thinks he’s too old to have sex with her, and he confronts that realisation and gets his revenge by writing his memoirs." Casanova has the last laugh, as the lyrics note: Back in the library/His revenge is his story/What he will write/Will recall the bite/Of his wit/And legendary appetite. (Rufus Wainwright was the first to sing the song at a live performance, at a concert for the BBC in 2006.)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sound of Thunder/Duran Duran

The title of Duran Duran's song Sound Of Thunder, from their 1981 album Duran Duran, alludes to Ray Bradbury's celebrated short story "A Sound of Thunder." First published in the magazine Collier's in 1952, Bradbury's tale has become one of the most widely reprinted science fiction stories ever written, and is currently available in Bradbury Classic Stories 1. It concerns a hunter named Eckels who contracts with a company called Time Safari to go back in time to kill a tyrannosaurus rex. While visiting the distant past, Eckels is repeatedly warned by his guide not to stray from Time Safari's predetermined path--damaging even a single blade of grass might cause reverberations through time that could have a dramatic impact on history. "A little error here would multiply in sixty million years, all out of proportion," the guide warns him. Unfortunately Eckels is terror-stricken when confronted with the live T. rex, and in his panic he steps off the path, inadvertently killing a butterfly. Upon returning from the past, the hunting party discovers that the death of that single butterfly millions of years earlier has produced devastating changes to their own time. The song's lyrics seem to refer specifically to Eckels with the lines: I'm the man who stepped off the path/And I just lie here/It's what I was made for. [In the story, the phrase "a sound of thunder" does double duty: It is used to describe the terrible noise made by the approaching dinosaur as well as a climactic gunshot.]

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Tomorrow Never Knows/The Beatles

There appears to be some residual confusion about the origins of the song "Tomorrow Never Knows," from The Beatles' 1966 album Revolver. It has long been known that John Lennon wrote the song after taking LSD; but did he draw inspiration directly from The Tibetan Book of the Dead as some Beatles insiders claimed, or from Timothy Leary's 1964 book The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, written with Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert? The Beatles' own book, The Beatles Anthology, seems to lay the matter to rest, quoting Lennon as saying: "Leary was the one going around saying take it, take it, take it. And we followed his instructions in his ‘how to take a a trip’ book. I did it just like he said in the book, and then I wrote 'Tomorrow Never Knows,' which was almost the first acid song. ‘Lay down all thought surrender to the void’ and all that shit which Leary had pinched from The Book of the Dead. . . . I read George Martin was saying John was into The Book of the Dead. I’d never seen it in my life." Certainly the line Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream is straight out of Leary's book. The title of the song is unrelated to the content. "I gave it a throwaway title because I was a bit self-conscious about the lyrics," Lennon said. "So I took one of Ringo's malapropisms, which was like 'a hard day's night,' to take the edge off the heavy philosophical lyrics." [The Psychedelic Experience is dedicated to Aldous Huxley, and quotes his book The Doors of Perception--the same book that inspired Jim Morrison to name his band The Doors.]

Submitted by Stephen

Saturday, October 3, 2009

1984/David Bowie, and More

Today Classics Rock! concludes Banned Books Week 2009 (September 26-October 3), during which we've been featuring songs based on frequently challenged books, by revisiting our post from June 8th--the 60th anniversary of the publication of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Sixty years ago today George Orwell's classic Nineteen Eighty-Four was published. References to the novel abound in popular music, but for this anniversary we'll consider a number of songs by David Bowie that relate to Orwell's book. In the early '70s, Bowie began working on a musical adaptation of the novel that never came to fruition. Instead Bowie featured much of that work on his 1974 album Diamond Dogs, including the songs 1984; We Are The Dead (a line from the novel spoken by the main character, Winston Smith); Big Brother, after the dictator of the totalitarian state depicted in the book (with the repeated line We want you Big Brother); and Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family, inspired by the novel's "Two-Minute Hate," a daily ritual required of those faithful to The Party (the ruling political class) in which they must express their hatred for the Party's enemies. The album ends with the first syllable of the word brother (as in Big Brother) heard over and over. [For another musical take on Orwell's novel, see our previous post about Anaïs Mitchell's song 1984.]

Friday, October 2, 2009

Like a Great Gatsby/Elliott Murphy

This week Classics Rock! is observing Banned Books Week 2009 (September 26-October 3) by featuring songs based on frequently challenged books.

Elliott Murphy's 1973 debut album Aquashow features the song "Like a Great Gatsby," a reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jazz Age novel The Great Gatsby, published in 1925. The song opens with the lines: Waiting for some dream lover like a great Gatsby/And then I look in the mirror and it's only me--a reference to the novel's rich and mysterious title character. Gatsby lives in the wealthy-with-new-money Long Island community of West Egg and pines for Daisy Buchanan, who lives across the bay in the wealthy-with-old-money community of East Egg. Gatsby fell for Daisy before he became wealthy, and social constraints kept them apart. Everything he has done--acquiring a fortune, throwing extravagant parties--has been designed to attract her attention. But Daisy is married now and lost to Gatsby, just as the narrator of the song seems to be addressing a woman beyond his reach (Use to follow you home/Hold on to you at dancing school and call you on the phone forever/But now your world begins with never). The line Do you ride on ancient ships under Dr. Eckleburg's eyes to heaven alludes to one of the key images in the novel, a fading billboard on the road into New York City featuring a huge pair of blue eyes behind enormous yellow spectacles. ("Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens," speculates the narrator, Nick Carraway.) On his web site Murphy talks about the album's cover art: "I suggested that we shoot in the Palm Court of the Plaza Hotel because that’s where part of The Great Gatsby took place. . . . The white suit I had bought not far from Gatsby land on the north shore of Long Island. It was made in France and I still have it hanging in my mother’s closet. Maybe I should give it to the Hard Rock Hotel."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Soma Holiday/G.O.L

This week Classics Rock! is observing Banned Books Week 2009 (September 26-October 3) by featuring songs based on frequently challenged books.

Soma Holiday appeared on the 1995 album Sensations of Tone, the only work produced by the experimental musical group Gods of Luxury, known as G.O.L. It is inspired by Aldous Huxley's 1932 satirical dystopian novel Brave New World. The novel depicts a World State that uses science and technology to control all aspects of the lives of its citizens--even reproduction, which is now carried out in labs called "hatcheries" and is carefully manipulated in order to limit the population and produce members of the five castes necessary to keep society running smoothly. The government provides for all the needs of its citizens, including readily available quantities of a hallucinogenic drug called soma. The government encourages the populace to indulge in soma (to take a "soma-holiday") in order to keep them docile and happy. The song's lyrics are culled directly from three different sections of the novel. The first verse--Feel how the Greater Being Comes/Rejoice and, in rejoicing, die/Melt in the music of the drums/For I am you and you are I--are from a Solidarity Hymn, sung at Solidarity Service Day meetings that members of the highest caste are required to attend. These rituals involve the consumption of copious amounts of Soma and conclude with an orgy--referred to as an "orgy-porgy" in the book. Soma Holiday was released as a single in 1996, and is currently available on the compilation One A.D.