The weird thing about writing these Tuesday Tens is that the ideas for some take a long time to come together. Others can have a whole load of suggestions come at once, particularly if an idea for a subject pops up while I’m in the pub, or out with my girlfriend (especially in the car, oddly enough), when a song triggers it. This happened on Friday night in the Dev, when Daisy and another friend came up with various suggestions for a future TT that so far, I’m not quite happy with. So I’m returning to the mass of notes I have stored (and backed up!) for this week and a few more in the future – I have at least twelve future subjects on their way to completion – and this week, it’s literary connections. That is, songs that are about works of literature, reference them, or are about literary figures. I’d love to hear other suggestions, too.
As usual click on the Spotify link to hear most of the playlist, as well as a few bonuses seeing as one or two are missing.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
/Red Right Hand
/Let Love In
Probably by some distance The Bad Seeds’ best-known song – and given Cave’s more, er, intelligent musings in his lyrics than many other artists, I’m sure this is not the only song of his that makes literary references. And then, of course, Cave is a noted writer, too, so there is a double connection here. But anyway, back to this song – it’s doomy, end of the world atmosphere is set up pretty quickly by the bell tolling, the title refers to John Milton’s Paradise Lost, while I’ve heard elsewhere that it’s a partly (blackly) comic take on Stephen King’s The Stand. Which would make sense seeing as I always got the feeling that Cave had great fun with this song, and that his tongue is deeply in his cheek all the way through his over-the-top delivery. It’s been used in many less-than-literary grade films, since, too…
/The Girl Who Wanted To Be God
/Everything Must Go
I realised as I wrote and compiled this that this is the second week on the trot where the Manics have appeared. But then, with the amount of literary (and other) references that Richey Edwards included in his lyrics before he disappeared, how could I not include them? This track is also what reminded me to pick up this list again, seeing as it was the first track we heard walking through the door at Nuis@nce last Friday (and that made Daisy an instant convert, I can tell you). Anyway, the title of this lush, string laden charge – one of the unsung highlights of this album – comes from the writing of Sylvia Plath, of course, and from what I can tell this song is broadly about her.
It’s fair to say that Mansun’s early EPs and debut album Attack of the Grey Lantern were rather grand in scale and scope – and certainly rather more deep and thoughtful than many of their boorish, so-called “peers” – but they were disposable pop music compared to their second album Six. A seething, restless mass, it’s seventy-minute running time demanded countless listens to penetrate it, both musically and lyrically. Musically the band seemed to be cramming as many different styles in as possible, frequently within one song, resulting in lengthy pieces that sampled from elsewhere and recycled other sources, before turning on their head and trying something else entirely. Lyrically they attempted to be just as inclusive, and half the fun with this album was trying to identify all the literary influences – there were masses of clues on the front cover, never mind within the songs. While single (!) Legacy referenced 120 Days of Sodom, this track was preoccupied with the rather less controversial work of A.A. Milne – The House at Pooh Corner…
/Exit Music (For A Film)
I’m actually surprised, I have to admit, that no other uses of Shakespearean influence came to mind when compiling this. This sombre, elegant ballad – for me the finest ballad Radiohead have written – of course, is based upon a particular scene in Romeo and Juliet and appears to be Thom Yorke’s view of what should happen. That is, they should escape and enjoy their love before, as he puts it, “all hell breaks loose”. While it’s been used again since, the use in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet – that it was of course written for – is perfect and heart-wrenching.
/Hey Jack Kerouac
/In My Tribe
I have to admit – this was an album that took a young me a long time to appreciate. An album my dad had on repeat from when it was released, way back in 1987, when I was all of nine, it took well into my teens before really got to love it. And I’d not heard anything from it in a long time before I compiled this, either. So it’s urgent, sparse folky rock sound, and Natalie Merchant’s clear, forceful voice, brought back memories of the past for me. But getting back to the subject, this is a song about the beat poets. Not just Kerouac, but also Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs.
/Bug Powder Dust
Who knew I could link from 10,000 Maniacs to Bomb The Bass in one easy step? Well, easy in this case. The finest moment Tim Simenon ever produced, a filthy, bass-heavy rumble with the vocal assistance of Justin Warfield whose lyrics are both references and a tribute to William S. Burroughs. And you know what else it makes me think? I really ought to watch Naked Lunch again sometime… [Note: the Spotify playlist features a remix, as the original sadly isn’t on there]
/Blood and Thunder
How many other bands would, or could, write a coherent and brilliant album about a classic work of literature? And make it as heavy as this? Step forward a band named after a massive, prehistoric animal, who chose on their second album to loosely base its concept around Hermann Melville’s work Moby Dick. Not all of the songs follow it closely, but this, the titanic opener and one of Mastodon’s finest songs, is clearly a scene-setter for what is to come – and while he’s not named, it’s pretty obvious that this is from Captain Ahab’s point of view, detailing his obsession to catch and kill the legendary whale. [Note: a warning – the video contains a whole lot of clowns.]
/Der Leiermann EP
More commonly heard as United States of Mind‘s eternally popular opener Like Tears In Rain (popular both as a dancefloor filler and a live favourite), it was reworked around the time of the album into this version, reciting the words of Wilhelm Müller’s work over the music of Like Tears In Rain. It’s quite extraordinary how well it works, too, as if this was the version created first, and the English words were fitted in later. Maybe it was? Anyway, this wasn’t the end of Covenant’s lofty references, with countless mentions of Greek legends littered in the lyrics of follow-up album Northern Light. Expect more of Covenant next week.
/The Kick Inside
How could I possibly do this week’s list without mentioning this? Quite likely one of the most striking debut singles ever, it is based on certain moments within the Emily Brontë novel and perhaps shares a similar, stark feel, too. I’ll be honest, though, and admit that I never was a fan of the book. I was, though, a big fan of China Drum’s fabulous, and very different, cover of the song.
/Is This Desire?
It’s not often that I’m inspired to go and read a book or story as the result of a song, but for this last entry in this list, this is one of that few. A gorgeous, understated ballad from PJ Harvey’s dark, mid-90s period that resulted in two very different albums (the bluesy, gothic sprawl of To Bring You My Love, and the electronic, even darker Is This Desire?), I was a little surprised to learn that this song was inspired by the titular short story by Flannery O’Connor – where a young boy is baptised in the river, and after realising religion means more to him than it does to his family, drowns in the river to get closer to God. I’ve never cared much, or at all, for religion, but this song is rather eerie for its dark heart and the bleakness it invokes. Even more astonishing was the cover by industrial-dub-jazz-soul-house (certainly in later years they utterly defied any attempts at pigeonholing) band Spahn Ranch, who somehow made it even bleaker and more beautiful.