songs with literature references
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10 literature references you might’ve missed in your favorite song

Rock songs throughout the decades have been influenced by famous and not-so-famous works of literature. From David Bowie’s “1984” to killer Queen track “The Invisible Man,” some of the best have incorporated literature references. 

Check out our list below for some of our favorite literature references throughout the scene. 

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Panic! At The Disco – “Time To Dance”

“Give me envy, give me malice, give me your attention”

“Time To Dance” can be found on Panic! At The Disco’s debut, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. It was the first demo Panic! recorded and is based on the Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club) novel Invisible Monsters. There are lyrics throughout that line up with the novel, with the above line being exact prose from the book. Brendon Urie also references another Palahniuk novel, Survivor, in fellow album track “The Only Difference Between Martyrdom And Suicide Is Press Coverage,” noting just how much the singer loves the novelist.

The Front Bottoms – “Laugh Till I Cry”

“You stretch the modifier, while I stretch the adjective”

The Front Bottoms began burying literary references in their music long ago, such as self-titled album track “The Boredom Is The Reason I Started Swimming. It’s Also The Reason I Started Sinking.” The obvious nod to Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho appears in the line “I want to read American Psycho again.” Like Panic!, the Front Bottoms also make a direct reference to Invisible Monsters on “Laugh Till I Cry.” The Back On Top track pays respect to the moment when a therapist describes the different ways men and women speak, stating that women stretch the modifier, while men stretch the adjective.

Taking Back Sunday – “Liar (It Takes One To Know One)”

“Liar, liar/If we’re keeping score, then we’re all choir boys at best (intrusive and arrogant)”

This Taking Back Sunday hit off Louder Now features a possible reference to William Golding’s Lord Of The Flies. Adam Lazzara sings about a lonely island, much like the one the Lord Of The Flies boys lived on. There are also choir boys throughout the song, such as the misleading ones from the Golding classic. Although TBS haven’t acknowledged this possible reference, it seems too on point to not be true.

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Nirvana – “Scentless Apprentice”

“Like most babies smell like butter, his smell smelled like no other/He was born scentless and senseless/He was born a scentless apprentice”

This In Utero track was based on Perfume by Patrick Suskind, which is one of Kurt Cobain’s favorite novels. The story follows a perfume apprentice with a heightened sense of smell but is born without a body scent (“He was born scentless and senseless”). The apprentice was abandoned at birth and raised by a wet nurse, and one claims babies smell like fresh butter (“Like most babies smell like butter, his smell smelled like no other”). Therefore, the apprentice must be possessed by the devil because he lacks any body odor. He then proceeds to kill women in search of the perfect scent. 

My Chemical Romance – “To The End”

“If you marry me, would you bury me?/Would you carry me to the end?”

Considering MCR got their name from an Irvine Welsh novel (Ecstasy: Three Tales Of Chemical Romance), it makes sense that this track nods to another lit classic. My Chemical Romance’s Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, which is about two lovers separated by death, houses “To The End.” The track is based on William Faulkner’s short story A Rose for Emily. Emily falls in love with a man but then kills him because he wouldn’t marry her. She then keeps his dead body in her room and sleeps with it every night. 

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Circa Survive – “House Of Leaves”

This Juturna hidden track comes from a Mark Z. Danielewski novel of the same name. “House Of Leaves” is located at 8:56 following the silence after “Meet Me In Montauk” on Circa Survive’s debut album. The song is rumored to be in the perspective of the main character in House Of Leaves, Johnny Truant.

Green Day – “Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?”

“Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?” is a direct reference to the protagonist of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye. This track from the 1991 Green Day album Kerplunk! follows the story of Caulfield. Screeching Weasel responded with “I Wrote Holden Caulfield” in 1994, giving a rare banter between two genre favorites.

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Ice Nine Kills – “The Nature Of The Beast”

“We are the beaten and the scorned/And now you’ve forced the beast to bare its teeth/We’ll come in droves like animals/Hungry to reclaim our control/As we fight to bite the bitter hand that feeds”

The first song off Ice Nine KillsEvery Trick In The Book is just one of 10 inspired by a book, as the whole album is based on works of literature. “The Nature Of The Beast” tackles one of the famous works by George Orwell, Animal Farm, where the animals reclaim control. 

Anti-Flag – “Welcome To 1984”

“Hell yeah I’m confused for sure what I thought was the New Millennium is 1984/Mr. Orwell from the grave, adding fresh ink to the page/As the unpresident declares an endless war/Welcome to 1984”

Anti-Flag reference one of the greatest dystopian novels of all time in “Welcome To 1984.” Like Animal Farm, this other Orwell novel focuses on the man and their wrongdoings, which is one of Anti-Flag’s favorite topics to write about. The track remains as relevant today as it was in 2007 when Punk Goes Acoustic, Vol. 2 came out, much like how the Orwell novel 1984 is as relevant today as it was in 1949 when it was first published. Anti-Flag continues to speak politically throughout their craft at every given opportunity, and we can’t get enough.

Thrice – “Daedalus”

“Now safely away, I let out a cry/‘We’ll make the mainland by noon’/But Icarus climbs higher still in the sky, maybe I’ve spoken too soon”

Daedalus was a skillful craftsman in Greek mythology who fathered two sons, Icarus and Iapyx. Like most stories in mythology, Daedalus’ journey is different depending on whose story is being told. Thrice often write about literature and Greek mythology, such as in “Doublespeak” and “The Melting Point Of Wax.” 

What’s are your favorite literature references in music? Let us know in the comments below!