As someone that is equally obsessed with literature, the English language, and music, I decided to compile this list that combines these loves. Below, you will find just a few of the many, many songs that refer to grammar, usage, or literature. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do!
1. “a Departure” by La Dispute
“Maybe you know what I’m talking about. Or maybe you would have known? Or had known?
Is it once knew? I don’t know what tense to use.”
The correct tense, of course, depends on the situation, which is left vague to the listener.
2. “One” by La Dispute
“Albert Camus wrote that the only serious question
is whether to kill yourself or not.
Tom Robbins wrote that the only serious question
is whether time has a beginning and an end.
Camus clearly got up on the wrong side of bed,
and Robbins must have forgotten to set the alarm.
There is only one serious question. And that is:
Who knows how to make love stay?
Answer me that and I will tell you whether or not to kill yourself.
Answer me that and I will ease your mind about the beginning and end of time,
Answer me that and I will reveal to you the purpose of the moon.”
This entire section of the song is pulled directly from Tom Robbins’ short story “The Purpose of the Moon.”
3. “Three” by La Dispute
The song pulls stanzas and phrases directly from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee,” with a few lines being omitted and others being slightly changed.
4. “Timberwolves at New Jersey” by Taking Back Sunday
“Those words at best
were worse than teenage poetry
and too many pronouns
Stop it, come on
You’re not making sense now”
With references to poetry, fragmented sentences, and pronouns, this song definitely appeals to my inner—okay, maybe my outer—English nerd.
5. “Oxford Comma” by Vampire Weekend
“Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?
I’ve seen those English dramas, too, they’re cruel
So if there’s any other way to spell the word
It’s fine with me, with me.”
This song mentions the Oxford comma, or the last comma that appears at the end of a list and is considered optional. I personally love the Oxford comma, and this is why:
6. “Good Friends, Bad Habits” by Owen
“Good friends with bad habits,
What am I to do?
They’re literary romantics,
They fuck like Wilde,
And indulge like Hemingway.”
Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway are two well-known literary figures. It seems like Wilde’s name is being used as a pun in this song, and Hemingway was known for indulging on the things he liked in life, such as alcohol, cigars, and women.
7. “Romeo and Juliet” by Dire Straits
This entire song is about William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
8. “Check Yes Juliet” by We The Kings
This is also a song that references the infamous love story of Romeo and Juliet.
9. “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult
This song is just another one of many songs about Romeo and Juliet.
10. “Nosferatu” by Blue Oyster Cult
This song tells the story of Bram Stoker’s Dracula while using the title of the silent film that was illegally made about the same novel.
11. “Fable” by Gatsby’s American Dream
Inspired by William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, this song includes lyrics like, “We came here on a plane/Just a bunch of little boys” and “kill the pig,” making the connection between song and book pretty obvious.
12. “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Metallica
Not only does Metallica use the title of Ernest Hemingway’s novel, but the manage to encompass themes from the novel in this song, as well.
13. “I’m Breathing…Are You Breathing, Too?” by Envy On The Coast
Lyrics: “No, there is no Odyssey.
There’s no Penelope,
Just maids and suitors.”
These lyrics refer to Homer’s The Odyssey, implying that the story of a wife (Penelope) who would wait for, and remain loyal to, her husband while he is off on a ten-year journey after war is only fictional. Everyone in life is either like a maid or a suitor, taking care of others or chasing after lovers, and that is all.
14. “Tales of Brave Ulysses” by Cream
This song is about James Joyce’s Ulysses, which was inspired by Homer’s The Odyssey.
15. “Invisible Monsters” by Motion City Soundtrack
Chuck Palahniuk’s novel by the same title is the inspiration for this song.
16. “Time to Dance” by Panic! At The Disco
“Boys will be boys
Hiding in estrogen and wearing Aubergine dreams.”
Also inspired by Palahniuk’s novel, this song talks about a mane character in the novel that wants to get a sex change. Also, his favorite eye shadow is called “Aubergine Dreams.”
17. “Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?” by Green Day
“There’s a boy who fogs his world and now he’s getting lazy
There’s no motivation and frustration makes him crazy
He makes a plan to take a stand but always ends up sitting.
Someone help him up or he’s gonna end up quitting.”
Holden Caulfield is the protagonist of J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, and this stanza reflects his lack of drive and his immaturity that he struggles with throughout the book.
18. “Pet Sematary” by Ramones
“I don’t want to be buried in a Pet Sematary,
I don’t want to live my life again,
I don’t want to be buried in a Pet Sematary,
I don’t want to live my life again.”
The lyrics refer to Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, a novel about a pet cemetery where whatever is buried there comes back to life.
19. “Ramble On” by Led Zeppelin
“T’was in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair.
But Gollum, and the evil one crept up and slipped away with her.”
This song references J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings through mentions of Mordor and Gollum.
20. “Hills Like White Elephants” by Isles and Glaciers
Ernest Hemingway’s short story of the same name inspired this song.
21. “100$ Bill” by Jay-Z
“Stock markets just crash, now I’m just a bill
History don’t repeat itself it rhymes, 1929 still
Write like Mark Twain, Jay Gatsby, I park things
Yellow cars, yellow gold like Slick Rick.”
Jay-Z is referring to The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald in his mention of Jay Gatsby, the yellow car (which is the car that Gatsby was in when it hit Myrtle), and yellow gold (because Gatsby had a lot of money that he pretended was “old” money, and I don’t know about you, but when I hear old money, I think blocks of gold).
22. “Ultraviolence” by Lana Del Rey
Both Lana Del Rey’s CD and song named “Ultraviolence” are named after the word created by Anthony Burgess in his novel A Clockwork Orange.
23. “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” by The Police
“It’s no use, he sees her
He starts to shake and cough
Just like the old man in
That book by Nabakov.”
The book by Vladimir Nabakov is Lolita, a novel about a teacher that is attracted to a 12-year-old student of his—much like this song is about.
24. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen
“Mama, just killed a man,
Put a gun against his head,
Pulled my trigger, now he’s dead.
Mama, life had just begun,
But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away.”
It is believed that these lyrics are about Albert Camus’ The Stranger, in which the narrator kills a man after attending his mother’s funeral.
25. “Belle’s Song” in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
Last but not least, we have “Belle’s song,” which of course involves Belle singing about books, her passion for literature made clear very early in the novel.