Tales in Tune: 5 Artists Heavily Influenced by Literary Greats

We all know what it is like to be completely in love with an artist and their work, you want everyone to know how amazing they are and shout from the rooftops about everything they do, but have you ever wondered about artists themselves feeling this way? It turns out they most certainly do. Some artists are so inspired by others’ work, and in particular, literature, that they name their band, write entire songs, or sometimes even whole albums about their favourite literary works.

With that in mind, here is my list of some of the best songs and artists influenced by literature. 

Wolf Alice 

No literature based music list would be complete without a mention of (in my opinion) one of the best bands in the world right now, Wolf Alice. The group are named after a short story written by Angela Carter as part of The Bloody Chamber collection released in 1979. 

In the titular story a young girl named Alice is raised by wolves until she is discovered by Nuns and moves into the human world where she must adapt and rediscover herself in this unfamiliar environment. Full of fantasy, mystery, wonder and a darkness lurking just beneath the surface it’s the perfect moniker for the multi-faceted group. 

The Last Dinner Party 

Surely the champions of 2024 (and it’s only March), The Last Dinner Party’s era-defining album, Prelude to Ecstasy, was released just over a month ago, providing the world with a hauntingly beautiful collection of maximalist alternative pop rock. The Last Dinner Party (like many of us fangirls) wear their hearts on their sleeves when it comes to their favourite influences with the grandiose bombastic pop of ‘Caesar on a TV Screen’ (and the Olivier Award-worthy music video) being heavily influenced by Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. There are numerous other literary references woven throughout the band’s work with Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Greek mythology being influences for the group. 

Kate Bush 

Perhaps the most famous literature-influenced song, Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights is still a force to be reckoned with over forty years after a teenage Bush first put pen to paper. Testament to the influence that art can have, Bush felt compelled to create her standout debut single after reading Wuthering Heights as a teenager following watching a television adaption of the gothic romance novel. The ethereal pop track was a breakout success and launched the career of Kate Bush introducing the world to her uniquely influential style. 

The Smiths 

Wilde, Keats, Yeats and Shakespeare; all referenced and some quoted in The Smiths’ work. However, when it comes to The Smiths and literature it is Salford playwright Shelagh Delaney that appears to have had the strongest influence on frontman Morrissey’s writing. The song, Shelia Take a Bow, is claimed to be a tribute to her and the beautiful lamenting indie of This Night Has Opened My Eyes recites the plot and even directly quotes Delaney’s kitchen sink drama ‘A Taste of Honey’ providing a beautiful tribute to an often overlooked writer.

In fact, Delany’s influence was so strong on the group that Morrissey once proclaimed “at least 50 per cent of my reason for writing can be blamed on Shelagh Delaney.” With the group even using a photo of Delaney for the cover of their 1987 album ‘Louder than Bombs’. 

Arctic Monkeys 

Before their recent 1970s influenced restyling Arctic Monkeys were keen to reference their northern roots, this is perhaps most apparent on their 2013 track I Wanna Be Yours, released as part of the AM album. The track directly quotes Salford Poet (and northern legend) John Cooper-Clarke’s poem of the same name, with Alex Turner quoting the infamous “I wanna be your vacuum cleaner, breathing in your dust” 

Clarke is a big fan of the track and told The Guardian in a 2023 interview “songs aren’t that far from poetry – as Alex [Turner] has pointed out.”

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