Welcome to a new feature here on SF Signal, The Weekend Playlist, a regular look at science fiction references and popular music and a mix tape of music for you to tide you over until next week. Over the last couple of years, I’ve amassed a lot of songs that reference the genres that I really love, and am continually surprised at how much music is out there that is inherently geeky. This week, we’re looking at songs that are based on books and authors:
Perry Gripp is no stranger to the fantastic when it comes to music. A member of The Nerf Herders, the group responsible for the theme to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, Gripp’s collaborated with author Lev Grossman, who’s latest book, The Magician King, came out last week. “I Wanna Be a Magician” recounts some of the high points of the land of Fillory, as well as that of the lead character, Quentin Coldwater. It’s a fun, exuberant song, one that actually feels at odds to the tone of the books.
This by the Mountain Goats isn’t really based on any of H.P. Lovecraft’s books, but what it does do is play out with a great, noirish, autumn sound that captures some of the feel of his works. It’s another song with a great beat, with lyrics that are dark and interesting. I’m sure Lovecraft would be amused.
When talking about songs based off of books, it would be hard to ignore Jefferson Airplane’s fantastic track “White Rabbit”, based off of Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland. The song perfectly captures the surrealistic nature of the book, recounting the story with a great beat between the guitarist and drummer: the song builds in intensity over the course of the 2:32 minutes, all the way to the end in a great crescendo.
This song is a bit more ambiguous, but when I listened to the song a couple of years ago, I was surprised to catch references to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, in the form of Mordor and Gollum. A bit of digging finds that there’s some other minor references in the lyrics to some of Tolkien’s other works (and Zeppelin has referenced LOTR in other songs too). Plus, I like to think that the song captures the journeys that are frequent in Tolkien’s works.
There’s an entire album of Neil Gaiman tribute music, released in 2006, called Where’s Neil When You Need Him?, with an entire tracklist of songs inspired by the author’s works. “Coraline “stuck out for me, because it’s a fantastic story, but also because the song has a very smooth and easygoing sound to it. The song focuses on the titular character of the book, perfectly capturing one of the more interesting story elements: Coraline’s isolation and desire for some form of connection.
From one Gaiman reference to the next, John Anealio recounts Neil Gaiman’s response to George R.R. Martin’s slow progress on A Dance With Dragons (recently released!). It’s the song that really introduced me to Anealio’s music, and it’s pretty straightforward: find something else to read, George R.R. Martin isn’t your bitch, no matter how much you gripe.
I have a lot of fun with this song, sharing its title with the William Gibson novel of the same name. It’s a jarring song, but one that fits with the events of the novel: fast paced, and one that shares more with the novel than just that of the title: like a cool hunter watching the disarray.
Part of an entire concept album titled ‘Cyberpunk‘, Billy Idol’s song isn’t just looking to capture the feel of William Gibson’s first novel, it ties in with Idol’s own interests in experimental electronic music. The album didn’t do well, financially or critically, but it did do a lot of things that were far ahead of it’s time: using the internet to market the album, produced extensively on home equipment and so forth. Plus, I’ve felt that the song really fits in well with the feel of Gibson’s novel, with a hefty 80s tinge.
If you’ve never seen or heard Paul and Storm in person, do yourself a favor and go see them. Throw John Scalzi into the mix, and well, you have something that’s really fun to listen to: A power ballad based off of Scalzi’s latest novel, Fuzzy Nation. It’s over the top, guitar-heavy and hilariously outstanding. Wait until the very end for the obligitory ‘…freedom!’ lyric.
There seems to have been a lot of inspiration from the 1970s that came from science fiction and fantasy literature: Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End seems perfect for this sort of thing. Pink Floyd’s song by the same title starts off low and slow, building and building for the first minute and a half, before launching into a song that never explicitly names the novel, but it captures the heart of the story perfectly.
To be fair, this is from the soundtrack to the 2005 movie adaptation of Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but the song does a great job not only capturing Adam’s language, but also the feel and zany nature of the book.
That’s it for this week: stay tuned next week for a look at songs about gaming!