August 18, 2016
For your listening pleasure: books!
by Melville House
Thursday, no two ways about it, is one of the slow days. With the week no longer young, and the promise of Friday still hanging elusively around the bend of midnight, a person could be forgiven for asking, “Thursday, what do you want from me?”
So, here’s something to ease the pain of Thursday: book songs! These songs about books and writers are great, and will remind you of books (also great). Win-win.
1. Billy Corgan, Mina Loy
“It’s plain the wars have won.” What’s that you say? Smashing Pumpkins is barely a memory, Billy Corgan is a terrible person, and this song doesn’t have anything identifiably to do with Mina Loy beyond the title? Sure. But even though Billy Corgan loves ruining novels and is out of his damn mind, it’s cool to name songs after Mina Loy and this isn’t the worst.
2. Steve Goodman, Moby Book (no video)
“Call me Ishmael, Ishmael is my name.” Aw, c’mon, this is fun as good and clean as it gets. This song drives you to school every morning while you sit in the backseat scribbling down answers to the take-home quiz you were supposed to finish last night. This song waits till you leave the room and says nice stuff about you to everyone. Plus it’s all about a particular book by Herman Melville, who we’ve got, y’know, kind of a thing about. Please enjoy this wholesome and high-spirited song.
3. Kate Bush, Wuthering Heights
“Let me in, I’m so cold!” Kate Bush’s first single and still her biggest hit ever, this is the song that launched a thousand tribute videos. Out on the wiley, windy moors, this song remains one of the best ways ever devised to wuther.
4. The Antlers, Sylvia
“Sylvia, get your head out of the oven!” If you’re remotely unclear what that means, have we got the book for you. This is the best of the surprisingly many pop songs about Sylvia Plath. (Soon to be a major motion picture.)
5. Randy Newman, The World Isn’t Fair
“If Marx were living today, he’d be rolling around in his grave.” This isn’t the only song about Karl Marx we’ve written about, but it’s definitely the best one. Randy Newman is a national treasure. His range is incredible: he wrote a first-person song about a slave trader, sang the themes to Cop Rock (remember Cop Rock?) and Toy Story, and, in The World Isn’t Fair, offers a response to Marxism that manages to be sardonic, genuine, and hilarious, all at the same time. Please buy Randy Newman a drink.
6. Beyoncé, ***Flawless
“Goddamn goddamn!” Technically, this isn’t a song about a writer, but the guest spot by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and its overall awesomeness, are excellent reason to include it here. Humanity, bow to your queen.
7. 10,000 Maniacs, Hey Jack Kerouac
“When you were the brightest star, who were the shadows?” Fun fact: suburban afternoons of the 1990’s sounded exactly like this song. All of them.
8. Modest Mouse, Bukowski
“God, who’d wanna be such an asshole?” Twenty years after his death, Charles Bukowski continues inspiring us to ask hard questions about assholery, livers, and the appropriate attitude to take toward darkness.
9. Lydia Loveless, Verlaine Shot Rimbaud
“I just like you so much better when we’re coming to blows.” If the collision of deep American twang with French Symbolisme feels wacky at first, give it a minute. The story this song tells is true — poet Paul Verlaine famously did shoot his lover Arthur Rimbaud in the summer of 1873, landing him for a time in a Belgian prison. And Lydia Loveless’s use of that moment as an emblem of squalid, flying-fisted love is off-puttingly pitch-perfect.
10. David Bowie, 1984
“Beware the savage jaw of 1984!” What can you say about David Bowie? One thing you can say is that the man who fell to earth was a big reader. Back in 1974, when the estate of George Orwell denied him the rights to 1984, which he was hoping to adapt as a stage musical, Bowie instead created Diamond Dogs, his own concept album set in a sort-of-post-apocalyptic dystopia. Here he sings the song that makes most obvious reference to Orwell on the Dick Cavett Show in 1974. The eagle-eyed may spot a young Luther Vandross among Bowie’s back-up singers.
Bonus Track: Prince, The Ballad of Dorothy Parker
“Cool, but I’m leaving my pants on.” This song is not about the writer Dorothy Parker, it’s about a sexy waitress named Dorothy Parker. Still, Dorothy Parker is a famous writer, this an amazing song, and you deserve a bonus track. Skipping Jay Leno’s introduction and jumping straight to 2:32 is recommended.
Let us know what we missed!