This is the second edition of a series on music related to literature. All the songs briefly discussed in this column have their roots in books. Here are the first selections:
“Tom Joad”—Woody Guthrie: This song is included on a few Guthrie compilation albums. Perhaps the most recent release to include it is the remastered Dust Bowl Ballads reissued in 2000. (You can also check out “Tom Joad Part I” and “Tom Joad Part II”.) Woody Guthrie got the name Tom Joad from the John Steinbeck novel The Grapes of Wrath. The novel spawned a film version starring Henry Fonda, which in turn inspired folk singer Woody Guthrie to pen “The Ballad of Tom Joad”. Tom Joad obviously became a favorite of Guthrie’s to be used so often in song.
“Moby-Dick”–Led Zeppelin: This is an instrumental . The bulk of the track is a drum solo. It was first featured on the 1969 album Led Zeppelin II. It is named after the whale in the novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville and when it was played live on tour Plant would simply introduce drummer John Bonham and the name of the song. Page and Jones would play intro and outro with Bonham drumming for the majority of what would be anywhere from a 6 minute to nearly half an hour solo.
“Venus in Furs”–The Velvet Underground: This track is written by Lou Reed and originally released on the 1967 album The Velvet Underground & Nico. The song is titled after and inspire by an 1870 novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (from whose name the term masochism is derived). It touches on the same terrain of sexual cruelty and enslavement. John Cale’s viola and Lou Reed’s eccentric guitar tunings make a queasy backdrop for such depraved lyrics: “Taste the whip in love not given lightly/Taste the whip, now bleed for me.”
“I Just Forgot”—The Evangenitals: Frontwoman and songwriter Juli Crockett says: “The song ‘I Just Forgot’ was inspired by Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’—(specifically) the story of Orpheus and Eurydice.” It harkens back to 8 A.D. The song is on the 2007 release Everlovin’.
“Company”– Philip Glass: Also known as “String Quartet No.2” this piece was completed in January 1983 in New York City. It was meant to be an instrumental for Fred Neumann’s adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s 1979 novella with the same name. Glass’s string quartet in four movements is said to be reflective of Beckett’s prose. Glass’s signature sound which includes recursive arpeggiations and stark, wintry strings provide an apt counterpoint to Beckett’s novella.
Have some favorites of your own? Feel free to share them!