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Kate Bush's 'Wuthering Heights' & 10 Other Classic Songs Inspired By Literature

Kate Bush
Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images

Kate Bushv

Something of a musical Cliff’s Notes (or, in this case, Heathcliff’s Notes) to Emily Bronte’s classic novel, Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” hit No. 1 in Great Britain 40 years ago today.  

The track, which was released on January 20, 1978, and started its four-week U.K. run at No. 1 on March 5, 1978, put Bush on the map and made music lovers dust off their high school copies of the Gothic romance novel of the same name.

In celebration of the iconic English tune, we’re looking back at ten more of our favorite literature-inspired songs.

“1984” by David Bowie

George Orwell’s legendary dystopian novel 1984 was the central thesis for Bowie’s 1974 glam rock album Diamond Dogs. It’s present in tracks such as “Big Brother” and, of course, “1984.” It’s haunting, timely and ahead of its time -- just like the book it was inspired by. Who could ask for more?

“Ramble On” by Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin are hardly the only J.R.R. Tolkien nerds in rock n’ roll history (Rush certainly gives them a run for their money) but The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit soundtracks could have very well been set to the sounds of “The Battle of Evermore,” “Misty Mountain Top,” and, of course, “Ramble On.” Gollum with that precious name drop from Jimmy Page and Robert Plant!

“For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Metallica

Like Papa before him, James Hetfield has had some things to say about war. In addition to the song “One” (which took cues from Dalton Trumbo’s film Johnny Got His Gun), Metallica paid homage to Ernest Hemingway’s honored Spanish Civil War novel with their own hard rocking take on who time marches on for.

“Pet Sematary” by Ramones?

Stephen King has inspired a hell of a lot of rock music, from Black Sabbath’s “The Shining” to an entire band naming themselves after IT's main man Pennywise. The spooky, clever spirit of King’s 1983 book inspired a 1989 film and this Ramones song written expressly for the movie. Their take on the book: “I don’t want to be buried in a Pet Sematary.” If you’ve read King’s horrific novel, you’d be inclined to agree.

“White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane

For a children’s book released in 1865, Lewis Carroll’s legendary fantasy novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has some seriously trippy elements. The book, which raises some pretty heady questions about life and death and time and space (and, you know, features a hookah-smoking caterpillar), has inspired countless artists over the centuries. However, nothing captures the “Whooooooa” nature of Alice and her wild adventures quite like Jefferson Airplane’s psychedelic tune.   

“Love Story” by Taylor Swift  

Look, we could dedicate an entire article (nay, an entire website) to the influence William Shakespeare has had on musicians and songwriters since…forever.  But, for now, we’ll just open our balcony windows and play Taylor Swift’s wistful interpretation of star-crossed love. Twist: this one has a happier ending than Romeo & Juliet.

“Act Won (Things Fall Apart)” by The Roots

A game-changer of an album for the hip-hop band, the Roots named their record after the 1958 African novel by Chinua Achebe. As powerful and unflinching as the very text it's based on, the Roots share their own take on urban life, while paying tribute to Achebe’s prose throughout.

“Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones

Didn’t ever get around to reading The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov’s Russian satire about the devil and the Soviet Union, even when it was on your required reading list? Yeah, we didn’t either. Luckily, Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger read and it was inspired enough by it to write one of the greatest rock songs of all time. Okay, maybe we should have read it.

“Shadows and Tall Trees” by U2

Named after the seventh chapter of William Golding’s essential novel Lord of the Flies, U2 closed out their 1980 classic Boy with this rattling musical translation of youth and chaos.

“The Ghost of Tom Joad” by Bruce Springsteen

Depending on your mood about the state of the world, you’ll definitely have a preference when it comes to the ode for John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and his main character. Springsteen’s folksier, more solemn version of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” hangs heavy in your heart, while Rage Against the Machine’s take will make you, well, rage at the injustice of it all. They both have their strengths, all of which come from the one and only Tom Joad.

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