Holiday Monday Fun!


Writing this in the middle of a three-day weekend, and on the day after I went to a terrific concert in Atlanta.  (James Taylor at Chastain Park.  I know he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I got my first James Taylor album when I was seven years old.  His music has, in a way, been the soundtrack of my life.)  Traffic is usually a little slow at the Magical Words site on holiday Mondays, so I thought I would do something a little fun and different (not to mention a little shorter than usual) for this week.

Listening to Taylor’s music last night, I got to thinking about songs that not only tell a story (many do) but that actually stir story ideas inside me, and/or make me think of fantasy or science fiction plot lines.  And so I thought I would create a list to that effect and invite you to do the same.  Again, these are not merely songs that tell a story, but songs that inspire stories in me, particularly ones with a speculative fiction theme.  (And now I’m humming “Ramble On,” the Led Zeppelin song inspired by Lord of the Rings — that’s kind of what I’m talking about).

These are in no particular order.

1.  “Something the Boy Said” — Sting, Ten Summoner’s Tales.  One of my very favorite songs on the list.  This could be in the soundtrack for every fantasy movie made.  The song is sung from the POV of a soldier who, as he and his comrades are mustering, hears the Captain’s son prophesize that the army will never return, but will instead be “food for a carrion crow.”  Brilliant lyrics, haunting music.  Wonderful song.

2.  “Jacob’s Dream” — Alison Krauss, A Hundred Miles or More:  A Collection.  It’s the Spring of 1856, and two boys have wandered from their home and gotten lost.  A massive search ensues, and one man, Jacob Daggart dreams of where they will be found.  Also haunting, with Alison Krauss’s devastatingly beautiful voice and gorgeous instrumentation.  The chorus, song from the POV of the lost boys, will stay with you for days.

3.  “Frozen Man” — James Taylor, New Moon Shine.  He inspired the list, so I thought I should put him on it.  A man thought to have been lost at sea a century ago is found alive, having been preserved in ice.  By the miracle of modern science, is made “whole” again.  Except that of course he isn’t whole at all.  His family is gone, his body is a blend of natural and prosthesis.   “The newspapers call me state of the art/But the children, when they see me, cry.”  Brilliant.

4.  “Rocket Man” — Elton John, Honky Chateau.  Chances are you know about this one, so I won’t say much.  Except that my wife would have killed me if I hadn’t included it.  And to be honest, the list would have felt incomplete without it.

5.  “Space Oddity” — David Bowie, Space Oddity.  You know this one, too, though you might not recognize the title.  “This is Ground Control to Major Tom . . .”  I was never a huge Bowie fan, but this song might well have captured the days of Apollo and Neil Armstrong and lunar landings better than any other.  “Check ignition and may God’s love be with you . . .”

6.  “Ramble On” — Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II.  Combining Lord of the Rings and raunchy rock and roll, this one became an obvious favorite for teen boys across the globe.  Personally, I find that since I gave up getting stoned, the song doesn’t do as much for me as it used to.  Still, I do love the lines about Gollum.

7.  “House Carpenter” — Various artists, including Tony Rice, Church Street Blues and Nickel Creek, This Side. This is an old traditional piece that has been covered by many artists.  The Nickel Creek version may be my favorite.  Talk about haunting — my daughters get freaked out every time they hear it.  A man returns to the home of his first true love, and convinces her to leave her husband and child and sail with him to the New World.  She realizes her error on the ship and curses her love.  And their ship and all aboard are lost when the ship sinks.

8.  “Look at Granny Run Run” — Ry Cooder, Bop ‘Til You Drop.  One of my very favorites and not at all like the others on this list.  Funny lyrics, very cool music.  Today, it wouldn’t even qualify as speculative in any way.  But when the song came out in 1979, this opening was still a fantasy:  “Look at Granny run, run/ Grandpa running close behind.  Look at Granny run, run/ Something on Granddaddy’s mind.  Because he went to his doctor/Got a brand new pill.  Doctor said sonny, you ain’t over the hill/He can’t keep still.  Oh great gosh almighty won’t you look at Granny run, run!”

9.  “Thriller” — Michael Jackson, Thriller.  Yeah, I know.  But I had to put it on the list for all the zombie fans out there.  Truth is, I love the song.  And there has never, ever been a music video to match it.

10. “Sympathy for the Devil” — Rolling Stones, Beggars Banquet.  I’m assuming you all know this one, too.  How could I not include it?  A song written from the POV of Satan?  The line, “I shouted out ‘Who killed the Kennedys’/When after all, it was you and me” still gives me chills every time I hear it.

So there it is:  my list of songs that make me think of speculative fiction story lines.  Care to share a list of your own?

Enjoy your Memorial Day!

David B. Coe

31 comments to Holiday Monday Fun!

  • Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd — Title says it all.
    Interplanet Janet by School House Rock — Hey, I gotta mention her. After all, she’s a galaxy girl.
    Rocket Man as “sung” by William Shatner — because once he takes a song, it truly becomes his own.

  • I’d add “Wildfire” by Michael Martin Murphey. Heartbreaking. I think I still cry every time I hear it. (Yes, I’m a sap.)

  • Fireheart1974

    These are the times by Styx

    Granted, I associate it strongly with a D&D group of characters/game but something about this song tells an entire novel that somehow I want to write.

    Ghost of a Chance by Rush

    I can’t help it. This one always puts me in mind of a paranormal romance novel. Not quite sure why.


  • Lucienne, I’m a sap too – I still have my Wildfire 45!

    Let’s see, songs that stir and inspire stories in me…

    Home By The Sea by Genesis. A second-story man is interrupted in his task by the mournful dead who need to tell him their stories.

    ’39 by Queen. It’s the story of a generation ship that tries to come home again.

    The Turn of a Friendly Card by The Alan Parsons Project always made me think of Roger Zelazny’s Amber series. “The game never ends when your whole world depends on the turn of a friendly card”.

    Race With The Devil On A Spanish Highway by Al DiMeola. The neat part of this song is that from time to time, you think you’ve eluded your pursuer, only to see him looming in the rearview mirror.

    Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel. How can you not love the idea of a mighty bird telling you to gather your things because a greater destiny awaits you?

    Red Barchetta by Rush. It’s a science fiction story about a time in which cars have been outlawed. Okay, yeah, it was actually inspired by a story instead of the other way ’round, but I didn’t know that the first time I heard it. And ever since, I’ve wanted a red Barchetta of my own. 😀

  • Fun stuff, David. Did you know that The Alan Parson’s Project first album was a themed album, with every song built around one of Edgar Allen Poe’s stories or poems? Fantastic album. Found it back when I was in college (in the days of vinyl) and have been listening to ever since. Haven’t gotten tired of it yet.

    Gotta second Misty’s vote for ’39 by Queen, too. Every time I listen to that song I can almost taste the story hiding behind it.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Hmmm, it’s probably because of the hidden story possibilities that I’m drawn to songs with awesome lyrics. I especially love:

    On the Dire Straits ‘Brothers in Arms’ album, both
    ‘Ride Across the River’:
    and ‘The Man’s Too Strong’:

    ‘Hitching Post of the Sun’ by Janah (gah! can’t easily find lyrics! – relates to a site at Machu Picchu – and that whole album, ‘The World That Surrounds You’, is full of amazing images)

    ‘The Teacher’ by Paul Simon:

    ‘Mountain Men’ by Jethro Tull:

    …and I should try to stop now. 😀

  • mudepoz

    I need to add some of these to Pandora, I forgot about a lot of them. Al Dimeola is an amazing guitarist.
    Right now I can only think of one, because it has become an earworm.

    Porno for Pyros “Pets”

    When we are conquered I hope they treat me as well as I treat my own pets. Well, maybe without the obedience stuff.

  • Ooh! Such fun!

    Like Misty, Peter Gabriel’s “Solisbury Hill.” This one directly inspired a backstory for one of my characters. There is something gorgeous about the idea of someone coming to get you from a place you don’t want to be and bringing you home. I’ve often wondered if the bird is a reference to Chaucer’s Eagle picking up the narrator in his “House of Fame.”

    Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” inspired one of my villains. The notion of having it all, of being a king, (“the old king is dead, long live the king”) and then of it all falling away. Even for a villain who deserves it, it is kind of tragic, as is the line “I know St. Peter won’t call my name, never an honest word, and that was when I ruled the world…” That sense of loss…

    Liz Phair’s “Extraordinary” inspired some of my thoughts about both my MCs, who are extraordinary women. (I mean, who wants to read about an average Jane?) But the line “I’m just your average, ordinary, everday psycho-super goddess…”

    Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (sung by Rufus Wainwright–that’s my favorite version). This song makes me cry, or almost cry, 90% of the time I hear it. There is something so melancholy floating through it. The line “the baffled king composing hallelujah…” about the way that art, really beautiful, stunning art, sometimes seems to come from somewhere else (here, God). And then he mixes this with the sense of loss from a failed relationship, too. The line about the “holy dark” moving in a person just amazed me.

    Oh, and George Thoroughgood’s “Bad to the Bone.” Ever since Terminator, I’ve loved this song. It on occasion reminds me of a vampire character of mine. The arrogance “when I walk the streets, kings and queens step aside…” combined with the humor.

    I listen to music a lot for inspiration because it often seems to capture something, distill something that I want a character, plot, or moment in a story to have. Though where I end up might be (usually is) miles away from the song that inspired it, I find that music really can help me get in a creative mood.

  • The entire album, The Warning, from Queensryche. The whole thing just reminds me of a dystopian future tale with some sort of monarchy and a war against machines and some messiah born of fire. I don’t listen to music with lyrics when I’m writing, but listening to that CD (I have the cassette too, but…) any other time really gets me itching to write some sci-fi.

    Bout anything from Demons & Wizards or the related band, Blind Guardian, gets me wanting to write high fantasy. Demons & Wizards has an album, Touched by the Crimson King that has three songs based on the Dark Tower series. Also, Blind Guardian has an album called Nightfall in Middle Earth.

    Of course, they all get me wanting to find a band to sing for. 😉

  • I saw your post and had to create an account just to say “Starlight” by Muse.

    Another beautiful one, with lyrics quoted out of an old book on mythology is Nina Gordon’s Tonight And The Rest Of My Life

  • Unicorn

    Excuse me, I feel a teenager moment coming on. OOOH! Josh Groban!!! *fangirl squeal*
    Ahem, sorry about that. In any case, the guy can sing. Among my favourite lyrics belong to “War at Home” –
    For some reason, Christmas carols always spark my imagination. (Yes, Misty, that includes “Little Rummer Boy”… kind of.) And even though I don’t understand a word of Italian, I like listening to Italian songs. (If Josh Groban sings them…) Several times, songs have inspired scenes, plot points or even whole stories.
    A singer from my own country enchanted me with “1963”, which is about John Kennedy’s assassination… absolutely lovely. Can’t really find lyrics on the Internet, but it is beautiful.
    And one day I will build a novel around Debussy’s Nursery Suite. My sister had a dance choreographed to “The Gollywog’s Cakewalk” which was simply amazing.
    Thanks for a fun list and lots of great lyrics, David and company.

  • pepperthorn

    Veteran of a Thousand Psychic Wars by Blue Oyster Cult always gets my story brain churning. It may be cheating though. It was written by Michael Moorcock and is in vague terms about the Eternal Champion.

  • Unicorn said For some reason, Christmas carols always spark my imagination.

    Me too! The Trans-Siberian Orchestra has an amazing arrangement of the Carol of the Bells, called Christmas Eve/Sarajevo that sends chills down my spine no matter how many times I listen to it.

  • Love this! (I’m adding my vote to Solsbury Hill too.)

    “Poison Prince” by Amy McDonald – “so many lies behind your eyes […] I tell you this my Poison Prince, you’ll soon be knocking on heaven’s door.”

    “Albatross” by Judy Collins, Albatross – I listened to this song over and over and over when I was in my teens. The whole song puts images in my head. Just a sample: “The lady comes to the gate/dressed in lavender and leather/looking North to the sea […] and in the night, the iron wheels rolling through the rain / down the hills through the long grass to the sea.”

    “Sisters of Mercy” – same album. I’ve been trying to write a story about the Sisters of Mercy since I was sixteen – in my head they’re an all female warrior sisterhood somewhere between the Knights Templar and Mother Theresa’s order. It’s a favorite daydream of mine that I’m still hoping will coalesce into a narrative.

    “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” by KT Tunstall – Big black horse and a cherry tree; perfect story environment.

  • Thanks for the great comments and additions to the list, all. Linda, it’s great to see you here. Thanks for stopping by. I’ve been having internet issues all day. My email works, but the rest is giving me problems. Hopefully it will be better tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your holiday, and keep those song lists coming!

  • Silent Running – Mike and the Mechanics, Uprising – Muse, Wake Up – Rage Against the Machine.

    Those are all lining up to be the inspiration of a great dystopian epic that’s on my list of things to write. I’m definitely not skilled enough to execute on that yet, but hopefully I can before it’s no longer speculative or fiction.

    I might throw in some Army of Me – Bjork.

    Radio K.A.O.S – Roger Waters. Nuff said.

    Pariah – Danielle Dax. Beggin’ to be a zombie story.

    I won’t list the 53 songs I’ve compiled for inspiration of the vampire aspects of my current WIP, don’t worry.

  • Great selections, David. Every single song I hear, once I’ve heard it enough to know the lyrics, a story forms in my head. Which can get disappointing/frustrating sometimes, because I want to know what happens next!

  • Razziecat

    Ohh Misty, yes, Home by the Sea is chilling…It also makes me think of people in a nursing home.

    My list would include several songs by Tim Wheater, especially “En Trance”; The Who, “Behind Blue Eyes”; Vangelis’s album “Mythodea”; Paul Haslem’s entire album “Ancient Moon, Rising Sun” (in my mind this CD is the soundtrack for my space opera stories); Phil Thornton’s “Winter Solstice” and “While the Green Man Sleeps” (I often use these for background for my fantasy WIP); I’m sure there’s more but that’s off the top of my head.

    David, have you heard Led Zeppelin’s “Misty Mountain Hop” and “The Battle of Evermore”? Both are very obviously inspired by the Lord the Rings.

  • “Over the Hills and Far Away” by Nightwish
    “Danny Boy”
    “Don’t Take the Girl” by Time McGraw
    “Elements” by A Fine Frenzy

  • A. R. Gideon

    I can get an inspiration for pretty much any of the music that I listen to but here’s a few that have inspired some of my favorite ideas

    “Given In Death” – by the german political metalcore band Heaven Shall Burn. This song inspired a scene that’s going to be in the third book of the series i’m writing where the Main character’s love is killed in the middle of a battle.

    “The Day I Let Go” – By Stone Sour. The song is mostly heavy bass and a bongoesque drum. The song just makes me think of a character I created that has a pretty hard life

    “The Wicked” – Also by Stone Sour. I had a dream because this song was playing while I was asleep, and it helped me to create the character I mentioned before.

    “Inis Mona” – By Eluveitie. Pretty much anything by Eluveitie makes me want to write, but Inis Mona just about makes me lol.

    and lastly anything by Jesper Kyd or Olafur Arnalds. They are both great composers in fact if I was ever so lucky to have a book made into a movie I would want Kyd to compose the music for it.

  • JER

    Fire and Rain by James Taylor. Pretty much anything he’s done is great there’s something calming about his voice

    I write mainly Urban Fantasy so here’s a few of the songs that I use for Inspiration-
    Dead Souls by Joy Division or Nine Inch Nails (Both Are Great)
    Waiting For A Miracle by Leonard Cohen
    She’s Lost Control by Joy Division
    Stigmata by Ministry
    Nemesis by Shriekback

  • Mikaela

    Every breath you take, by Sting. I know it is a love song, but the lyrics are *creepy*.
    Roger Pontare and Misen. I got an idea that excited me from those songs. And then Spotify pulled 2/3 of the songs. And I cannot find the record. sigh.

  • For some reason, Edmund’s comment about Poe reminded me that we studied Coleridge around the same time in high school. My English teacher at the time played Iron Maiden’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in class.

    I’ve found inspiration in songs for characters. Shinedown’s “What a Shame” for a vagabond on the skids who used to be a great hero, and people won’t let him forget what he’s done, which wasn’t so glorious as they make it out to be.

    3 Doors Down’s “Landing in London” partly inspired the spirit of the MC for SONG OF FURY: a man who wants to return home to his family.
    “And when the night falls in around me, and I don’t think I’ll make it through, I use your light to guide the way, ’cause all I think about is you.”

    Certain lyrics jump out at me and scream, use me in concept. I am useless to resist because, after all, resistance is futile.

  • Delving into my childhood prog rock days I’d add various early Rush songs (Xanadu, 2112, Cygnus X1 etc.) and King Crimson’s Court of the Crimson King, but the one I’d really like to see here is Bowie’s “sequel” to Space Oddity, Ashes to Ashes. Great, disorienting stuff, esp with the video. Strange, haunting, beautiful and unsettling:

  • Still having intenet issues and so can only be on for small snatches of time. But I had to reply to Mikaela’s comment about “Every Breath You Take.” It’s one of my favorites, too, but it is definitely not a love song, though many people think it is. I saw Sting interviewed about it once, and he was floored by the number of people who see it as a romantic song. It IS creepy. It’s sung from the POV of a stalker, and a sick one at that. Sting said (quoting loosely): “People come up to me all the time to tell me that it’s the theme song for their wedding, and I say, [sardonic tone] ‘Wow, good luck.'”

  • BillSmith

    “Joker and the Thief” by Wolfmother does a good job of inspiring characters and plot for me.

    “Awaken” and “The Night” by Disturbed inspired entire novel ideas. “Awaken” being about(as far as I can tell) someone dealing with their inner evil, almost treating it like a living thing. “The Night” does the same thing for the night and darkness.

  • Bill, now you made me think of one of my very favorite spec-fic songs – “All Along the Watchtower”. I grew up listening to the Hendrix version and I still love it, but these days I’m very, very fond of the Battlestar Galactica version. It’s so dark. *shivers*

  • OMG, David. Reading your list and seeing what others posted was so much fun! Here are my contributions:

    Castle Walls – Styx – The Grand Illusion: “I stood alone while the minstrel sang his song / So afraid I’d lost my soul”
    – I’ve loved this song since the first time I heard it. The lyrics always move my imagination into realms of magic and swords.

    I Love the Night – Blue Oyster Cult – Spectres: “No mortal was meant to know such wonder / One look in the mirror told me so.”
    – A fantastic vampire story, hauntingly rendered.

    Velvet Green – Jethro Tull – Songs from the Wood: “Now I may tell you that it’s love and not just lust. And if we live the lie, let’s lie in trust.”
    – This is one of the most beautifully suggestive songs I’ve ever heard. The story may have to be done by someone like Selena Kitt to do it justice.

    Enter Sandman – Metallica: “Sleep with one eye open, gripping your pillow tight.”
    – I’m not much of a horror fan, but if I could write it, this song would be an inspiration.

  • David – Oooh. Fun topic. It isn’t always the lyrics, for me. Sometimes a single refrain, taken out of context, or even just the music. Here’s my short list:

    Magician’s Birthday, by Uriah Heep – fun, but a little creepy.
    Bolero, by Ravel – haunting martial music that starts slow and builds up tension.
    Brain Salad Surgery, by Emerson, Lake and Palmer – don’t ask me why; just love it and it always makes me think … dangerously.
    Crusader, by The Hollies – always loved the line, “the grass has grown much taller now, overrunning everything… since I’ve been gone”
    The Planets, by Holst

    And several that have already been mentioned.

  • I’m surprised that a quick search revealed that no one mentioned The Eagles’ “Hotel California”.

    I’m going to go real, real, real obscure here, for another recommendation. It’s not a “song”: it’s purely instrumental (in the new-agey, Hearts-of-Space vein, so if that’s not your cup of tea, you’ve been warned), but I have never heard a piece of music that was more narrative sounding, to me (with the possible exception of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by Paul Dukas, which anyway was inspired by a narrative poem of the same name) than Peter Buffet’s album “One by One“, and especially the second track titled “Sierra”.