Good songwriting requires a lot of technical skill, artistic intuition, and, sometimes, literary genius. There’s something tremendously impressive about being able to create a song that’s not only poignant and moving, but also rich with historical or literary context. Leaving aside obvious one-off references to literature, such as The Police’s famous nod to Nabokov or Jefferson Airplane’s psychedelic foray down the rabbit hole, musicians with a more encompassing, perhaps even obsessive, appreciation for literature are harder to come by. We’ve put together a list of ten of the most seemingly literature-obsessed musicians who have shown a certain bookish tendency throughout their careers. See if you can think of others.
Nobody does poetic pretense quite so masterfully as Morrissey. Hands down, he represents contemporary music’s most notorious inheritor of 19th-century Romanticism’s metered flourishes and Oscar Wilde’s effete cynicism. Morrissey’s lyrics are also, perhaps, the most saturated of any artist’s in literary references. There are too many to mention, but “Cemetry Gates” is perhaps the most obvious, with explicit nods to Keats, Yeats, and Wilde. Also memorable are the opening lines to “How Soon Is Now,” which borrow from Middlemarch, and the numerous songs referencing A Taste of Honey by Shelagh Delaney. Take a look at a compiled list of Morrissey’s various sources of lyrical inspiration for both The Smiths and his solo work here.