Well, as George Gershwin penned it, it is “summertime and the livin’ is easy.”
… If not easy, at least the sun is shining brighter! Our summer wish for you is to stay cool, whether it be lounging by a refreshingly blue pool, the sun-kissed ocean, or a tiny blow-up pool in your backyard. Make sure to apply a thick layer of sunscreen and, of course, have a good book in hand and tunes blasting through your speakers!
To help curate your summer playlist and reading list, here are 10 songs and Oxford World’s Classics we recommend you add to your rotation:
1. “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush and Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Based on the 1847 gothic tragedy Wuthering Heights written by Emily Brontë, “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush is sung from the perspective of the ghost of Catherine Earnshow, or “Cathy” as self-referenced to in the song.
As in the song, the book centers around the story of Catherine and Heathcliff who share an unrequited love, where Cathy is longing for Heathcliff to let her in, alluding to something more than physical. The ghostly tone of voice and dream-like melody is sure to put you in the book’s setting of Wuthering Heights.
Read: Wuthering Heights
2. “Love Story” by Taylor Swift and Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare
Just what is it about unrequited love? Swifties (a moniker for Taylor Swift fans) will immediately know which classic story this song is referencing, but Taylor Swift doesn’t leave the rest of us guessing for long. In the second verse, Swift introduces two familiar names—Romeo and Juliet. The song is sung from the perspective of Juliet, but unlike the tragic ending for Juliet in Shakespeare’s 16th-century play, Romeo and Juliet, Swift’s Juliet has a happy ending to her love story.
Read: Romeo and Juliet
3. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by Elton John and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
One of Elton John’s greatest hits borrows its title from the yellow brick road, a fictional element in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, published in 1900. In the book, the yellow brick road leads the protagonist Dorothy, her dog, and friends from Oz to meet the Wizard of Oz.
In the song, the yellow brick road symbolizes a path to fame and riches, but the young boy whom John sings about would rather bid adieu to the road and go back home to his farm. Although the song and book follow different storylines, the yellow brick road serves as an important element to finding one’s way home.
4. “The Man in the Iron Mask” by Billy Bragg and The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas
Based on the story of a prisoner of state who went by the pseudonym, “Eustache Dauger,” The Man in the Iron Mask has been a prominent figure in many works of art. Most famously, he was featured in Alexandre Dumas’ novel from the late 1840s. There are many theories, rumours, and legends surrounding the man in the iron mask, and Dumas made this real life individual into a mysterious sensation when he was featured in a section of his novel, The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later, the final installment of his D’Artagnan saga. In the book, the man in the iron mask is depicted as Louis XIV’s identical twin, whereas the song takes a less literal approach where the narrator uses the metaphorical “iron mask” to hide their true feelings.
Read: The Man in the Iron Mask
5. “Portrait of a Man” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Published in 1891, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde was his only novel, and one that garnered much controversy during his lifetime, but is now revered as a gothic classic. The story of Dorian Gray is about youth and beauty as Gray does not want any of his woes, pain, sin nor suffering to be reflected on his face, so Gray expresses a desire to sell his soul via a portrait of himself. As the story progresses, Gray witnesses the portrait growing old and decaying with every year that passes and every sin he commits. The song takes on a meditative and self-reflective route where the narrator talks about a portrait that he is painting, and that the portrait is of himself.
6. “Love Song for a Vampire” by Annie Lennox and Dracula by Bram Stoker
Dracula is an epistolary novel written by Bram Stoker published in 1897. The story centers around Count Dracula’s move from his hometown of Transylvania to the English seaside as he searches for victims, and the actions of Professor Abraham Van Helsing and his cohort who are on the hunt for the Count.
“Love Song for a Vampire” by Annie Lennox was the theme song for the 1992 movie “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” Lennox said that her inspiration was to dive deeper into the vampire trope in a psychic and psychological manner, and to incorporate this dark essence into the song.
7. “Ophelia” by The Lumineers and Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Ophelia is, by now, a house-hold name, and one that is frequently associated with one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies, Hamlet. Although Ophelia is not the titular character of the story, she is one of the most memorable, and arguably endured the most tragedy out of all involved.
In the song by The Lumineers, Ophelia is a metaphor for fame; how fame can love someone intensely, but how it will always move on.
The story of Moby-Dick is regarded as a “Great American Novel” as it seemingly adjusts its perspective according to the reader. Written in 1851 by Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, or, The Whale, is a sailor’s narrative of the captain of a whaling ship’s quest for revenge against Moby Dick, a white sperm whale. The song by Gurr under the same name is a catchy, fun, yet moody musical rendition of the story, seemingly from the perspective of someone who is watching the darkness of the sea unfold from the shore.
9. “Over at the Frankenstein Place” from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Infused with both the Gothic and Romantic movements, Frankenstein is a novel written in 1818 by Mary Shelley. It tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who brings to life a man-made creature, a monster who develops to be sensitive and emotional, and seemingly only has one goal: to share his life with another sentient being. The song “Over at the Frankenstein Place” is from the 1975 cult musical, “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” where Dr Frank N. Furter also brings to life a sentient being.
10. “Virginia Woolf” by Indigo Girls and A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
A Room of One’s Own is a long-form essay by Virginia Woolf that was first published in 1929. The essay uses many metaphors to illustrate and explore social injustices, especially about the lack of freedom of expression for women. She famously wrote, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”—Woolf’s most essential point in the essay. The song by Indigo Girls titled “Virginia Woolf” alludes to many key moments in the author’s life from A Room of One’s Own, to Woolf’s abusive family, and to her ultimate demise.
Discover: Virginia Woolf
Featured image by Joyce McCown. Public domain via Unsplash.