While romance will forever reign as the primary topic of most popular songs, there are many other themes available. Sometimes it’s social commentary, found in songs like “I Don’t Like Mondays”, “Luka”, “Fast Car”, “Concrete Angel” or “It’s Hard Out Her For a Pimp”. Sometimes it’s simpler still, whether fighting for your right to party (with a nod to the Beastie Boys) or talking about your boom boom pow (with a nod to the Black Eyed Peas).
On occasion, the songwriters have decided to show off their literary chops. It makes complete sense. The composition of an original song is quite difficult, and writing accompanying lyrics can be equally tough. Songwriting may not be perceived as a task for the studious, but that’s only the case for people who haven’t tried it.
The Owl has twice before touched on the phenomenon… once, discussing the Neil Gaiman tribute album and another time addressing the way the Tolkien/Moorcock feud bled over into music. What has not been addressed is the opposite side of the equation… book soundtracks.
On the surface, the concept is untenable. People read at different speeds, and an author wouldn’t want a fast-paced, raucous song in the middle of a love scene any more than they’d want a romantic ballad to play while a reader was following a climactic and bloody battle. Still, some authors have been so impressed with the efforts of musicians to meld music and writing that they’ve tried to do the same.
These are the playlists. While many writers have listened to music while they work, it’s a comparatively new phenomenon for the authors to tell the readers specific songs which they believe pair well with their works. It’s presented in a way similar to recommending a particular wine for a meal… it might not appeal to everyone, but if everything works, the experience may be enhanced. It’s most popular with young adult novels, where playlists are now sometimes included in the book itself; Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (author of The Fault in Our Stars) is an example of this.
Then there’s Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon.
The 2012 novel by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author integrated specific song and album references into the body of the text, with the expectation that a person who reads at average speeds could put a song or album on play when they found the reference in the book and the prior music would be ending when the next reference was found.
It’s a bold move, but the desire to take musical risks seems appropriate for a book that is partially set in a store devoted to used jazz records. As Chabon learned early in his career, you don’t stand out and win the big prizes if you’re not willing to take some chances.
Question of the night: Are there any songs, artists or albums you like to listen to while reading?