Saturday, June 7, 2014

Fantasy Rocks: 8 Rock Songs Inspired by Fantasy Novels

In the last decade or so, it’s become cool to be a nerd, but that wasn’t the case when I was growing up. In order to avoid getting teased in high school, I had to hide in the locker room during lunch time to finish up whatever fantasy novel I was reading at the moment, and there were a lot of them. David Eddings, Raymond Feist, Stephen R. Lawhead, Anne McCaffrey, Katherine Kurtz, and Katherine Kerr, were just a few of the authors who I couldn’t get enough of.

It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized being cool was all about being confident in your own skin. Looking back now, I realize I should have just owned being a fantasy nerd, because I was hardly alone. If I’d just opened my eyes (and ears), I would have seen that even rock stars—arguably the coolest people on the planet—love fantasy books too.

So, as a public service to other fantasy fans who are self-conscious about their reading habits, here are 8 songs inspired by fantasy novels to prove to everyone that fantasy rocks.


1) Any discussion about fantasy-inspired rock has to start with Led Zeppelin, a band that was unabashed with their love of ancient mythology and fantasy, namely J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. You can probably find a half dozen or more of their songs with Lord of the Rings references, but the standout has to be “Ramble On.” Damn that Gollum for creeping away with her…





2) When it comes to pure rock awesomeness, sometimes the performance is more important than who wrote the song. Bob Dylan wrote “All Along the Watch Tower,” but Jimi Hendrix made it. While the same is not exactly true with this next song, if anyone could put more emotion into “The Battle of Evermore” than Led Zeppelin (the band that wrote it, again inspired by Tolkien), it has to be the Lovemongers, the side band of Heart founders Ann and Nancy Wilson. Here’s a live version from 1992.



3) J.R.R. Tolkien, of course, was probably off listening to Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen and was completely oblivious to Led Zeppelin in their heyday, but one fantasy author who followed in Tolkien’s footstep was an active contributor to the 60s counter culture and rock music: Michael Moorcock. In addition to cranking out a ton of fantasy novels, he edited the controversial magazine, New Worlds, and actively wrote lyrics for several rock bands. Here’s “Black Blade” from Blue Oyster Cult, inspired by Moorcocks’s albino anti-hero, Elric of Melnibone.





4) Well before Moorcock collaborated with Blue Oyster Cult, he was a big part of Hawkwind, a psychedelic rock band that’s been around since 1969, and featured rock legend Lemmy (of Motorhead fame). The entire Hawkwind album Warrior on the Edge of Time is loosely based on the Elric saga. Here’s the single from the album, “Kings of Speed.”




5) Fantasy inspired rock isn’t just a relic of the 60s and 70s, and as you might expect, today’s biggest fantasy sensation, George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and the HBO adaptation Game of Thrones, has inspired quite a few songs. Here’s a great one from the stoner metal rockers, The Sword, called “Taking the Black.”




6) Tolkien is often considered the godfather of modern fantasy, but equally important to the genre was the work of Robert E. Howard, a man who was publishing fantasy in the pulp magazines well before Tolkien dreamt up Middle-earth. Howard, the man who created fantasy icons Conan, Kull, and Bran Mak Morn, has inspired just as much rock music as Tolkien, and it tends to be a lot heavier than the Tolkien-inspired work. If you thought the previous song from The Sword was heavy, get a load of Conan and their new single “Foehammer.” The video is full on cosmic horror inspired by Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, and sure to give you nightmares.



7) Another band that has to be included on any list of this sort is Blind Guardian, if for nothing else, because of their sheer unabashed nerdiness. Their album Somewhere Far Beyond is chock full of fantasy and sci-references, including Moorcock’s Elric, Philip K. Dick’s Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep, a Poul Anderson short story, The Hobbit, and this one, inspired by Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.



8) And last but not least, I have to include Metallica’s “Call of the Ktulu,” based off of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “Call of the Cthulhu.” Sure, it’s a bit of a stretch calling Lovecraft’s work straight fantasy as opposed to horror, but come on, it’s Metallica and H.P. Lovecraft, and this instrumental song completely embodies the horror of seeing the great Old One himself.




I know I just touched the surface of fantasy-inspired rock, so please share your favorite songs in the comments below.

Garrett Calcaterra is an author of dark speculative fiction. His newest book, Dreamwielder, is an epic fantasy novel from Diversion Books. He is currently working on the sequel to Dreamwielder and an unrelated sci-fi novel. Learn more at www.garrettcalcaterra.com



15 comments :

Sue Coletta said...

I had no idea back then that Led Zepplin was referring to Lord of the Rings, and I listened to A LOT of Zepplin. Very cool post, Garrett. I'll never listen to these artists in the same way.

Peter Hogenkamp said...

Great post, Garrett, informative, fun and LOUD!

Helen Hanson said...

Makes me want to find a Blind Guardian CD and get my nerd on . . .

Susan Clayton-Goldner said...

You've certainly changed the way I'll listen to these songs in the future. Interesting post, Garrett.

TJ Turner said...

If someone laughs at me while reading a fantasy novel I throat punch them.

Garrett Calcaterra said...

I feel the same now, TJ, but back in my high school days I was barely 5 feet tall--I would have had to stand on a stool to punch anyone in the throat. Thankfully, I finally got my growth spurt in college.

Garrett Calcaterra said...

Zeppelin has a lot of mythology inspired songs too. "Immigrant Song" is about longing for Valhalla, "Achilles Last Stand" is about the Greek hero...

Garrett Calcaterra said...

Thanks!

Garrett Calcaterra said...

I know, right?

Garrett Calcaterra said...

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Well the lines:
"The ringwraths ride in black" - Battle of Evermore
"In the darkest depths of Mordor I met a girl so fair but Gollum and the Evil one crept up and slipped away with her" - Ramble On
After you know it is hard to miss.

Ben said...

I hate to be pedantic, but I'm so good at it.... Robert E. Howard was not writing Conan stories before Tolkien dreamed up Middle Earth. Tolkien was writing about Middle Earth in an early form during his time in WWI. Howard was 12 when the war ended, if my math is correct, and was likely not publishing Conan pulp stories.

Howard died at 30. Pretty big impact on literature and movies (and music) for a 30 year old. Impressive!

Garrett Calcaterra said...

Ben, yes you're right. I'm guilty of a little hyperbole in this case. Howard's heyday was between the years 1928 and 1936 (when he died). Tolkien's The Hobbit didn't come out until the year after, in 1937, but he was certainly working on Middle-earth related stuff well before that. I believe he first started creating Quenya (High Elven) in 1912, and then in 1917 wrote "The Fall of Gondolin" to start creating the mythology and etymology behind the language he'd invented. That story wouldn't appear in print until the Silmarillion came out posthumously in 1977, but any way you figure it, Tolkien had done a lot more than just dream up Middle-earth during the time Howard was writing. My apologies. I was simply trying to be expedient in reminding people Howard's fiction appeared before Tolkien's. Thanks for calling me out. A little pedantry is a good thing sometimes!

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget Iron Maiden and "To Tame a Land" from the Piece of Mind album. The song is all about Dune.

Ahimsa said...

It might not count as a rock song, but speaking of Dune, Fat Boy Slim's Weapon of Choice has the refrain "Walk without rhythm and it won't attract the worm."

If you count D&D as fantasy, Marcy Playground's Cloak of Elven Kind is rather beautiful.

Again in the D&D realm, Weezer's In The Garage references D12s and Dungeon Master Guides.