Top 5 Wednesday: Book Theme Songs

As both a writer and a musician, songs and stories are inextricable for me. Lyrics are a fascinating narrative form–Springsteen is like Steinbeck with a guitar–and even the flimsiest dance tune develops a narrative in an author’s imagination. I’ve got whole soundtracks for novels! No room for that today, so here are a few of my favorite book/song associations:

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (J.K. ROWLING) and You And Me (Lifehouse)

It’s you and me and all of the people/And I don’t know why I can’t keep my eyes off of you…you got my head spinning/I don’t know where to go from here…

When this book arrived in July 2005, I was working as a lifeguard and swim instructor between college semesters. My co-workers and I read HBP obsessively in the guard shack all summer long. We often played a radio on the pool deck, and one of that summer’s most popular tunes was You and Me, by Lifehouse. Watching the water, I’d mull over the book while the song murmured incessantly below me.

Thus the two became linked by proximity, but the song works on a lyrical level as well. A main subplot of the sixth book is Harry falling in love with Ginny (sorry if that’s a spoiler, but if you haven’t read it the book by this point, there’s no help for you there). Seeing someone you’ve known for years in a completely new light…navigating complex emotions while a school full of kids gossips about you…questioning the ethics of fancying your best friend’s sister…yep, definitely calls for a pleasantly gritty waltz.

BonusHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling) and Another Brick in the Wall (Pink Floyd). This song always makes me think of Umbridge taking over Hogwarts. We don’t need no thought control/no dark sarcasm in the classroom/teachers, leave us kids alone. Although the middle bit is definitely more Snape. “How disappointing, Potter….”

The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) and Girl On Fire (Alicia Keys)

Lonely like a highway/she’s living in a world and it’s on fire/feeling the catastrophe/but she knows she can fly away…

It seems like shamefully unoriginal book theme song, but hear me out: I’ve actually put some analysis into this. Deonstructed, the song corresponds nicely with each of the trilogy’s three installments. Take the first verse above. Amidst the crisis of the Hunger Games, Katniss believes that if she can win, she can go back to her family and put it all behind her. But the events of book two—and verse two—make her inextricable from the conflagration:

Looks like a girl but she’s a flame/so bright she can burn your eyes/better look the other way/you can try but you’ll never forget her name…Katniss is more that a victor now. She’s an incandescent symbol of rebellion, and all of Panem begins to feel the flames.

Everybody stands as she goes by/‘cos they can see the flame that’s in her eyes/watch her as she’s lighting up the night/nobody knows that she’s a lonely girl/and its a lonely world/she’s gon’ let it burn baby burn…On a literal level, the bridge before the last chorus suggests Katniss parading into the arena, stunning Capital audiences in Cinna’s fire suit. A darker reading, however, links these words to her near-breakdown in Mockingjay. Rebels hail her as their hero, but she’s lost most everyone she loves and she’s willing to burn down the world with her.

The Martian (Andy Weir) and Starman (David Bowie)

There’s a starman waiting in the sky/He’d like to come and meet us/But he thinks he’d blow our minds…

Not only does the late, lamented Bowie fit nicely with the 70s music tropes that enhances the book’s humor, it’s a good theme for astronaut Mark Watney. His unlikely survival certainly blows the minds of his NASA colleagues and captivates Earthlings:

I had to phone someone so I picked on you/Hey, that’s far out so you heard him too/Switch on the TV we may pick him up on Channel Two…

Like Watney, the song keeps a quirky and upbeat attitude about the improbable existence of a man living among the stars. Let all the children boogie. And eat potatoes.

The Aubrey/Maturin novels (Patrick O’Brien) and Why Should I Cry For You (Sting)

Under the Arctic fire/Over the seas of silence/Hauling on frozen ropes for all my days remaining/would north be true?

Poor Stephen Maturin. The endearingly hapless naturalist has it bad for the captivating and mercurial Diana Villiers, who alternates between leading him on and banishing him to the friendzone. It’s an epic hot-and-cold romance spanning several novels, and Stephen often pines for his love on long sea voyages. Every time I hear this song I imagine him in the bow, brooding over the horizon.

 Sometimes I see your face/stars seem to lose their place/why must I think of you?/Why should I cry for you?/Why would you want me to?/What would it mean to say I loved you in my fashion?

This song also works quite well for parts of…

Blue Karma (J.K. Ullrich) and Team (Lorde)

We live in cities we never see on the screen/not very pretty but we sure know how to run things/living in ruins of the palace within our dreams…

One of the strongest connections between music and stories are those forged when I’m writing. Every project grows a playlist of unofficial theme songs that fit the story’s atmosphere and help me set the mood while working on the manuscript. I listened lots of dark pop while writing my debut novel, but Team captures it most strongly for me. The chorus (above) evokes marginal communities like the Ark and the Shore, where engees have created autonomous worlds out of the public eye.

So all the cups got broke/shards beneath my feet/it wasn’t my fault/and everyone’s competing for a love they won’t receive/but what this palace wants is release….

Amaya didn’t ask for an environmental disaster to make her a nationless orphan, but she’s nobody’s victim. Even if the shattered pieces of her former life cut her bloody, she’ll keep fighting, even though she really wishes she could let go a little and find some peace.

Bonus: my unofficial anthem for Syzygy Pt I is Paradise (What About Us) by Within Temptation. Go listen to the song and make some predictions about why, then see how close you got when I release the book this summer!

Top 5 Wednesday is the creation of Lainey over at Goodreads. Check out the group and join the other “Wednesday-ers“!

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3 thoughts on “Top 5 Wednesday: Book Theme Songs

  1. thebookprophet says:

    Great choice for Hunger Games, I cannot believe I didn’t think of that!!!!! I picked Just Another Brick in the Wall by Pink Floyd for Hunger Games and Divergent cause I’m a big classic rock fan.

    Like

    • j.k.ullrich says:

      Classic rock is my favorite genre, too (although you wouldn’t know it from this list). Another Brick is a great choice for those stories. It always makes me think of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Maybe I’ll go back and add that as a bonus tune!

      Liked by 1 person

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