Since I’m planning on making my own music inspired by 1984, I thought it would be fun to explore other musicians who have been inspired by the book too. So, here’s a list of 5 notable examples that I’ve found.
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In 1974 David Bowie released his eighth studio album, Diamond Dogs. After initially wanting to create a theatrical version of 1984, the Orwellian estate had denied him the rights to do so.
In a Rolling Stone interview the same year, with postmodernist author William S Burroughs, you can see that Bowie had thought a lot about what he wanted to achieve, had the production gone ahead:
Now I’m doing Orwell’s 1984 on television; that’s a political thesis and an impression of the way in another country. Something of that nature will have more impact on television.David Bowie (Rolling Stone)
The album would contain the abandoned project, namely on the second half with track titles such as ‘We Are the Dead’ and ‘Big Brother’ lifted directly from the book.
The music still holds up for me and though I do consider myself a bit of a Bowie fan, I’ve always seemed to neglect this album over the others but it always surprises me when I go back. For fans of glam slash art rock, do check it out.
Pop-electronic duo Eurythmics were tasked with producing the soundtrack for a theatrical version of the book released in 1984.
The film was intended to go with a traditionally orchestral score by Dominic Muldowney but the production company Virgin Films, intervened and insisted on a mainly Eurythmics based soundtrack.
It is now possible to hear both versions of the film with either soundtrack but at the time it was quite a controversial affair.
Maybe it’s due to the technology of the time or that it’s oddly upbeat for what is basically for a really grim story, but it comes across a bit out of place for me, and not in a creative juxtaposing way.
That’s not to say I don’t like it, I actually do. I just think it just clashes in a weird way and the only way I can explain it is if Wham had sound tracked Titanic. Which I really want to hear now…
After leaving the band Yes the year before, Rick Wakeman released a solo concept album based on 1984.
With lyrics from Tim Rice and featuring vocals from Chaka Khan, Jon Anderson and Steve Harley, the album took about two years to create.
That’s a lot of work based on a book he apparently thought wasn’t very good as he says here:
The 1984 idea came from the George Orwell book, even though I first thought the book was lousy. Probably, its success was due to ‘1984’ being of more symbolic significance than an actual year.Rick Wakeman
For me actually hearing this for the first time, it’s really tough for me not to compare it to other concept albums released in the same era, namely Pink Floyd’s The Wall, but hey that’s probably me being reductive too.
I do kinda like this though and I can imagine coming back for another listen. Although, like the previous example from Eurythmics, it’s a bit too upbeat for the source material, maybe even a bit dare I say… bonkers.
Anthony Philips’ 1984 album was also released in 1981 and also in June, the same month as Rick Wakeman’s album, (I had to double check that, as the coincidence baffled me).
This was apparently a bit of a departure for Phillips as his previous work was more folk and acoustic based where this was predominantly synthesizer based.
Anway, regarding the album, the music itself was recorded before the concept was actually applied. Phillips wanted to title the album with something that carried a little more dramatic weight saying:
I had this instrumental album which I’d been doing for quite a while. It got to the time when you have to start thinking about titles, it was very abstract, not really based on any particular idea to be honest – I know there will be a lot of disappointed people when they hear that, but it’s true!Anthony Phillips
As with Rick Wakeman’s alum, I’ve just listened to this for the first time and I have to say, I quite like it. I wouldn’t say I’m the biggest prog-rock fan by any stretch but this album actually feels a little more accessible for want of a word, than Wakeman’s.
Radiohead are no strangers to lifting inspiration from literary sources, just look at the track ‘Paranoid Android’ which comes from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
It’s the opening track title from their 6th studio 2003 album, Hail to the Thief we’re looking at here with here. It’s called 2 + 2 = 5 which obviously referrs to 1984. The track also has an alternative title as did all the tracks on the album.
This was alternatively called “The Lukewarm” which apparently referenced Dante’s Inferno.
The lyrics suggest a more 1984 leaning inspiration though. with “Are you such a dreamer
To put the world to rights?” possibly referring to Winston Smith’s character beginning to rebel in the book.
It’s no secret to most that I’m a bit of a Radiohead fan and I do absolutely love this track. I remember instantly getting the reference the first time I read the title so it just became cooler when you get the context.
Anyway, that’s it for this list. I could go on and on but I think 5 was enough. Do let me know in the comments if you know of any other artists who have been influenced by 1984.
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