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From Metallica to ABBA: 6 songs inspired by Stephen King

There isn’t much doubt as to the impact that horror hero, Stephen King has had on literature. The writer, however many times he is met with a snort of derision, has delivered a plethora of novels that have not only beguiled and enchanted his readers — usually, in fact, preferring to scare or gross them out — but he has also influenced pop culture around him, most principally within film and music.

There is a long line of King novels that have been adapted into films. Of course, the most famous is Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining, but it goes further too, with feature films based off King’s titles such as Carrie, Pet Sematary and countless more. But what is perhaps less known is how these novels, and a few more to boot, have helped to inspire musicians too.

Music has always been an inspiration to King. Famed for his obsession with Bob Dylan and The Beatles (John Lennon even inspired one of his classic novels), the writer has often sought to include the titles of his favourite songs and records within his books. Across his entire canon, there are references made to the golden age of pop music. It’s a reciprocal relationship too.

In Stephen King, bands and artists have found a common thread of culture. No matter what your preference is in literature, chances are you’ve at least heard of The Shining, Stand By Me or Carrie. Therefore, King operates outside his chosen field, and, instead, stands tall as a cultural touchstone that rock and roll frequent with glee. Hands outstretched, looking for another morsel of inspiration for a song or two.

Below, we’ve gathered up six of our favourite songs inspired by Stephen King. We’ve limited ourselves to only bringing you the most unusual or most inspirational songs, avoiding the vat of hits concocted by the heavy rock section of the music industry. Artists like Anthrax, AC/DC and Ash can all be counted as seeking inspiration from King, but we’re bringing you the roads slightly less travelled.

Find below, six songs that were inspired by horror hero Stephen King.

Songs inspired by Stephen King:

‘Red Right Hand’ – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are a perfect fit for Stephen King’s horror novels. Menacing and brooding in equal measure, the Aussie rocker has always cut himself apart form the rest of the rock scene by being argubaly the only man capable of actually enacting a murder ballad.

The song was wholly inspired by Stephen King’s novel The Stand and acts as the comical melodrama of a man on the edge of town and his sanity. Guitarist for the band Mick Harvey said of the song to Uncut: “‘Red Right Hand’ is an odd one, ‘cos it came out of a jam during some demo-recording in Melbourne. I think Nick, myself, and Thomas Wyndler (drums) were there. Nick was sick of always playing C minor or G minor. His fingers always would go to the same chords on the piano. It’s a common problem. He said, ‘Ah, play something in a key I don’t know.’ So I started playing that in B. I thought, ‘He won’t be able to find that, he won’t be able to, you know, dictate.’

It’s just a 12-bar turnaround, really. Nick didn’t really have a song, but we recorded the basic track when we recorded Let Love In and we knew what the atmosphere was meant to be. It’s just got this feel and that’s what the Bad Seeds are capable of.”

The song has since taken on a new guise as the theme music for BBC drama Peaky Blinders completing its cultural journey.

‘Pet Sematary’ – Ramones

OK, so this one is a bit of a cheat as rather than being inspired by the Stephen King horror novel of the same name, this Ramones track was written and recorded for the film adaptation of the book, meaning that you don’t have to imagine Johnny and Joey Ramone sitting down to read anything. 

The eighties were a crazy decade for the Ramones, ending with Dee Dee leaving the group. However, before he did, the acclaimed novelist and supreme Ramones fan, Stephen King, asked if the group would write a theme song for the film adaptation of his bestselling horror novel Pet Sematary.

What transpired is one of the band’s few commercial hits and added as a nice ending note to finish the hellish decade for the group. Still, though it may not have been a great time to be a Ramone, it’s hard to ignore the punch and the push of this classic punk track.  

‘Ride The Lightning’ – Metallica

The connection between the fandom of Metallica and Stephen King can be seen form a mile away. King’s own books were given the electrifiedeighties B-movie style that the heavy metal band enjoyed so much and their relationship goes further than that with King a noted fan.

In a blog post, guitarist Kirk Hammett revealed how Stephen King’s book, The Stand, provided Metallica with that much-needed shot of inspiration for their next album. “One huge thing about my personal connection with Stephen King occurred when I was reading a chapter in The Stand,” Hammett recalled. “The chapter had a guy in prison who was waiting to ‘Ride The Lightning’, and I just thought ‘oh my God, what a cool collection of adjectives and nouns that is!’

“I told James, he thought the same, and the rest is Metallica history! Pick up a copy of The Stand if you’re obsessive enough and find the chapter about a guy on death row where King actually writes the words,” he added. It formed the basis for one of Metallica’s most beloved tunes — ‘Ride the Lightning’.

Hammett continued: “Over the years I’ve been aware that Stephen King is a fan of Metallica, he was a fan club member I know. In the late ’80s, we spoke about something to do with his band The Rock Bottom Remainders, and as a token of my appreciation I ended up giving him a piece of art, a Famous Monsters cover painting. That’s about as much as I know of him, although I wish we knew each other better because I think we’re two peas in a pod except he writes words and I write music.”

‘The Shining’ – Black Sabbath

Where the inspiration for this Black Sabbath song came from is perhaps a little easier to guess. The band, who took their name from an Italian horror movie starring Boris Karloff, have always flirted with the horror genre, and this song was directly inspired by King’s classic The Shining.

Usually, when dissecting the work of Black Sabbath, the Tony Martin era is the piece of meat that is instantly flung towards the dumpster. But Martin and the rest of the band did provide one memorable moment with this song not only containing potent references to the titular novel but one of Tony Iommi’s finest riffs.

Over-polished by the eighties production, there’s a nugget of brilliance underneath this track that deserves to be recognised.

‘Sheela-Na-Gig’ – PJ Harvey

When PJ Harvey released ‘Sheela-Na-Gig’, she did so, perhaps knowing that it would be received with a considerable amount of disdain from the conservative side of the public. A sheela-na-gig is a carving of an old naked woman that can often be found on old churches in Britain and Ireland, usually depicting the woman showing her vagina. Add to that the Harvey helped promote the song with a cover shoot for NME that exposed one of her breasts, and you have a recipe for collective monocle drops.

Despite the obvious germ of inspiration, there were plenty of other references hidden within the track. “The song’s a collection of different moments between lovers,” Harvey told Melody Maker in 1992. “I suppose it’s about being able to laugh at yourself in relationships. There’s some anger there but, for me, it’s a funny song. I wasn’t intending it to be a feminist song or anything. I wanted it to have several sides.”

One such moment comes when she sings “Please take those dirty pillows away from me.” The lyrics are a reference to King’s first novel Carrie in which zealot Margaret White refers to her daughter’s breasts as “dirty pillows”. It’s a gentle showing of how King has now completely infiltrated culture.

‘The Piper’ – ABBA

So far, many of the artists mentioned fit neatly within the spectrum of King’s novels. Usually dark and often harrowing, artists like Nick Cave and Metallica feel right at home with the material at hand. But nobody expected ABBA and their song ‘The Piper’ to feature on our list.

Such as Cave’s ‘Red Right Hand’ and Metallica’s ‘Ride The Lightning’, the song was also inspired by The Stand and was written about the rise of a fascist dictator as Björn Ulvaeus explained: “The lyrics deal with the fear that there will come a time when people will want such a leader again.” 

While we go about worrying that we have once again reached such a time in history, we can at least alleviate some of the apocalyptic stress by revelling in the ABBA song inspired by horror hero Stephen King.

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