As we celebrate the birth (and death) of the one and only William Shakespeare this month, we couldn't help but add to the merriment with a musical tribute to the Bard. Shakespeare's Birthday Playlist is certainly one for the ages!
It is impossible to ignore the profound impact that ole Bill has had on the written word. There aren't many writers who haven't been influenced by Shakespeare's wit and storytelling. And who can blame them? With characters as rich and complex as Marcus Brutus from the Tragedy of Julius Caesar and Cordelia from King Lear and themes as timeless as love, revenge, and betrayal, Shakespeare is a lyrical goldmine.
So grab your headphones, turn up the volume, and let us raise a glass to the greatest wordsmith in all the land with some truly epic Bard Beats!
Read on to see how the selection was picked!
Let's Get the Party Started
"Shakespeare's (Way With) Words" by One True Voice
We kick off Shakespeare's Birthday playlist with a song that rose up the British charts before the band met it's end. The British boy band One True Voice showcases the fact that our centuries old wordsmith could really make lover's swoon. If only we all had "Shakespeare's (Way With) words."
If I had Shakespeares way with words
I would write a sonnet, put your name upon it
- "Desolation Row" by Bob Dylan has several Shakespearean references. It's a long one, get ready.
Romeo & Juliet
"Love Story" by Taylor Swift
In the lyrics to "Love Story" by Taylor Swift, Swift references the star-crossed lovers as a metaphor. Of course, in Tay's version, there is no suicide and the lovers actually seem to live happily ever after.
Marry me, Juliet, you'll never have to be alone
I love you, and that's all I really know
I talked to your dad, go pick out a white dress
It's a love story, baby, just say yes
"Exit Music (For A Film)" by Radiohead
Another song featuring the ill-fated couple was written for the ending credits of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet. It's as haunting and chilling as the tragic death of the young lovers.
Wake from your sleep,
The drying of your tears
Today we escape, we escape
"Romeo and Juliet" by Indigo Girls
While we do love Dire Straits's original "Romeo and Juliet," we can't get enough of the longing and raw emotion that the Indigo Girls, specifically Amy Ray, put into their cover.
Juliet says, "Hey it's Romeo
He nearly gave me a heart attack" yeah well
He's underneath my window, now she's singing
"Hey-la my boyfriend's back"
The Killers also covered this song on their compilation album Sawdust.
"I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" by Arctic Monkeys
And we couldn't help but throw in the punk-inspired Arctic Monkeys break out song "I Bet You Look Good on the DanceFloor." With fast-paced guitar riffs, driving drums, and Alex Turner's distinctive vocals, the song references the dueling houses.
And no, there ain't no love, no Montagues or Capulets
Just banging tunes and DJ sets
Dirty dance floors, and dreams of naughtiness!
- "Just Like Shakespeare" by Losers Club
- "Romeo Had Juliette" by Lou Reed
- "Rodeo & Juliet" by Garth Brooks (yes, this actually exists!)
The Tragedy of Julius Caesar
"Back Stabbers" by The O'Jays
Okay, we don't really know if "Back Stabbers" by The O'Jays is a direct reference to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, but there is certainly an argument for it. And we happen to love the catchy melody and soulful vocals that are reminiscent of the conspirators' betrayal and treachery, especially, "Et tu, Brute?"
All the time they want to take your place
The back stabbers (back stabbers)
(They smilin' in your face)
- "Hail Caesar" by AC/DC
- "The Evil that Men Do" by Iron Maiden references Mark Antony’s "Friends, Romans, Countrymen" speech in Act III, scene ii
- "California Über Alles" by Dead Kennedys references a line spoken by Brutus in Act II, scene i: " And therefore think him as a serpent’s egg—Which, hatched, would as his kind grow mischievous—And kill him in the shell."
The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice
"The Willow Song" by Woods of Birnam
"The Willow Song" by Woods of Birnam is a rendition of the ballad that Desdemona sings in Act IV, scene iii of Othello just before going to bed. The audience, being familiar with the song, would have known this song of sorrow foreshadows Desdemona's death by Othello's hands.
I call'd my love false love but what said he then?
Sing willow, willow, willow
If I court more women, you'll couch with more men.
The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
"Off to the Races" by Lana Del Rey
Lana Del Rey's "Off to the Races" may be a stretch reference to Hamlet and Ophelia, but we can't help but see Ophelia in this song about the doomed lover in the garden. The song's lyrics and haunting melody evoke the sense of tragedy and despair that are central to the play.
Because I'm crazy, baby
I need you to come here and save me
I'm your little scarlet, starlet, singin' in the garden
Kiss me on my open mouth
Ready for you
"Ophelia" by Tori Amos
The beautifully tragic Ophelia who is driven to madness and suicide after being manipulated by the men in her life gets many nods in art and music. We love Tori Amos' "Ophelia" because of the hauntingly powerful themes of madness and despair and her use of Ophelia as a symbol for female oppression and emotional turmoil.
Ophelia your secret is safe
Ophelia you must break the chain
Some girls will get their way
Some fathers will control from the grave
Ophelia you must remember
The Tragedy of Macbeth
"Macbeth" by Sonic Youth
This tormenting instrumental by Sonic Youth's side project Ciccone Youth's The Whitey Album channels the sense of unease and tension of Shakespeare's Macbeth. With dissonant guitars and emotional rhythm, listeners can feel the descent into madness and violence.
"Wytches Brew" by OMNIA
"Wytches Brew" by the pagan folk band OMNIA is a song that evokes the mysterious and supernatural atmosphere of Shakespeare's Macbethwith the words taken directly from the spell of the three witches. Using traditional instruments, the bodhrán and the hurdy-gurdy, the song creates a medieval folk sound that enhances the song's mystical reimagining of Shakespeare's text.
"Brief Candles" by The Zombies
The Zombies "Brief Candles" gives a gentle nod to Macbeth's "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" soliloquy in Act V, scene v of Macbeth.
Brief candles in his mind
Bright and tiny gems of memory
Brief candles burn so fine
Antony and Cleopatra
"My Sad Captains" by Elbow
Elbow's song "My Sad Captains" is a reflective and melancholic track that references Antony's words in Act III, scene xiii in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra: "Come, let's have one other gaudy night; call to me all my sad captains; fill our bowls; once more, let's mock the midnight bell."
Another sunrise with my sad captains
With who I choose to lose my mind
And if it's so, we only pass this way but once
What a perfect waste of time
"Cordelia" by Tragically Hip
King Lear's youngest and most forgiving daughter, Cordelia, gets her name in lights with Tragically Hip's song "Cordelia." Unlike Shakespeare's Cordelia, however, the speaker in the song won't be as loyal as she was to Lear.
It takes all of your power
To prove that you don't care
I'm not Cordelia, I will not be there
"The King Must Die" by Elton John
Elton John's "The King Must Die" is a dramatically epic song that tells the story of a ruler who faces his own downfall. While he doesn't directly reference King Lear, we believe the king in question is likely the haughty King Lear whose own daughters drove him into madness.
No man's a jester playing Shakespeare
Round your throne room floor
While the juggler's act is danced upon
The crown that you once wore
The king is dead, the king is dead
The king is dead, the king is dead
Long live the king
As You Like It
"Better Strangers" by Royal Blood
Royal Blood's "Better Strangers" is inspired by a conversation between Orlando and Jaques in Shakespeare's Comedy As You Like It Act III, scene ii: "JAQUES: God be wi’ you. Let’s meet as little as we can./ORLANDO: I do desire we may be better strangers."
Royal Blood vocalist, Mike Kerr said in an interview with Drowned in Sound : "I thought: ‘What a brilliant insult!’ It really related to me, ’cause I’d been in a situation where I wanted to know someone a whole lot less, you know?"
'Cause I'm a thousand miles from danger if I make a better stranger
Thousand miles from danger if I make a better stranger
Thousand miles from danger if I make a better stranger of you
Taming of the Shrew
"The Shrew Tamer" by James Fraser
This is a fun lyrical recap of Shakespeare's comedy Taming of the Shrew.
A long, long time ago
A rich young bachelor named Petruchio
Boasted that he could woo
Katherine the Veronese shrew
Much Ado about Nothing
"Sigh No More" by Mumford and Sons
Mumford and Sons' "Sigh No More" takes inspiration from the song Balthazar sings in the Shakespearean comedy Much Ado about Nothing in Act II, scene iii.
Sigh no more, no more
One foot in sea, one on shore
My heart was never pure
You know me
Merchant of Venice
"Pound of Flesh" by Regina Spektor
Regina Spektor's "Pound of Flesh" does not directly mention Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, but the title and context are likely inspired by it. In the song, Spektor references Ezra Pound who, before his death, asks forgiveness for his anti-semitism. He requests a pound of flesh to cover his bones. The same request–a pound of flesh–is made by Shylock, the Jewish moneylender in The Merchant of Venice if Antonio is unable to recover the money lent.
Ezra Pound sat upon my bed
Asked me which books as of late I've read
Asked me if I've, uh, read his own
And whether I could spare a pound
Of flesh to cover his bare bones
"Caliban's Dream" by Underworld
Written for the 2012 London Olympics Opening ceremony, Underworld's "Caliban's Dream" is inspired by Caliban's "Be not afeard" speech in Act III, scene ii of The Tempest.
And the rain? tossed about us;
In the garden of the world
But a flame arrives to guide us;
Past the gold between the anvils of the stars
Henry VI, Part II
"Get Over It" by The Eagles
"Get Over It" by the Eagles quotes Dick the Butcher's popular line from Henry VI, Part II in Act IV, scene ii: "The first thing we do let's kill all the lawyers."
The more I think about it, Old Billy was right
Let’s kill all the lawyers, kill ’em tonight
"Cemetery Gates" by The Smiths
The Smith's frontman Morrissey was none too happy about people misquoting Shakespeare and he says as much in the song "Cemetery Gates."
You say : "'Ere thrice the sun done salutation to the dawn"
And you claim these words as your own
But I've read well, and I've heard them said
A hundred times (maybe less, maybe more)
The quote here is supposed to be Ratcliff’s lines from Richard IIIAct V, scene v: "My lord, ’tis I. The early village cock/ Hath twice done salutation to the morn."
- "Lover You Should've Come Over" by Jeff Buckley : "My kingdom for a kiss upon her shoulder" probably references the Act V, scene iv line "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse"
Even Shakespearean sonnets get some musical love.
"Sonnet 29" by Rufus Wainwright
Wrapping up the Bards Beats playlist is a musical interpretation of "Sonnet 29."
- Sting's "Sister Moon" and the album it is on Nothing Like The Suntakes inspiration from "Sonnet 130"