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10 Songs Inspired By George Orwell’s 1984

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four has inspired our political-science lexicon by popularizing terms such as “big brother,” “doublespeak” or “thought police” to describe our governments and its policies. His novel, which was published in 1949, has also inspired dozens of musical artists’ lyrics.

For example, in 2009 the English band Muse wrote the album the Resistance based on Orwell’s book.

“When I started to feel this was going to be an influence on the album, I started to do some research,” guitarist and singer Matt Bellamy said at the time. “I reread the George Orwell book 1984 and was touched by the love story. It was tragic.

“The lyrics of the song Resistance are very influenced by this love story.” (This song did not make the list.)

Before Muse’s Orwellian-inspired album, the glam-rock singer David Bowie paid his respects to the dystopian novel. Bowie’s album Diamond Dogs, released in 1974, was originally suppose to be a Broadway musical based on the classic book. But Orwell’s widow Sonia Orwell denied the singer the book rights for his project; halting Bowie’s ambition to conduct an 1984-inspired musical. The album does include songs directly referencing the apocalyptical book such as Big Brother, though. 

“Mrs Orwell refused to let us have the rights, point blank,” Bowie complained, according to the Man Who Sold the World a book by Peter Doggett.”For a person who married a socialist with communist leanings, she was the biggest upper-class snob I’ve ever met in my life. ‘Good heavens, put it to music?’ It really was like that.”

But between Bowie’s and Muse’s Orwell-influenced albums, rock bands such as Incubus, the Clash and the Dead Kennedys also borrowed passages from Orwell’s nightmarish novel.

Here’s the top-10 Orwellian-influenced songs.

10. Irresponsible Hate Anthem – Marilyn Manson
Marilyn_Manson_-_Antichrist_Superstar_cover

9. Spies – Coldplay
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8. Citizen Erased – Muse
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7. Talk Shows on Mute – Incubus
Talkshowsonmute

6. California Uber Alles – Dead Kennedys
Dead_Kennedys_-_California_Über_Alles_cover

5. 1977 – The Clash
The_Clash_-_Black_Market_Clash

4. Boot Stamping on a Human Face Forever – Bad Religion
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3. Testify – Rage Against the Machine
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2. 2+2=5 – Radiohead
Radiohead_2+2=5_CD1

1. 1984 – David Bowie
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Incubus’ “Talk Shows on Mute” Alluded to George Orwell’s & Philip Dick’s novels

Incubus' single "Talk Shows on Mute," released in the album A Crow Left of the Murder.

Incubus’ single “Talk Shows on Mute,” released in the album A Crow Left of the Murder.

English writer George Orwell’s 1984 has inspired many artists; from David Bowie to Radiohead.

But Incubus’ 2004 single “Talk Shows on Mute” stands out, not just for the lyrics’ homage to the book but also because the song’s music video’ takes a similar theme to the dystopian 1949 novel.

“The book scared me, but in a good way,” Incubus’ singer Brandon Boyd said, according to an MTV.com article. “It scares you into vigilance. A lot of people don’t get it. They’re like, ‘That’s so passé, 1984. I mean, it’s 2004.’ But I think that right now, it has a poignancy that it otherwise wouldn’t have because it definitely seems like Big Brother is watching closer than he ever has. And television culture is at an all-time high or low, depending how you look at it.”

[audio http://music2.xialala.com/wawa/incubus/Talk-Show-On-Mute.mp3]

Even though Boyd sings in the ballad “Come one, come all, into 1984,” it was his own dystopian thoughts that reminded him of Orwell’s most famous novel. The singer was mocking a talk show on a plane ride and as the TV was on mute he “decided to start narrating for the people.”

“I realized a time will probably come when television will watch us if we’re watching it,” Boyd told MTV.com. “If that hasn’t already happened, figuratively or literally. It sounded like some sort of pseudo-Big Brother nightmare, so I wrote it down.”

A 2013 Penguin Books edition of George Orwell's classic novel 1984.

A 2013 Penguin Books edition of George Orwell’s classic novel 1984.

Of course 1984 takes a place in a society where the government known as Big Brother is watching its citizen through televisions.

To continue the Orwellian theme, the single’s music video has an animal-operated TV show where humans are used as pets. This reversed role also exists in Orwell’s short novel Animal Farm.

“Floria Sigismondi did this video. And she gave the song her interpretation, and she created this Orwellian kind of scene,” the band’s bass player Ben Kenny told a Netherlands music journalist. “It is in a world of animals, the world is controlled by animals and the humans are the pets.

“We are doing a performance shot on one of the animals’ talk shows. It is just like a human talk show, just a disgusting way for people to look down at other people that are worse of than them. And in the story, the host turns into a human and that is one of the worst things that could happen in that world: you turning into human. It is a little abstract.”

Another factoid is that Boyd made a reference to Philip K. Dick’s science fiction novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Boyd penned similar lyrics as he sings, “the electric sheep are dreaming of your face,” and “the electric sheep are dreaming up your fate,” in the second and fourth verse respectively.

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