Music Inspired by J. G. Ballard
The slow and inexorable descent into chaos described by JG Ballard, the sense of alienation that is perceived by reading his works, has been the inspiration for many songs.
His fiction provides an ideal background for developing pieces of music that address existential themes. The sense of emptiness in life, the cyclical irrationality of our daily actions, the imposed patterns, the petty rivalries that make up the social fabric in which we live, the alienating greyness of 20th-century metropolises, a nervous sensuality used as a way out.
The direct or indirect influence of J.G. Ballard on contemporary music is noticeable and can be more or less explicit. Ballard’s nervous atmospheres have influenced the work of David Bowie, John Foxx, The Human League, Throbbing Gristle among others.
Selected list of songs & albums directly influenced by the works of JG Ballard.
Warm Leatherette by The Normal (1978)
“Warm Leatherette” is a 1978 song by Daniel Miller‘s project The Normal. The lyrics of “Warm Leatherette” allude to J.G. Ballard’s 1973 novel Crash, which impacted Daniel Miller greatly. He had collaborated with a college classmate on a film script based on the book, but after the project was canceled, Miller decided to “create a song encapsulating the story in 2 and a half minutes.”
Bonus: Warm Leatherette Live. Trent Reznor, Peter Murphy, Atticus Ross, Jeordie White (2006)
Bonus: Warm Leatherette by Grace Jones (1983)
Video Killed the Radio Stars by The Buggles (1979)
Trevor Horn, Geoff Downes, and Bruce Woolley wrote “Video Killed the Radio Star” in 1979. “Me and my friends were obsessed with a song called Warm Leatherette by the Normal, which is based on Crash. The opening scene in the book features a head-on car crash where the guy is looking at a woman whose husband is between them, dead on the bonnet of the car. They are trapped in the smashed-up cars, facing each other, and that’s the most incredible image. Ballard was a big inspiration at the time – Video Killed the Radio Star came from a Ballard story called Sound Sweep in which a boy goes around old buildings with a vacuum cleaner that sucks up sound. I had a feeling that we were reflecting an age in the same way that he was.”,” Horn said in a 2004 interview. He claimed Kraftwerk was another influence on the song.
High Rise by Hawkwind (1979)
J. G. Ballard’s novel High-Rise was published in 1975. The plot follows the breakdown of a luxury high-rise building as its wealthy occupants tumble into violent mayhem. High-Rise was reportedly one of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis‘ favorite books. PXR5 is the ninth studio album released by the English space rock band Hawkwind in 1979. J.G. Ballard’s novel High-Rise and short tale “The Man on the 99th Floor” influenced the lyrics of “High Rise.”
Down in the park by Tubeway Army (1979)
“Down in the Park” is a 1979 song by the English band Tubeway Army, with Gary Numan on lead vocals. The song describes a futuristic park where Machmen (androids with human skin) and machines rape and slaughter humans to delight viewers who, together with their numerically named robotic “friends” (“Down in the Park, with a buddy called Five”), watch the carnage from a neighboring eatery, “Zom Zoms.”
Atrocity Exhibition by Joy Division (1980)
Ian Curtis read the experimental novel only after completing the majority of the lyrics. The title of this track is derived from J.G. Ballard’s unsettling, surrealistic “condensed novels” collection The Atrocity Exhibition, in which the protagonist’s name changes with each chapter (Talbert, Traven, Travis, Talbot, etc.), as does his role and his visions of the world around him. The book was inspired in large part by his first wife Mary’s unexpected death from illness. Ballard “felt that a crime had been committed by nature against this young woman — and her children — and I [Ballard] was searching desperately for an explanation”.
Miss the Girl by The Creatures (1983)
The Creatures were an English band created in 1981 by Siouxsie Sioux and drummer Budgie of Siouxsie and the Banshees. The Creatures’ 1983 single “Miss the Girl” was inspired by the novel Crash.
Sacrifice by Gary Numan (1994)
Gary Numan’s 1994 album Sacrifice has two references to the book: “Love and Napalm,” which is based on one of the chapter titles, and “A Question of Faith,” which features the phrase “I’ll be your exhibition of atrocity.”
Mausoleum by Manic Street Preachers (1994)
Manic Street Preachers are a Welsh rock band founded in 1986 in Blackwood. The Ballard quotation regarding his motives for creating the book appears in the song “Mausoleum” from 1994’s The Holy Bible: “I wanted to rub the human face in its own vomit. I wanted to force it to look in the mirror.” For Manic Street Preachers’ Richey Edwards, Ballard expressed disgust with humanity rather than mechanization.
Drowned World/Substitute for Love by Madonna (1997)
Madonna recorded the song “Drowned World/Substitute for Love” for her seventh studio album, Ray of Light (1998). It is based on J. G. Ballard’s post-apocalyptic science fiction novel The Drowned World (1962).
In Rainbows (2007) & ‘The Eraser’ (2006) by Radiohead
Ballard’s influence is noticeable in a band like Radiohead. In the months leading up to the release of ‘In Rainbows,’ Thom Yorke published excerpts from J.G. Ballard’s anti-consumerist book ‘Kingdom Come‘, the final novel written by Ballard before his death in 2009. The book examines the gray line between materialism and fascism, the suburban environment, and its psychogeography. The album cover for ‘The Eraser’ is an example of the disturbing fear of inundation, inspired by ‘The Drowned World,’ a story that foreshadowed environmental doom thirteen years before the phrase “global warming” was coined.
Myths of the Near Future by Klaxons (2014)
Myths of the Near Future is the debut album by the London-based English rock band Klaxons. Myths of the Near Future, their debut album, is titled after one of his short story volumes. Throughout the album, several postmodernism literary references to the works of J.G. Ballard, William S. Burroughs, and Thomas Pynchon can be heard.
Atrocity Exhibition by Danny Brown (2016)
Brown said that his album, Atrocity Exhibition, was inspired by both the Joy Division song and J. G. Ballard’s novel of the same name.
Terminal Beach by Yacht (2017)
Yacht is an American dance-pop band from Portland, Oregon, currently based in Los Angeles, California. The song “Terminal Beach” is a tribute to his short story collection that goes by the same name.
Kerosene by Yves Tumor (2020)
Kerosene! is a single from the album Heaven to a Tortured Mind (2020) by the American experimental electronic artist Yves Tumor. The video, directed by Cody Critcheloe of SSION, feels like an intentional reworking of David Cronenberg’s Crash, with Tumor and Bailey Stiles passionately making love in the wreckage of an overturned vehicle.
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