Examples of Allusions in Songs

An allusion is an indirect reference to a person, place thing or idea of historical, cultural and literary significance. The emotions tied to allusions help deepen the image in song. It’s a great poetic and songwriting device. It helps to understand the theme and feel the emotions of the writer more accurately. It is the expression of a lyricist to all something to the reader’s mind without mentioning it explicitly.  Below are some examples of songs having allusions:

1. Arabian Nights – Aladdin

When the wind’s from the east
And the sun’s from the west
And the sand in the glass is right
Come on down, stop on by
Hop a carpet and fly
To another Arabian night

The lyricist references to the Middle Eastern stories collection One Thousand and One Nights Story and Sahara desert in the Middle East.

2. Celine Dion – My Heart Will Go on

“one more you open the door
And you’re here in my heart
And my heart will go on and on

This song of 90s is from movie Titanic. The allusion of ‘door’ is very well defined. The door, that Jack and Rose laid on when the boat sank.

3. Taylor Swift – Love Story

‘that you were Romeo, you were throwing
And my Daddy
Said ‘ stay away from

The author is trying to show how her family is not a fan of her boyfriend. However, hatred does not stop him from trying to win her heart.

4. Radiohead – Paranoid Android

Ambition makes you look pretty ugly
Kicking, squealing Gucci little piggy
You don’t remember
You don’t remember
Why don’t you remember my name?
Off with his head, man
Off with his head, man
Why don’t you remember my name?
I guess he does

The entire song is an allusion to Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

5. Alanis Morissette – All I Really Want

“ I’m like Estella –
I like to reel it in and then spit it out
I’m frustrated by your apathy’

This is an allusion to Charles Dickens’  Great Expectations. This is a reference for its theme and characters.

6. Elton John – Candle In The wind

And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind
Never knowing who to cling to
When the rain set in
And I would have liked to have known you
But I was just a kid
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did

This song is about the death of Diana Princess Of Wales. When words fail, music fills the gap. After Diana’s death, this song becomes most successful.

7. Aerosmith – I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing

Don’t want to close my eyes
I don’t want to fall asleep
‘cause I’d miss you baby
And I don’t want to miss a thing

This song is an allusion to death. Outwardly it is about simple human sleep but actually the underlying message is death. He is not willing to go on the path of death whee he would miss his dear ones.

8. Crash Test Dummies – Afternoons And Coffee Spoons.

      Someday I’ll have a disappearing hairline
Someday I’ll wear pyjamas in the daytime

Afternoons will be measured out
Measured out, measured with
Coffee spoons and T.S. Eliot

This song alludes to T.S Eliot ‘s poem ‘ The Song of Love …’. These lines say that the poet who works with allusion has become the subject of an allusion himself. The title refers to Eliot’s quote “ I have measured out my life with coffee spoons’.

9. Beastie Boys – Shadrach.

“And the man upstairs, I hope that he cares.
If I had a penny for my thoughts I’d be a millionaire.
We’re just 3 M.C.’s and we’re on the go –
Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego!”

This is an allusion to the Bible from the book of Daniel (Old Testament). Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were the three young Jews from the kingdom of Judah recorded in the Book of Daniel. The Beastie compares themselves to these three. They have also a message of hope regarding ‘man upstairs’.

10. Billy Joe – We Didn’t Start the Fire.

Joseph Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser and Prokofiev
Rockefeller, Campanella, Communist Bloc

Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, Dacron
Dien Bien Phu falls, “Rock Around the Clock”

Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn’s got a winning team
Davy Crockett, Peter Pan,…

It is a famous song of the 80s and 90s. This song has over 115 allusions in it. The lyrics are rapid-fire with references.  The lyric for each individual event is brief and the events are punctuated by the chorus and other lyrical elements.

11. Nirvana – Scentless Apprentice

Like most babies smell like butter
His smell smelled like no other
He was born scentless and senseless
He was born a scentless apprentice

Go away – get away, get away, get a-way
Every wet nurse refused to feed him
Electrolytes smell like semen

This song is an allusion to Patrick Suskind’s perfume. This scent is actually used for the blood; this man was an apprentice in a perfume shop and afterwards becomes the murderer of young girls for their scent.

12. 3 Doors Down– Kryptonite

I watched the world float to the dark side of the moon
After all, I knew, it had to be something to do with you
I really don’t mind what happens now and then
As long as you’ll be my friend at the end

If I go crazy, then will you still call me Superman?
If I’m alive and well, will you be there and holding my hand?
I’ll keep you by my side with my superhuman might

It is an allusion to wearing power/strength. Superman was incapacitated with Kryptonite, as it was his weakness. It means that the person is making them powerless and unable to do their usual things. He feels like the girl is his weakness.