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Genius Bonus / Music

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Artists and music works with their own pages:

  • They Might Be Giants features a variety of songs about semi-obscure characters such as James Ensor and James K. Polk.
    • And four key figures from Mesopotamian history (one of whom is probably fictional, but still...).
      • Another one from the Mesopotamians: "Hey, man, I thought that you were dead, I thought you crashed your car." "No, man, I've been right here this whole time playing bass guitar." Only people who know their Beatles trivia will get this one.
    • Another example is the song "She Thinks She's Edith Head," which references Edith Head and Helen Gurley Brown, both "cultural figures we don't know a lot about."
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    • "No One Knows My Plan" has a verse referring to "the allegory of the people in the cave by the Greek guy".
    • "Mammal" includes, among many references to the common features of mammals, a line about "dead uncle Allotheria"
  • Typhoon's White Lighter: Some members of the "27 Club" are (apocryphally) said to have carried white Bic cigarette lighters, when they died; lyricist Kyle Morton was twenty-seven, when White Lighter was released.
  • Bastille not only references the myth of Icarus, but more impressively, crafts an entire song alluding to The Rime of The Ancient Mariner.
  • The Smiths developed a reputation of using quotes from various literary works (particularly Shelagh Delaney's plays and other "kitchen sink"-era works) for their lyrics that would fly over the average listener until someone else points them out. This led to the band being accused of plagiarism and "Cemetry Gates" being written in response.
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  • The Manic Street Preachers often reference obscure historical figures and artistic works. For example, historical dictators Miklós Horthy and Jozef Tiso in "Of Walking Abortion". Also, "If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next" contains numerous references (the title included) to the Spanish Civil War.
  • The Pet Shop Boys' songs regularly reference various European (especially Russian - Neil Tennant is a fan) history and culture, for example in "Jack the Lad," "Don Juan," "My October Symphony," etc.
    • One of their more famous songs, "West End Girls", includes the line "from Lake Geneva to the Finland station". This refers to the railroad route Lenin took when returning from his exile in Switzerland to Russia near the end of first World War.
    • "Love Is a Bourgeois Construct" features a melody borrowed from minimalist composer Michael Nyman's "Chasing Sheep Is Best Left to Shepherds."
  • Mr. Bungle's songs, specifically those on their album California, are chock-full of esoteric name drops. The track "None Of Them Knew They Were Robots" alone is a six minute long wall of doctrinal and scientific references.
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  • Frank Zappa. Not only do his lyrics contain many obscure references, but the music itself is often quite complex, featuring odd time signatures and "quotes" from other songs. Ironically, he's most famous for his fairly straightforward comedy-rock songs.
  • Bob Dylan, once he stopped being a protest singer, referenced everything from Shakespeare to pop culture in his songs.
  • Bands like Augie March, Okkervil River and The Decemberists often get lumped into "lit pop" because of their insane number of literary references - like Decemberists songs featuring exact quotes from William Blake.
  • John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats has written songs about everything from HP Lovecraft to obscure boxers to minor Greek political events.
  • The Hold Steady sound like just another bar band - until you realize they're singing about John Berrymen, Jack Kerouac, and other authors you feel guilty for not having read. There are also references to obscure locations, songs, and people, plus the thick internally consistent narrative. Enjoying "First Night" from Boys and Girls in America is almost entirely dependent on having listened to the previous album, Separation Sunday. Furthermore, if you live in and/or are very familiar with the layout of the Twin Cities, it's not at all confusing to hear about Lyndale, 494, or the Grain Belt Bridge.
  • Secret Chiefs 3 (not coincidentally led by Trey Spruance, who was responsible for some of the more esoteric Mr Bungle lyrics) manage to do a lot of this despite primarily playing instrumental music. Their song titles include references to Zoroastrianism, alchemy, the unfinished Philip K. Dick novel The Owl In Daylight, and illuminationist philosophy, and even their name is a reference to a group of occult figures.
  • Jonathan Coulton does a hell of a lot of songs on various nerdy topics, ranging from DNA structure to Evil Supervillains to one on the mathematical Mandelbrot set. Smart listeners will realise that, despite everything else in the song, JoCo is actually singing about the Julia set (something he freely admits).
  • Mikhail Scherbakov. Russian Coulton, only Scherbakov's more of a philology nerd. Get ready for references and allusions to Xenophon, Gogol, Tolkien and so on.
  • tool is very fond of this trope. For instance, the syllable count to the lyrics and the time signature of "Lateralus" is based upon the Fibonacci Sequence. "Lost Keys (Blame Hoffmann)" is a shout out to the father of LSD. The whole album Ænima is a reference to both the "Anima" (or the soul) and "Enema" (a cleansing of the bowels by flushing them with liquid). Jungian references abound; "Forty Six & 2" references a theory that human evolution will continue by adding another chromosome pair (46+2 instead of 44+2); and "Lateralus" (again) references a landmark study by Berlin and Kay about the universal pinnings of color naming in its opening lyrics before moving on to Hermetic mysticism.
  • British Sea Power have written songs filled with all manner of obscure references. The Open Season album features a song called Oh Larsen B, for example.
  • There's a song by anNina called "Rothschild Rh-" (the B-side to Higurashi no Koro ni Kai's ending theme, "Object a"). "Rh-" would be an anion of rhodium; not possible. The lyrics are basically about realizing when something's not possible and moving on. That, or a reference to the Rhesus-negative blood type.
  • Fugazi lyrics are often in this territory. Then they wrote a song about John Cassavetes.
    Cassavetes: Crush my calm, oh you Cassavetes... That's something from someone / and Gena Rowlands!
  • Composer Peter Schickele has made a career as the musicologist irresponsible enough to "discover" the forgotten works of one P.D.Q. Bach, last and least of Johann Sebastian's grandchildren. P.D.Q. Bach's "works" include obvious riffs on well-known classical works, such as the "Short-Tempered Clavier" and the "1712 Overture," as well as less well-known pieces. In addition, he does things like describing one of his sopranos as an "off-coloratura," or specifying tempo for movements as "andante alighieri" or "presto changio." Sometimes you need to be familiar with the original piece being parodied; sometimes you need a cursory knowledge of Italian, German, or Latin.
  • Steely Dan does this from time to time.
  • Half Man Half Biscuit. Everything from obscure biblical references to Lead Belly songs and the history of Blackpool Football Club, with a healthy does of British 80's / 90's pop culture thrown in too.
  • Joaquin Sabina is very fond of these. He has songs that are fully comprehensible only by having vast knowledge of Spanish, Mexican and Argentinian culture and history, like "Mas de cien mentiras".
  • The more lyrical rappers tend to reference their own areas of interest in their lines.
    • Kanye West tends to reference movies (which he seems to have a questionable taste in), artwork, fashion, celebrities, other music, and of all things, anime.
    • Jay-Z will reference expensive alcohol, fashion, celebrities and, as of Watch the Throne artwork.
    • Lupe Fiasco - where to begin.
    • Eminem reeferences lots of popular culture, such as movies, celebrities, comic books etc. (the man did a video where he and Dr. Dre were Batman and Robin)
    • Kendrick Lamar and J.Cole both tend to reference (understandably) movies, games, TV shows, music and celebrities that were popular during their teenage years (late 1990s-early 2000s).
    • Lil Wayne slips in words into his lines that he'd know due to being a sports fan, slang that is twisted and played into metaphors and One Liners that rely on word play.
      One life to live, never ask for a mulligan.note 
    • Drake seems to rely on referencing various different movies, TV shows and music - in particular Aaliyah.
    • The Game name-drops everybody, especially his idol, Dr. Dre.
    • Nicki Minaj's name-drops tend to come very much out of left field, and from almost anywhere.
  • As you might have guessed by the content of the song itself, "Weird Al" Yankovic's "White & Nerdy" has some. The biggest one is him and Donny Osmond dancing in front of the Schrodinger equation for a hydrogen atom. (It has an error, though.)
  • Clutch peppers their lyrics heavily with mythological and folklore references that sound cool even when too obscure to be comprehensible.
  • The songs on the Fall of Troy album Doppleganger are most, if not all, obscure pop culture references that have nothing to do with the music itself. Two are references to House of Leaves ("You Got A Death Wish, Johnny Truant?" and "The Hol[ ]y Tape"), one references Ace Ventura ("Laces, Out Dan"), etc.
  • Queen's "'39" appears to only be about an astronaut traveling on a ship traveling at significant-fraction-of-C speeds, and the effects of time-dilation on him and those he left behind; however, Brian May has stated it has a second, more-personal, meaning: It's about how a musician feels about having to be out touring all the time — coming back a year later to find his kids had grown, the neighborhood had changed, someone he knew is dead, and so on.
  • The Divine Comedy's "Woman of the World" works as a song in its own right, whether or not you know that the title character is Holly Golightly of Breakfast at Tiffany's (she's not named, and it isn't made explicit, but it's obvious once you spot it).
  • And Then There Was Silence by Blind Guardian has various lines that are only really meaningful to someone who knows their Greek mythology and/or Homer; for example, "the coin's been placed beneath my tongue". The entire song explicitly retells the Iliad. A better example is the subtle reference to the Aeneid in the line 'Revenge will be taken by Rome'.
  • The Rush song "YYZ" begins with Neil tapping the song's title in Morse code.note 
  • The Barenaked Ladies song "Aluminum" describes various properties of the title element, a few of which are somewhat obscure. For example, "but just below where you shine you burn" references the fact that it's used to make thermite and "every time you're here I forget" comes from various medical studies that have shown a possible connection between excessive aluminum exposure and Alzheimer's Disease.
  • Thrice's lyrics are full of literary, religious, philosophical, and historical references. Friedrich Nietzsche, René Descartes, and Aristotle all get name-dropped in various songs, and the works of C.S. Lewis, George Orwell, Thomas Pynchon, and Edgar Allan Poe are all referenced via Literary Allusion Titles (as well as in the lyrics themselves).
    • There's also the The Alchemy Index. It's a Concept Album in which each disc embodies a different alchemical element (fire, water, air, and earth). The Fire tracks are mostly metal and hard rock, Water is electronic and post-rock, Air is a variety of "airy" styles, and Earth is gritty folk. In addition to this, the last track on each disc is a sonnet from the perspective of that disc's element, and the last two lines of each have the same melody. The songs all sound great on their own, but the listener doesn't get the full effect unless he or she hears it all together.
    • "Image of the Invisible" on Vheissu has a Morse code intro that spells out the album's title (which is itself a reference to Thomas Pynchon's novel V.).
    • "The Red Death" is mostly based on Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death," but the end is also a Shout-Out to Romeo and Juliet. A line in the play reads, "With love's light wings did I o'erperch these walls/For stony limits cannot hold love out." The song quotes this line almost verbatim (aside from a couple word swaps to make it fit the song's theme).
  • Most of Sabaton's music is about history, so the more history you know, the more references you'll get from their songs.
  • The Duran Duran song "Last Chance on the Stairway". First off, if you're British you should be able to get the gist of what the song is about by looking at the song title and letting it remind you of "l'esprit d'escalier". Secondly, there's a lyric that says that the song's scenario is "just like a scene out of Voltaire/twisting out of sight". Someone who's read Candide, say, might understand what Simon Le Bon was getting at there. As for Simon, knowing that he spent time as a tree surgeon in an Israeli kibbutz will help you understand why the haunting instrumental on the band's debut album was called "Tel Aviv".
  • Pink Floyd: the outer and inner sleeve of the Wish You Were Here album has photographs depicting a man on fire, a scarf blowing in the wind, a diver frozen in mid-plunge into water, and a mannequin on desert sand. You know, references to the classical elements.
  • The Lonely Island: "Lazy Sunday" contains the line "You could call us Aaron Burr from the way we're dropping Hamiltons" in reference to Burr's killing of Alexander Hamilton in a duel.
    • A lot of the jokes in "Ras Trent" rely on the listener having some knowledge about the Rastafari movement, along with terms from its associated dialect, Iyaric. While it's pretty easy to get the overall humor of the narrator being a clueless middle class white college student trying to emulate Rastafarian culture, a lot of the lyrics involve him using references to the movement in a way that makes it clear that he doesn't quite understand it. For instance, the very first two words in the song are "Jah! Rastafarianism!"; Most Rastafari see the suffix "-ism" as having negative connotations, and thus would consider the term "Rastafarianism" offensive and would never use it themselves.
  • The Beatles: John "has another cigarette" in "I'm So Tired" from The White Album, then curses Sir Walter Raleigh for "he was such a stupid git." The Genius Bonus here is that Raleigh was the first Englishman to bring tobacco to Europe.
  • Iron Maiden tends to hide messages in their concert sets written in hieroglyphs, Morse code, etc...
    • Their songs also make frequent references to literature, art, history, music, religion, and more. Sometimes they retell a famous work of literature or film, and sometimes they make it obvious what they're referencing. An incomplete list include Two Minutes to Midnight note , The Rime of the Ancient Marinernote , Flight of Icarusnote , Alexander the Greatnote , The Troopernote , Quest for Firenote , To Tame a Landnote , The Phantom of the Operanote , Paschendalenote , The Murders in the Rue Morguenote , Where Eagles Dare note , The Evil that Men Do note , Brave New Worldnote , The Ghost of the Navigatornote , The Edge of Darknessnote , Lord of the Flies note , The Wicker Man note , Out of the Silent Planet note , Brighter Than a Thousand Sunsnote , and several others.
    • "Stranger in a Strange Land" is a subversion; it has nothing to do with the novel of the same name.
  • The Police: The song Don't Stand So Close To Me mentions "that book by Nabokov". That book is Lolita, about an older man falling in love with a young girl— basically what the song is about.
  • New Order: The song "Times Change" on their 1993 album Republic references the Wretched Hive of Port Royal, Jamaica, and the 1692 earthquake that destroyed much of the city.
  • Talking Heads featured this plenty of times throughout their music, what with them consisting of three RISD students and one Harvard student. One of the most immediately apparent examples is with the song "I Zimbra" from Fear of Music: the Speaking Simlish lyrics are actually excerpts from the poem "Gadji Beri Bimba" by dadaist writer Hugo Ball.
  • This trope was Al Stewart's hat, many of his songs being crammed with historical and pop culture references. His song "Roads to Moscow" alone is said to have been the product of seventy books' worth of research.
  • The lyrics of Jean-Michel Jarre's song "Millions Of Stars" seem cryptic to the layman, but if you know your way around music, you'll notice that they're chords. The first four ("Gm, Dm, Cm⁹, Gm") are even those that are played at the same time.


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