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Literature / Soul Music

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Other children got given xylophones. Susan just had to ask her grandfather to take his vest off. Yes. There's a Death in the family. It's hard to grow up normally when Grandfather rides a white horse and wields a scythe – especially when you have to take over the family business, and everyone mistakes you for the Tooth Fairy. And especially when you have to face the new and addictive music that has entered the Discworld. It's Lawless. It changes people. It's called Music With Rocks In. It's got a beat and you can dance to it, but... It's alive. And it won't fade away.

The 16th Discworld novel, and third in the Death theme: much more a sequel to the first Death book, Mort, than the second, Reaper Man.

There are two interconnected plots: in the first, the deaths of Mort and Ysabell in a car(t) crash cause another case of Death Takes a Holiday after a Heroic BSoD, leading to his "granddaughter" (Mort and Ysabell's daughter) Susan taking over The Duty, and incidentally becoming one of Disc fandom's favourite characters. She only met her grandfather once or twice as a young child, and afterwards was raised by her parents to take a very cold and rational view of things, which is not much of a survival trait on the Disc.

In the second, young Llamedosian musician Imp y Celyn comes to Ankh-Morpork to make his fortune and ends up becoming a musical sensation when he inadvertently invents the Discworld's equivalent of Rock & Roll.

Unfortunately for the young "Musics With Rocks In" Star, supernatural forces have conspired that he should live fast... and die young. Can Susan fight fate and save his life?

Was made (along with Wyrd Sisters) into an Animated Adaptation. The L-space entry is here, and explains the numerous sly references to famous bands and songs. A fan-created expanded version is here and picks up the slack since the official annotated Pratchett file has not been updated for several years.

This novel's title is a pune, or play on words, on (of course) the kind of African-American music that arose in The '50s and The '60s and enjoys a high level of popularity in Britain today. According to certain Australian fans, the inspiration for the book came during Pratchett's visit to Australia, when, upon discovering that Pratchett had never seen The Blues Brothers, the fans promptly "abducted" him and took him to a midnight screening of the film.

Preceded by Men at Arms, followed by Interesting Times. Preceded in the Death series by Reaper Man, followed by Hogfather.

Not to be confused with the genre of soul music.

Soul Music provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Death's scythe. (Which is temporarily converted to Death's guitar pick.)
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    "[Music With Rocks in It] made you want to kick down walls and ascend the sky on steps of fire. It made you want to pull all the switches and throw all the levers and stick your fingers in the electric socket of the Universe to see what happened next. It made you want to paint your bedroom wall black and cover it with posters."
  • Ass Kicks You: Asphalt the troll got so short and squat because the circus elephants he used to tend kept sitting on him.
  • Ass Shove: It's never stated outright, but very clearly implied, that this is what the Musicians' Guild will do with your instrument if you're caught performing without a membership. It's especially bad for the piccolo player.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: More like be careful what you swear: Imp, yelling at his father before he leaves home for Ankh-Morpork, vows that "One day soon everyone will say I was the greatest musician in the world!" The Music evidently picked him because he hadn't properly thought out the implications of the "soon" and "was", i.e. that it'd mean he had to die young to make good on this vow.
  • "Be Quiet!" Nudge: Attempted in vain by Ridcully, trying to make Ponder shut up about the sound-trapping boxes. Not only does Ponder keep right on blabbing to Dibbler, but he openly and cluelessly calls attention to how the Archchancellor'd kicked him.
  • Bewitched Amphibians:
    • The music shop keeper threatens to invoke this trope on Glod and Cliff because she belongs to the Neighborhood Witch scheme.
    • When the Librarian is scrounging for parts to build a new ride, he rips a wheel off a man's carriage. When the man comes demanding compensation, Ridcully has him cool his heels in the pond for a little while.
    • Ridcully has this to say about a boy who dared to post a Music With Rocks In poster on the University gates: "I told him to hop it, which was quite appropriate."
  • Bilingual Bonus:
    • Imp y Celyn is Welsh for "Bud of the Holly". And if you haven't got it yet, don't translate the middle bit. Made all the better that the entire end of the book is an allusion to the song "American Pie", which was about Buddy Holly's death.
    • Imp's first song is called "Sioni Bod Da". Sioni is Welsh for Johnny and "Bod Da" is gratuitous Welsh for "be good" (the imperative mood is "bydd yn dda"). So it's "Johnny B. Goode".
  • Bleak Border Base: DEATH goes to one of these when signing up for the Klatchian Foreign Legion.
  • Brawn Hilda: The Valkyrie.
  • Brick Joke:
    • The one thing the men in the Klatchian Foreign Legion can remember is sand, because it's all around them. When the Death of Rats tries to sense where Death has wandered off to, the one memory of his that it can tune into is also sand.
    • The Death of Rats is asked early on by Quoth if it just exclusively works on rats, and answers that it also applies to other small, furry creatures destined to end their lives in damp squeaks. At the end of the book, it also reaps the particularly rat-like Mr. Clete.
    • Due to the new craze for guitars, Blert Wheedown starts selling the old ones his apprentice made early on in his training, despite having said they "sounded like a cat going to the toilet through a sewn-up bum". At the Festival, Crash starts playing his guitar, and Ridcully comments "That sounded exactly like a cat trying to go to the lavatory through a sewn-up bum".
  • Brown Note: Death is not musical; Death cannot create. But there is one piece of music he knows - one that he has to know by virtue of his Duty. It is the sound that heralds the end of the universe.
  • Buffy Speak: Susan remarking when looking at Death's desk in his office that "Whoever had made the desk had seen desks, but hadn't understood deskishness."
  • Bus Crash: The death of Mort and Ysabell, the lead characters of Mort. More than just disposing of a couple of characters, it provides the major emotional underpinning of the story. Death actually experiencing bereavement first-hand, and this and his interplay with Susan shows that he has changed a lot since Mort.
  • Call-Back:
    • One of the assassins sent to kill Imp and co. says that a troll can be killed by a strike to 'a little spot at the back of the neck'. This is how Rincewind (accidentally) killed a troll in The Colour of Magic. Note that the Assassins' Guild members had no idea how to defeat Detritus when he confronted them in Men at Arms, so presumably they'd held a refresher course on troll-killing after that professionally-embarrassing incident.
    • When talking about the times a pocket full of decent spells and a well-charged staff got him out of trouble, the Archchancellor mentions "that dragon, you remember" which may refer to the dragon in Guards! Guards!!, although that would be a bit of a continuity error as Ridcully hadn't come back to Unseen University to be Archchancellor at that point, prior to which he spent the past 40 years in the countryside, and during that book the wizards don't have any part in actually solving the dragon problem besides ineffectually lobbing a few spells at it.
    • Death made a comment near the end of Mort about having the wrong kind of knees for a grandfather. This book reveals where he learned that this might, in fact, be an issue: from his time-traveling granddaughter, with whom he'd had a conversation off-camera in the midst of Mort's climax.
  • Call-Forward: Dibbler, regaling the Band about the prospects for future tours, mentions the Counterweight Continent as a possibility ("They're talking about discovering it again real soon"). The later Interesting Times would be set there.
  • Caused the Big Bang: The first thing ever heard in the universe was "One. Two. One, two, three, four." and then the big bang happened, thanks to "Music with Rocks In". The main theme of the book is that the music is alive, and wants to be played, no matter the cost to the player. This is in contradiction to earlier books, but Discworld is famously loose with its origin stories.
  • Character Development: In Death, and to a lesser extent, Susan, as both of them grapple with grief for the first time - Susan tries to bottle it up but it seeps out in little things like her outrage at the 'inefficiency' of the way people dying works, while Death just tries to forget, but can't because of his unique memory. When Susan time travels back to the finale of Mort, she and the reader immediately notice how much Death has changed from the colder and exponentially more intimidating figure he was back then (though the dorkish grandfather isn't far beneath the surface).
  • City Shout Outs: Buddy is so out of it, he can't remember what city he's in.
    Buddy: Hello ... hells, Glod, tell me where we are ... Sto Lat! Yay!
  • Comically Small Demand: Glod is a terrible negotiator, and doesn't know it. His attempts to haggle on The Band's behalf invariably end up with him just barely keeping the other party from ripping them off worse than the initial offer. Cliff helps, but isn't much better: the best he can manage is to get an extra 20 dollars out of Dibbler, who was expecting to be unable to bargain them down to less than a hundred total.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • When Susan goes back to Death's house as it was in Mort, she notes that the golden harvest fields around it vanish, as Death created those in Reaper Man between the two books.
    • When Susan tells Albert that she's sixteen, he asks her how long she's been sixteen. This isn't a loony question: in Mort, Susan's mother Ysabell was sixteen years old, and had been (thanks to the timeless state of Death's residence) for thirty-five years.
    • When the Band With Rocks visits Sto Lat as part of their tour, Queen Keli is briefly referenced.
    • While pondering on the meaning of the phrase "kick some righteous ass", Ridcully recalls The Most Holy St Bobby, an Omnian donkey who was made a bishop for carrying a prophet through the desert.
  • Cool Shades: Cliff wears them. In the Animated Adaptation he never takes them off.
  • Creative Sterility: This is how Death beats the Music at the end — it's previously been established that he has no grasp of music despite trying to play the banjo and organ, and now it's explained why: since he's Death, the only chord he can play is the one that is the musical equivalent of mathematical zero, the 'empty chord' that will bring the whole rhythm of the universe to an end unless the Music revives Buddy to play on. Susan herself admits she's not very musical when speaking with a Valkyrie, suggesting she may have inherited a bit of this trait. Which explains why nobody suggested she play the guitar to avert the universe's end.
  • Dead Artists Are Better: The Music's view of things.
    You will live forever. They will say you never died.
  • Deaf Composer: Discussed, as a footnote reflects on why deaf men made some of the music world's greatest treasures:
    "Deafness doesn’t prevent composers hearing the music. It prevents them hearing the distractions."
  • Department of Redundancy Department:
    "mumblemumbledon'tseewhymumble," mumbled the Dean
  • Deus Exit Machina: Death. It doesn't take long for the story to resolve itself once he's done soul-searching.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Buddy's behaviour when the Music takes him over is a lot like a musician on drugs.
  • Dumb and Drummer: Averted with Cliff, who's not too stupid, and played straight with Scum.
  • Dreadful Musician / Garage Band: Crash, Noddy, Jimbo and Scum and their ever-changing band names.
  • Early-Bird Cameo:
    • We see Ponder and Adrian working on the early prototype of what will become the Magical Computer Hex in the next book, Interesting Times. It uses a small version of the stone circle computers seen in The Light Fantastic and also ants, as seen in later books ("it may work, if we can get all the bugs into it").
    • Cliff and Glod make a brief mention of a Golem called Dorfl. With an early Title Drop, too!
    • Proposing places to send The Band on future tours, Dibbler lists the Counterweight Continent, saying that "they're talking about discovering it again real soon now". The next book, Interesting Times, is set there.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • There's a brief mention of Dorfl the golem (who will make his first proper appearance in Feet of Clay and become a recurring character). Glod, who has apparently been buying sausages from him for years, is astonished to learn he's a golem. While some versions of the golem legend have them taking on human appearance while active, Dorfl will later be established to look like a very obvious clay statue with glowing red eyes, meaning either this was retconned or Glod is extremely unobservant. Cliff also states that Dorfl's holy word is carved on his head; his later appearances have it written on a chem, which is kept inside his head.
    • Princess Gloria Thogsdaughter attends an all-girls school and openly identifies, presents and is addressed as female; in Feet of Clay it's a really big deal that Cheery choses to start doing as such. (Then again, considering Gloria's parents sent her to a human school, it might just be that they're incredibly liberal and progressive.)
  • Ear Worm: The Music With Rocks In isn't just addictive, it's contagious.
  • Elvish Presley: A recurring gag for Buddy, everyone notes that he looks elvish.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Satchelmouth, a Musicians' Guild enforcer, has done the finger foxtrot and the skull fandango, but is repelled by the idea of actually killing someone. At least, on purpose.
  • Exact Words: Imp's carelessness with verb tense was just asking for trouble:
    "One day soon everyone will say I was the greatest musician in the world!"
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Llamedos is Wales turned up to the extreme. It never stops raining. ("It has rain mines!")
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: Glod and Cliff can't see Susan when Buddy can. They see her in the climax, minutes before they all realise that the band died in the cart crash.
  • Forbidden Fruit:
    • A noted trend with the girls at Susan's school is that, on being told very emphatically by their teacher about things they shouldn't do, and like all teenagers everywhere they decide they'd like to experience these things in large quantities.
    • While sitting in the Musician Guild's lobby, Imp sees a sign sternly thanking people for not smoking, and suddenly Imp has a strong desire to start doing just that.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Subtle enough that it's easy to miss. But asides early in the text talk about the Listening Monks, who have discerned what the words spoken by the Creator were just before he made the universe — "One, Two, One Two Three Four..." —, which might appear to be just a thematic gag to go with the musical theme, save for the fact that Buddy's guitar has a single stroke of chalk on it. A single stroke, when every other musical instrument in the shop has a number on it, the order in which they were acquired...
    • The first version of the studs/sequins on the Dean's leather jacket spell out the misspelt phrase "Live Fats Die Yognu". Written properly, this becomes "Live Fast Die Young" — which is not only an actual trope associated with rock and roll stars, but also exactly what the Guitar intends to happen to Buddy in order to cement him as the greatest musician in the world.
  • Free Wheel: Lampshaded in the description of the crash that kills Susan's parents.
    Then the oil from the coach lamps ignites and there is a second explosion, out of which rolls — because there are certain conventions, even in tragedy — a burning wheel.
  • Generation Xerox: If not for the Music’s intervention, Susan would have saved Imp from being killed, setting off the same chain of events as Mort did. It’s very lightly implied that she feels compelled to save him because she’s remembering what her father did.
  • Genre Savvy:
    • The Librarian quits the band the moment Dibbler gets involved.
    • Glod is too savvy to be fooled by UU students into calling the Librarian the M-word. He turns it around on them.
  • Giftedly Bad: Glod repeatedly manages to haggle prices and wages to be worse than the initial offer. Being a dwarf, he believes haggling is in his blood and does it at every opportunity. The results never discourage him, while even Cliff wisens up to stop him when he tries.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The school Susan goes to was founded on the belief that girls, not having anything to do until they got married, could at least spend that time being educated. Turns out giving them fresh air, healthy exercise and a good knowledge of trigonometry makes them especially apt at getting over the very high walls.
  • Great Balls of Fire!: A wannabe Music With Rocks In star known as Crash tries to form a band with his friends, but one of their many problems is that Crash is more concerned with style over substance. This compounds their other major problem, which is the fact that they stink on ice.
  • The Grim Reaper: Naturally.
  • Groin Attack: Binky has good aim with a kick, which is why he isn't stolen when Susan leaves him in an Ankh-Morpork alley.
  • Groupie Brigade: Acknowledged. Glod worries if the crowd will tear off Buddy's clothes.
  • Hell-Bent for Leather: The Dean gets a leather jacket with "Born To Rune" on the back. (No, he doesn't know what it means either, it just seemed appropriate.) It comes back in some later books, usually when the Wizards are going to war against something major.
  • His Name Really Is "Barkeep": Colon and Nobby debate if this applies to Death when they argue over whether he has a first name.
  • Human Resources: Lias/Cliff pays most of the Band's expenses by knocking out and trading away his own diamond teeth (another Shout-Out: shine on, you crazy diamond....)
  • Hurricane of Puns: The book is half homage to the birth of Rock n Roll, half an excuse to come up with as many Discworld-themed puns on every band name in existence.
  • Innocently Insensitive: When Cliff (still going by Lias at the time) suspiciously asks Buddy if he's elvish and a druidnote  Buddy's frantic denials include the sentence "I hate rocks!" Long-time readers know that 'rock' is a derogatory slur for trolls in the series, and saying it to a troll usually results in trying to find your head. Fortunately, Cliff is a Nice Guy who correctly parses the context, and merely informs Buddy of his error and advises him not to do it again.
  • iSophagus: Mentioned. Some kid with a penny-whistle played without the Guild's consent. He now plays a scale every time he hiccups.
  • It Tastes Like Feet: Ridcully says that Crash's attempt at playing an electric guitar sounds exactly like a cat taking a crap with a sewn-up bum, much to Ponder's alarm.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Mr. Clete just starts out as an Obstructive Bureaucrat, who wants to stop The Band from performing music without a Guild license. Over the course of the novel, as The Band becomes more and more famous, he becomes increasingly obsessed with them, seeing their popularity as a threat to the entire Musicians Guild, and attempts several times to have them killed. He eventually loses it completely, leading to his own death.
  • Killed Off for Real: Mort and Ysabell. The question of why their deaths stick, even though — or especially because — they are part of Death's family, is addressed.
  • Lamarck Was Right: Susan has several of Death's abilities, such as the ability to become invisible; despite the fact that she is only Death's granddaughter by adoption, and some of those abilities shouldn't be inheritable anyway. Death points out that this is probably the result of Morphic Resonance rather than heredity.
  • Lame Pun Reaction: The fat guard reacts this way to Nobby's "harp-lyre" joke.
    Sergeant Colon: You've just been waiting all your life to say that, ain't you Nobby. I bet you was born hoping that one day someone'd say 'That's a harp' so you could say 'lyre', on account of it being a pun or play on words. Well, har har.
  • Lazily Gender-Flipped Name: There's a mention of a student at the girls' school Susan attends being named "Nigella", which apparently means "Oops, we wanted a boy."
  • Legion of Lost Souls: The Klatchian Foreign Legion.
  • Literal-Minded: The Archchancellor doesn't understand the phrase "to kick some righteous ass" and wonders where he can find a donkey.
  • The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday: Buddy's guitar is bought from a little shop that Glod is certain wasn't there last time he was in the neighborhood, which sells magical and mythic musical instruments. Played with: when Glod goes back to look for the shop again later, he's sure it will have disappeared, and he seems to be right until he realizes that it's on the other side of the street from where he was looking for it. This is promptly Zig-Zagged further when, after he and Cliff leave (Cliff mentioning Glod's mistake to the shopkeeper on the way out the door), the old woman moves the store back across to the other side of the street again.
  • Magitek: We get our first glimpse of what will, in later books, become Hex.
  • Medieval Stasis: This is the last book to really use the plot that an alien element threatens to break the Disc's stasis but is then subject to Reset Button. Notably the Patrician mentions it in The Truth in a rare case of being Wrong Genre Savvy.
  • "Metaphor" Is My Middle Name:
    Glod: I'm a dwarf. We know about money. Knowing about money is practically my middle name.
    Lias: That's a long middle name.
  • Mistaken Ethnicity: A fantastic example: On arriving in Ankh-Morpork and seeking a career as a musician, the bard Imp Y Celyn is accosted by the dwarf and the troll who will later become his bandmates and is invited to prove he's not Elvish. Imp is completely human; he just has a rather fey delicate turn of features that makes him look like an Elf, a species loathed and despised by Troll and Dwarf alike.
  • Mood Whiplash: The same page with a funny moment involving Glod and the band's FIVE THOUSAND Dmmfmmf leads into the spirit of Music making the final parallel between Buddy and real rockstars: Live Fast, Die Young.
  • Mook–Face Turn: Satchelmouth eventually gets tired of Clete's obsession with stopping The Band (particularly when he starts to go as far as trying to murder them) and admits that he actually likes their music.
  • Must Have Caffeine: The Music-influenced wizards become fixated on, not just coffee, but frothy coffee. This plus overenthusiastic magic results in an entire coffee shop filling up with bubbles.
  • My Little Phony: Susan gets a "My Little Binky" toy for her third birthday from her grandfather, modelled after his pale horse, Binky. His parents return it, fearing that it will make her a less "normal" child.
  • Necessarily Evil: Mr. Clete is not, in as many words, an evil person. He's just the logical result of having organised guilds everywhere. Without him, the Musician's Guild would just be a bunch of broke musicians who never pay their fees.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • Cliff accidentally sits on Imp's harp; if not for that, they would never have found the guitar that starts the story.
    • Susan's parents raising her to be entirely rational trips her up when they die, Death Takes a Holiday, and Susan finds herself unprepared to handle the responsibility.
  • Noodle Implements: Glod is warned about messing with one of the instruments in The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday. "If you blow that, you'd better have a sacrificial virgin and a big cauldron of breadfruit and turtle meat standing by."
  • Noodle Incident: "The Unfortunate Incident At Dinner" that resulted in the Bursar of UU being provided wooden eating utensils instead of metal ones. It's actually a Call-Back to Reaper Man when the Bursar witnessed the revived Windle Poons walk past. He was so terrified, he bit through his spoon. At least we assume that's it, a lot of strange things happen at Unseen University.
  • Only Sane Man:
    • Ridcully and Ponder are the only ones of the wizards not affected by the Music. He is happy to find Susan.
    • For the Band with Rocks in, Glod is by far the one with the most common sense... not that this is saying a whole lot.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Imp playing "Sioni Bod Da" is so moving that for a brief moment it makes CMOT Dibbler consider that there are some things in the world that should not be bought and sold for money.
  • Outliving One's Offspring:
    • Death outlives his adopted daughter and son-in-law. He knew it was going to happen, and he offered them immortality, but they preferred to live out their lives. The grief catches him by surprise and causes him to undergo Heroic BSoD.
    • Buddy dies in the timeline where he becomes a huge star, like he promised his father.
  • Overly Preprepared Gag: One could be forgiven, on finishing the book, for thinking that it was all a ploy for Pterry to make the following joke:
  • Papa Wolf: It's implied that part of the reason Death takes on the Music in the climax is because the Music killed Buddy, and made Susan upset.
  • The Pete Best: In-universe, some of the characters say that this will be the fate of the Librarian, who plays the piano with the Band for one gig before quitting.
  • Pet Heir: One of Susan's first "customers" as acting Death is a grumpy old man who leaves his fortune to his cat instead of his ungrateful, parasitic relatives. Of course, he hates the cat too, so he doesn't set it up with any kind of protection from said relatives.
  • Picked Last: Susan is always picked last despite her very patiently telling everyone what a great player she is and how much sense it would make for them to pick her (and actually being right) and how stupid they're being. She can't quite figure out why they don't catch on.
  • Point of Divergence: Death reveals that if Buddy had gone to a different city, he wouldn't have become a famous musician and died young. In the alternate timeline, he sends Buddy to a fish shop in another city, where Buddy is happier.
  • The Power of Rock: The entire book revolves around a literal example- Music With Rocks In is a living force of creation which takes Buddy as its host.
  • Prophetic Names: Buddy, who, like his Roundworld namesake, lives fast, creates rock and roll, and dies young.
  • Pun: Pratchett is an undisputed Pungeon Master, and in no Discworld book is that more apparent than this one, almost to the level of a Xanth book. Every opportunity is taken to make puns based on Roundworld genres, or songs, or lyrics, or musicians. One of the best/worst, bordering on a Feghoot, is when Glod spins a tale of history's greatest horn player, Brother Charnel, who stole gold from the gods to make his trumpet - which is a setup for Buddy to call Charnel a felonious monk.
  • Punctuality Is for Peasants: Dibbler thinks this is happening after the Band With Rocks In doesn't go back onstage for their encore (having taken the money owed them and escaped). When it becomes clear they aren't coming back, he puts a stupefyingly bad Garage Band on instead. The crowd riots and tears the stage apart.
  • Redemption Earns Life: After Satchelmouth stands up to the manic Mr. Clete and declares that he likes The Band's music, a furious Clete shoves him off the wagon they're using to pursue The Band... which saves Satchelmouth from sharing Clete's fate when the wagon goes off the road and into a ravine.
  • Relieving the Reaper: Death goes missing in this book and Susan, his granddaughter though his adopted daughter, ends up needing to sub for grandpa.
  • The Roadie: Asphalt, the troll who carries the Band's equipment.
  • Rockers Smash Guitars:
    • Noddy smashes his guitar on Scum. This is the only moment in their careers when any aspect of their performance wins the approval of an audience.
    • Death, of course, smashes the guitar at the end. While he can't actually play music on it, he does strike a very rocker-like pose before playing the "empty chord".
  • Rule of Cool: Seriously! Death is about to bring down a pick made of his shattered scythe on a magical, sentient guitar that may or may not be the host of an Eldritch Abomination. This should probably give a clear sign that this is coolness in book form.
  • Running Gag: Glod constantly redecorating the rooms he stays in.
  • Saving the World With Art: Inverted when Death plays the "empty chord" that sets the end of the universe in motion. Then played straight when the Music spares Imp so he can play the chord that started the universe again, preserving it.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Subverted when Susan decides that if she's going to be Death's replacement, she is going to spend it saving people from dying that deserve a longer life. Buddy and the band dies in the original timeline, and Death mentions that he doesn't decide who lives who dies, and if he tries, reality has to spend a lot of time repairing itself.
  • Sdrawkcab Name: Llamedos is a reference to Llarregub from Under Milk Wood — Sod-'em-all and Bugger-all backwards respectively.
  • Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll:
    • Spoofed right at the very beginning. There's no drugs, and the closest to sex is a brief tangent about groupies and hints of Susan having a thing for Buddy. But there's plenty of Music with Rocks In It, and thirty-three percent's not bad.
    • Glod has an inversion of the rock stars wrecking their hotel room trope: he *decorates* every place the band stays in.
    • Gets a spectacular payoff at the end, when Jimbo realizes he has finally had the authentic experience of Music With Rocks In: "But next time, thanks all the same, I'd rather try sex 'n drugs."
  • Sex Miseducation Class: Susan Sto Helit attends an all-girls finishing school where the subject of puberty and sex education is so badly handled the girls "left the class with the vague idea that they were supposed to marry a rabbit".
  • Shaped Like Itself: "You can't see the infinite. 'Cos it's infinite."
  • Shout-Out/Hurricane of Puns:
    • As with Moving Pictures, an enormous number, particularly band names We're Certainly Dwarfs for They Might Be Giants, Insanity for Madness, Surreptitious Fabric for the Velvet Underground, The Whom for The Who, Suck for KISS, Lead Balloon for Led Zeppelin, &U for U2, and so on. One band in particular goes through about a half dozen of these, while also missing one of the greatest potential band names of all time, when a member mentions that "a rolling stone gathers no moss".
      • The German and Hungarian translations were more than happy to put in a nod to that band: The title of the book is "Rollende Steine" and "Gördülő kövek" in German and Hungarian, respectively, both meaning... rolling stones.
    • The Animated Adaptation features a Freeze-Frame Bonus of a list of crossed-out names rejected by the same band, including the Velvet Underpants, the Rolling Stoats, and Bunny and the Echoboys. The name they go on-stage at the Cavern with? The Socks Pastels.
    • Buddy's group is often referred to as The Band, and its troll member takes the stage name Cliff.
    • The songs by the band are referring to classic rock songs: "Don’t Tread On My New Blue Boots" for "Blue Suede Shoes" by Carl Perkins, also a hit for Elvis; "Good Gracious Miss Polly" for "Good Golly, Miss Molly" by Little Richard; "Sto Helit Lace" for "Chantilly Lace" by The Big Bopper; "There’s A Great Deal Of Shaking Happening" for "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" by Jerry Lee Lewis.
    • The Blues Brothers:
      • "He can't stop us. We're on a mission from Glod."
      • Another Blues Brothers reference is mixed with an A Night at the Opera Shout-Out at the diner scene: Glod continually orders "four fried rats," and Cliff is insisting that he would like some coke (as in treated coal). Imp adds a slice of dwarf bread, and eventually throws in "a hard-boiled egg."
      • When Glod and Cliff go to the music shop: "Are you the Watch?" "No, ma'am. We're musicians."
      • And there's one more when Mr. Clete is at the festival. "There's a hot dog seller over there. Anyone else fancy a hot dog? Hot dog? Hot dog? Right, that's three hot d-"
    • In the Animated Adaptation, Buddy manages to hit the Berserk Button of the entire city of Quirm (Fantasy Counterpart Culture of France) by saying "We're more popular than cheeses."
    • Also in the Animated Adaptation, after Susan is summoned to the University by Ridcully and are served the burgers, Ridcully tells the three female servers/chefs of the University off for not bringing him a "proper breakfast" — not knowing what a burger is, he calls it "some sort of beef patty — ugh, and you've fried it!" The servers, who had gone to the concert the night before and are dressed in matching pastel-colored poodle skirts, respond by singing "It's my patty and I'll fry if I want to, fry if I want to, fry if I want to!" before giggling and running off.
    • The dwarves and trolls don't get along, but they share a tradition of hole music.
    • And then there's the Dean's trousers, which will not be named after the Archchancellor...
    • Speaking of the Dean's clothing, there's an incredibly subtle but allegedly deliberate Shout-Out when Death asks to borrow his coat. Or, to put it another way, it's "A coat he borrowed from [the] Dean". And he 'borrows' it by striding in and informing him "I need your clothes." And the coat itself reads Born to Rune.
    • Pterry even managed to Shout-Out to Looney Tunes and The Far Side! One of the wizards reads books of cartoons of cows and dogs....
    • The grateful Death.
    • At one point, the Dean was referred to as a "rebel without a pause".
    • Once the guitar maker discovers that his guitars are selling like hotcakes, he orders his assistant to hire a troll as a guard, and to make sure that no one comes into his store to try to play "Pathway to Paradise". Not only did Pratchett give a shout out to "Stairway to Heaven", he even brought up the fact that it's the number 1 song that non-musical people will try to play when they enter a guitar store. Not to mention it also references that scene in Wayne's World.
    • "You can't break somebody's wall down just to make music!" - it don't need no education to see what this alludes to.
    • The Bilingual Bonus points out that Imp y Celyn, AKA Buddy Celyn = Buddy Holly.
    • At the very start it's mentioned that if the Gods want to destroy someone, they hand him "the equivalent of a stick with a fizzing fuse and Acme Dynamite Company written on the side."
    • The constant questions about whether Imp is elvish. Remove the H and you have "are you sure you aren't Elvis?"
    • Also punning on Kirsty MacColl's 1981 UK hit single "There's A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis".
    • Susan is mentioned to have got a My Little Binky set on her third birthday.
    • The music shop owner warns Glod not to try out a flute, or they'll be "knee deep in rats". Presumably, it's the one used by (the Disc's equivalent of) The Pied Piper of Hamelin.
    • The Librarian is playing Barbarian Invaders.
    • A small dog stops to listen to one of Dibbler's sound-capture boxes, in reference to the dog-and-gramophone painting "His Master's Voice", from which British media-outlet HMV gets its name and logo.
    • According to Glod, the legendary Brother Charnel stole gold from the gods to make a magical trumpet, which means the world's greatest horn player was a felonious monk - Thelonious Monk. (That one borders on a stealth feghoot.)
    • The opening says this is a book about sex, drugs, and Music With Rocks In—then adds "one out of three ain't bad," as a shout out to Meat Loaf, who also receives a shout out to the Bat Out of Hell album on the cover.
    • Because a book called Soul Music ought to have at least one genuine Soul Music reference, Susan — as in Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World" — don't know much about history.
    • Susan shows an assassin his hourglass and tells him "This is your life.", which is the title of a biographical TV documentary series.
    • Dead Man's Curve is, itself, a song title from 1964.
    • Crawling out of the stage's wreckage, Crash and his pals drop a reference to the "This Is Your Brain On Drugs" PSA.
    • Musician's Guild enforcer Satchelmouth Lemon (the last name evokes Blind Lemon Jefferson as well).
    • The description of the swing Death made for Susan resembles the original "tree swing" cartoon, first published in the 1973 newsletter for the University of London Computer Centre.
    • Quoth, the Raven, who refuses to say the N-word.
    • The lines "It will never die. It's here to stay" are a fairly blatant shout-out to the opening lines of the song Rock 'N Roll Is Here To Stay.
    • Death's declaration "I remember everything ... As if it only happened yesterday." are the opening lines of Jim Steinman's spoken track "Love and Death and an American Guitar" from his album Bad For Good (which was later repurposed on Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell II as "Wasted Youth").
    • The name of guitar-maker Blert Wheedown references real-life British guitarist Bert Weedon, and his apprentice is named Gibbsson.
    • "It had a beat and you could dance to it" paraphrases an expression popularized by American Bandstand.
    • (Almost) the whole hurricane of puns is gleefully cataloged here by fans. Even now, more are emerging from the text... Walt Disney, the Carry On movie genre, even a plausible Blue Öyster Cult reference over and above the obligatory "Don't Fear the Reaper..."
  • Soul Jar: Albert's hourglass/beer bottle.
  • Stealth Pun:
  • Sting: The raven tries to verbally invoke this trope when revealing to Susan that her grandfather is (Dah-dah-dah-DAH!) Death, but the Death of Rats keeps interrupting.
  • Sufficiently Analyzed Magic: The Rite of AshkEnte, which in previous books was mentioned to have been refined through research to no longer needing a living sacrifice but only 3 bits of wood and 4 cc of mouse blood, has now been refined even further so Ridcully can do it with 2 bits of wood and an egg. "It has to be a fresh egg, though".
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: While the wizards are discussing potential places to look at with a crystal ball:
    Senior Wrangler: How about the Skunk Club in Brewer Street?
    Bursar: Why?
    Senior Wrangler: Just a thought. I've never been in there at all in any way, you understand.
  • Take That!: Pterry apparently didn't think much of rap, "I'm mean and tuff and I'm mean and tuff and I'm mean and tuff and I'm mean and tuff and me and my friends can walk towards you with our hats on backwards in a menacing way. Yo!"
    • Death's speech to Susan about how the idea of everyone having their own story is wishful thinking and most people are really nothing more than dumb animals reads a lot like a refutation of the Central Theme of Good Omens coauthor Neil Gaiman's The Doll's House. On the other hand, there's no real indication we're intended to agree with him; Susan certainly doesn't, and the implication seems to be that this is just the grief talking.
  • Technician Versus Performer: Discussed between Glod and Buddy. Buddy sees his role as becoming a star, feeling the allure of fame and fortune through performing for adoring crowds. Glod sees his role as being a gig worker, an unpretentious job requiring good craft for a steady paycheck. Each finds the other's view confusing, although somewhat understandable.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: Ridcully protests when Susan leaves without eating breakfast, which consists of hamburgers. She retorts that she got a good look at it.
  • Tom Swifty: It's used in combination with a Shout-Out to Music with Rocks In —"Thank you", said the grateful Death.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Death is a pretty decent guy, but he's a stickler for rules. When Mort accidentally saved a person's life and then vowed to keep them alive, Death got angry and battled him for it. Mort's daughter Susan tries to do the same thing when she's volunteered for the Grim Reaper job; Death manages to wrangle events so that Imp lives, and he understands why Susan was trying to change Imp's fate.
  • Underling with an F in PR: Ridcully and Stibbons are trying to study the "music with rocks in" phenomenon, which they do by trapping the music in a box. Unfortunately, Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler (the biggest and least successful conman on the Disc) sees them, and Stibbons starts explaining what they're doing "with the undirected excitement of the true discoverer and idiot", despite Ridcully stomping repeatedly on his foot.
    Ridcully: Never give a monkey the key to the banana plantation.
Sure enough, Dibbler is next seen trying to replicate the wizards' experiment, but since he's using a crappy Garage Band instead of the actual rock players the results are disappointing.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: At one point, Dibbler is standing outside the Cavern, thinking of how to make profit out of the free concert. Up comes Susan, in full regalia, scythe and horse, and asks him how to get in. He says quickly that all the tickets are sold out. Susan, then, walks through a wall, while Dibbler calculates. It earns no more thought from him than a passing "... where's she gone, then?" And again, somebody breaks through a Wall in the service of Music....
  • Valkyries: Susan meets several while reaping a field of slain warriors. They offer her a spot on the team (they could use a soprano), but she declines.
  • Weirdness Censor:
    • As usual, Death and Susan get to take advantage of the fact that anything that doesn't fit into what people consider "normal" (such as Death walking among them) is actively ignored.
    • A group of musicians hide themselves in a piano and walk out the front door in full view of a Watchman saying they, as a piano, are on break.
  • Welcome to the Big City: As buskers do, Imp puts a few coins in his bowl as "seed money". The next time he looks down, the bowl's gone.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The fate of Glod, Cliff and Asphalt is left even more ambiguous than that of Imp.
  • Where It All Began: Susan travels back in time to watch her parents' fatal coach accident from the prologue of the book. Then, in the end, all the principal characters end up on that road as the Band's cart is about to go over the side of the road in the same spot.
  • World of Pun: For example:
    • Quoth the Raven, on why he wanted to come to a battlefield: "Carrion regardless".
    • The Archchancellor calling music "a world of hertz".
  • Xanatos Gambit: Glod's ploy at the Library qualifies, as he approaches some students and asks them where to find the monkey who works there. Had the students been genuinely helpful, they'd have escorted him in with a warning that "monkey" is the Librarian's Berserk Button; as it was, they urged him to call the Librarian "Mr. Monkey" in hope of stirring up trouble for Glod. So he told the ape that the students had called him a monkey, and still got to meet with the orangutan after the resulting unpleasantness.
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: A troll band calls itself "Trolls". Dibbler tells them to spell it with a Z.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Even if you are Death, you can't stop people from dying without huge consequences. Susan fails to save the Band with Rocks from dying in the original timeline, though Death manages to find a solution.
  • You Cannot Kill An Idea: At the end, after Death has smashed the guitar:
    Somewhere, in some other world far away from the Discworld, someone tentatively picked up a musical instrument that echoed to the rhythm in their soul.
    It will never die.
    It's here to stay.

The animated adaptation provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Adapted Out: Vetinari, who has a small role in the book, does not appear in the Animated Adaptation. A few more minor characters are also dropped.
  • Adaptation Distillation: In terms of handling Susan and Death's grief, the adaptation makes it more blatant that Susan is going through the Five Stages of Grief, while writing actual songs for Buddy. While Susan grieved at the end of the book, in the adaptation she breaks down in the middle when watching her parents die and Death claiming he can't do a thing about it.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: A slight, but still noticeable case with Susan. She has most of the same character beats and dialogue, and still has a deadpan, emotionally distant attitude — but she comes across as a little friendlier and much less haughty and disdainful of others. Partly this has to do with how, in the adaptation, we don't actually get the scornful inner dialogue she provides so much of in the book, but it's partly also because the plot has been streamlined a little and a few of her more Jerkass moments and dialogue have been cut.
  • Adaptational Relationship Change: Gloria Thogsdaughter and Princess Jade make fun of Susan, rather than being her only actual friends.
  • Answer Song: The song "She Won't Change Her Mind" is an answer to The Beatles song "You're Going to Lose That Girl".
  • Big "NO!": Susan, when Buddy almost dies.
  • Canis Latinicus: The series shows Ridcully performing the Rite of AshkEnte on camera and invents ritual words of this type for it.
  • Comic-Book Fantasy Casting:
  • Composite Character:
    • The three wizard students helping Ponder are combined into one single student who gets their combined lines, the appearance of Skazz and the name of "Big Mad Drongo" Adrian Turnipseed. This is the basis for a joke where Ridcully, upon first meeting Big Mad Drongo, angrily demands "Who let a student into my University?!" before changing his mind and deciding "I suppose one student won't be too much of a problem."
    • By being portrayed making fun of Susan, Gloria Thogsdaughter and Princess Jade essentially replace Cassandra Fox and Lady Sara Grateful.
  • Desperate Object Catch: Susan doesn't just pull out an Assassin's lifetimer and show it to him, she tosses it in front of him and he has to catch it or die if it shatters.
  • Five Stages of Grief:
    • Death is way past denial, anger and bargaining. He tried to keep Ysabel in his realm, combining bargaining and denial but she and Mort refused. He's spent his anger on Mort for "seducing" Ysabel. In the middle of depression, he wanders onto the Disc in hopes of forgetting his memories.
    • Susan in the meantime remains in denial. She doesn't deny that her parents are dead, but she's too emotionally withdrawn to cope. Then she denies the talking raven and Death of Rats, and walking through walls. Doing the Reaper's job makes her more prone to anger and bargaining, where like her father she questions why death has to happen to the young and the good. Finally she breaks down when she travels back to her parents' death, and talks to her grandfather. By the end of the adaptation, after Death manages to save the Band with Rocks, she's able to accept what has happened.
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: Death of Rats helps Death snap out of his malaise by climbing up to his face and punching it hard enough to knock him onto his ass. Somehow.
  • Maybe Ever After: Instead of sending him to a fish shop, Death arranges that in the alternate timeline Buddy/Imp works as a gardener at Susan's school. Her classmate teases her for spying on him.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Lord Selachii's fellow assassin is named Miguel Portiyo.
  • Once More, with Clarity:
    • Susan has a brief flashback of herself playing with a swing as a child and then as a teenager. She finds the swing in Death's realm, and why it was otherworldly.
    • The flashback to the Sto Lit couple's death's shows Susan there as well, arriving a few minutes too late to save her parents, only to watch them burn.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: During Buddy's harp performance at the concert, Dibbler gives Foul Ole Ron some alms. Not just coins either; three bank notes, which would start at a dollar at least (a lot of money in Discworld). This shows just how moving the song really is.
  • We Are Not Going Through That Again: After she rewatches her parents' death, Susan vows to save Buddy because he's too young to die, and she has the power to save him. She fails, but Death manages to step in.
  • Wizard Workshop: Quoth the Raven says that dribbly candles, "bubbling green stuff in bottles" and "the old stuffed alligator hanging from the ceiling" are key parts of wizardry. He scornfully adds that the wizards "get it all out of a catalogue. Believe me, it all comes in a big box."