We live in a world filled with countless soundtracks — soundtracks based on movies, TV shows, video games, and Broadway musicals. But soundtracks based on books? Those things with words written on paper? Well, those musical adaptations are rare indeed. Here are six soundtracks that nail the difficult task of translating books into music. As for the seventh entry, well…
Music Inspired by The Life and Times of Scrooge, by Tuomas Holopainen
Based on: The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, by Don Rosa
Tuomas Holopainen is the keyboardist and lead songwriter for the Finnish metal band Nightwish. Although that juggernaut of a band kept him hella busy, he had long wanted to produce an album based on the Scrooge McDuck comic — a book he claims as his favorite story of all time. The album, released in 2014, is not a metal album in the style of Nightwish, but more of a traditional orchestral score, with a few vocals sprinkled in. The music is tremendous, an epic tale of sweeping melodies that puts even the most grand Hollywood movie scores to shame.
Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, by Joel McNeely
Based on: Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, by Steve Perry
In 1996, Lucasfilm launched a hugely successful Star Wars expanded universe story called Shadows of the Empire, set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The project also spawned a series of action figures, a Nintendo 64 video game, a comic by Dark Horse, and its very own soundtrack. Joel McNeely was personally selected by John Williams to take on the project. He may not be a household name, but he’s definitely no slouch, and is a very accomplished composer in his own right.
The score is outstanding, and the fidelity is right up there with a proper Star Wars film soundtrack. There are elements of classic Star Wars themes, but the score is largely original, and yet it fits perfectly with the Star Wars universe. It really sounds like it belongs to an early 80s sci-fi adventure that was never released.
Nightfall in Middle Earth, by Blind Guardian
Based on: The Silmarillion, by J. R. R. Tolkien
Blind Guardian is a German band widely considered to be the king of power metal — a genre that is highly melodic, with a larger-than-life, bombastic sound. Many European metal bands feature fantasy themes, but Blind Guardian’s 1998 album is the only one of its kind: a full length concept album based entirely on a book that is neck-deep in Tolkien mythology. Blind Guardian’s massive, wall-of-sound approach to music comes roaring to life on this album, punctuated by the band’s incredibly technical musicianship and lead singer Hansi Kürsch’s insane, harmony-drenched vocals.
Fear and Bullets, by Trust Obey
Based on: The Crow, by James O’barr
Trust Obey’s Fear and Bullets was released in 1994 as a companion piece to a special edition of James O’Barr’s classic graphic novel, timed to ride the wave of publicity from the movie’s release that same year. Trust Obey was the brainchild of artist and musician John Bergin, a friend of James O’Barr.
Fear and Bullets is a harsh, dark, industrial gothic take on O’Barr’s highly stylized tale of revenge. It’s not directly related to the movie, but the album is a great complement to both it and the book. Trust Obey later signed to Trent Reznor’s record label and produced a second album, but that’s not John Bergin’s last mention on this list…
Traitor General, by John Bergin
Based on: Traitor General, by Dan Abnett
Based on the Warhammer 40,000 universe, Traitor General is part of a fifteen(!) part book series called Gaunt’s Ghosts. I can’t begin to make heads or tails of Warhammer, but I can tell you that this album seems to be quite rare — I couldn’t find a single listing on Amazon or eBay (though the entire album is on YouTube). I can also tell you that this music is a perfect fit for the Warhammer brand: dark, brooding, intense, and uncompromising.
With like 10,000 books set in the Warhammer expanded universe, why Bergin made a soundtrack based on this one story is a mystery. Still, it’s worth checking out.
The Dark Saga, by Iced Earth
Based on: Spawn, by Todd McFarlane
Iced Earth is arguably second only to Blind Guardian in power metal royalty; both bands were hugely instrumental in popularizing the genre in the 90s. Iced Earth, however, has more of a thrash metal edge to their music, which is a great fir for this album. The Dark Saga is a retelling of the classic Spawn story in a way that makes perfect sense: through dark, brutal, heavy metal.
This album isn’t Iced Earth’s best work, but it is a showcase of their talents. These guys love concept albums, and Spawn is a perfect fit for their style, which always leaned more towards sci-fi than fantasy.
Space Jazz, by L. Ron Hubbard and others
Based on: Battlefield Earth, by L. Ron Hubbard
You are not going insane. You just read the words “Space Jazz, based on Battlefield Earth.” Released in 1982 alongside the book, Space Jazz was touted as the first-ever soundtrack for a book. Hubbard is credited as the composer, but it is believed that his project partners did most of the real work. If you’re into jazz, you might recognize some of the guest performers like Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke.
It’s surprisingly hard to track down audio clips from this oddity; there are only a handful of tracks on YouTube. It’s jazz all right.