Unusual references in songs

It occurred to me earlier that in the song “Birdhouse In Your Soul” by They Might Be Giants, they make a reference that I was unfamiliar with : The Longines Symphonette.

And, of course, in “Ramble On” by Led Zeppelin, there’s the part where he talks about Mordor and Gollum. Not really sure how that relates to the actual book series, as I can’t place what character Robert Plant is supposed to be. I imagine that it’s more of a “it was the 60s, and everyone thought they were Hobbits or whatever.” But I can’t think of another mainstream/non-novelty song that refers to the saga.

What else? There must be hundreds I’m not thinking of.

“The Wizard” by Black Sabbath is about Gandalf, and I don’t know if you’d consider Blind Guardian mainstream, but they have a number of Tolkien-themed songs in their catalogue, with “Time Stands Still at the Iron Hill”, about Fingolfin’s duel with Morgoth, being a favorite of mine.

You consider me a young apprentice
caught between the Scylla and Charibdes

It’s no good,
he sees her
he starts to shake and cough

just like the,
old man in
that book by Nabokov

Robert Plant’s Heaven Knows has the line “with all the romance of the Ton-ton macoute” .

Blue Öyster Cult’s “In Thee” features the lyric “Jim said some destinies should not be delivered”, referencing “Day and Night” by Jim Carroll.

Steely Dan’s Any Major Dude Will Tell You has the line: “Have you ever seen a squonk’s tears? Well, look at mine”

What is a squonk, you ask?

Per Wiki, it’s “a mythical creature reputed to live in the Hemlock forests of northern Pennsylvania”.

What’s up with the tears?

The squonk was so ashamed of its appearance, it spent most of its time hiding from sight and weeping. If discovered by hunters, it had the ability to vanish in a puddle of tears.

Try working that reference in at the next after-work happy hour.

One line? Pfft.

Genesis - “Squonk”. Squonk (2007 Remaster) - YouTube

Some of the musicians “performing” on the Bonzo Dog Band’s “The Intro and the Outro” was pretty obscure to Americans at the time and are even more so now: Val Doonican, Garner Ted Armstrong, Billy Butlin, Lord Snooty (UK comic character), Franklyn McCormick, et. al. Even a few that were well known at the time have faded into obscurity.

And speaking of Genesis songs, “Broadway Melody of 1974” from The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway throws out references to Howard Hughes, Groucho Marx, and Lenny Bruce, but I had to look up who Caryl Chessman was.

The Kinks’ “Where Are They Now?” is filled with forgotten popular culture icons from the UK.

The Bonzo Dog band and the US group Love included the line “We are normal and we want our freedom” in songs. It’s a reference to a line from the play Marat/Sade.

I was going to say…

The Cult has a song called “Aphrodisiac Jacket” which includes the line “plastic fantastic lobster telephone.” This sounds pretty nonsensical but they’re references to a couple of art pieces by Salvador Dali: Aphrodisiac Dinner Jacket and Lobster Telephone

Shakira’s, Whenever Wherever, for some reason, references the size of her breasts. It’s not quite as blatant as My Humps by Fergie, but it’s in there and once you hear it, it’s hard not to.

Interesting - Ian Dury did something rather similar with England’s Glory. Makes you wonder if Dury had heard Where Are They Now. Most intriguing lines from England’s Glory:

  • Little Titch being a diminutive Music Hall performer, very much forgotten, but from whom we get the words “titch” and “titchy”. Here he is.

Dury certainly wasn’t above an unusual/obscure reference or two. Like in Sweet Gene Vincent.


The Blue Caps were Vincent’s sidemen. No need for a link to the song. But did you think I would miss the opportunity? Never.


PS: I didn’t know the Kinks song. So thanks, Chuck

While I think on it, Brian Ferry wasn’t above the odd unusual reference either. Take Virginia Plain.

Source. Song.


Virtually every song by Al Stewart.

A lot of the references in Paul Simon’s A Simple Desultory Philippic are well known, but others are more obscure (or have faded from public consciousness): Diz Disley, Krishna Menon, Tom Wilson, Barry Kornfeld, etc.

Was he the namesake of the last-named member of that great Oz band: Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick, and Tich ??

Bang on. And the perfect example for this thread.


Peter Gabriel - We Do What We’re Told (Milgram’s 37), referring to his obedience studies.

Aaaaaaaand it was made into a program called the game of death.