September 21, 2012

Jack in Song

Image by Arthur Rackham
One of my favorite fairy tale mash up exercises is thinking about which songs that I like go with which fairy tales I also like. The results are entirely idiosyncratic, but that's part of the fun. On Wednesday, in the fairy-tale class I teach, we discussed "Jack and the Beanstalk," but I've been thinking about the story while listening to my current favorite playlist for about a month now, and here are the three songs that seem the most "Jack" to me:

1) "Dust Bowl Dance," by Mumford and Sons. I know, it's about the Dust Bowl years in the US and the Great Depression and very probably The Grapes of Wrath and All the Pretty Horses. I recognize that picking anything by this band is kind of obvious right now, as they are so hugely popular, but this song is so charged with anger, confrontation and energy, it has a "Jack" feel to me.

Also, it features a son who is the only "man" left in the family, which is certainly the case with Jack. I don't much like Jack, however, and have a strong sense of affinity for the ogre/giant in the story. Listening to this song makes me picture both the ogre and Jack as protagonist.

Most of all, the song sounds like the story. There's a sense of fighting, pounding feet, running too hard--and the whole song is about someone stealing from someone else. "Jack and the Beanstalk" is very much about theft as well. You won't see the lyrics here, as I have discovered that heavy lyric quoting is a legal no no, but it's not hard to look them up.You'll find that there's even a sense of fairy-tale/nursery rhyming near the end of the song.

H.M. Brock

2) "Slip Kid," by The Who. Obvious, again, in the sense that The Who is often derided as a band that can only truly appeal to guys guys deep in the throes of adolescence, and I have to admit, there is an angry young man quality to much of the best Who music. Jack is seems to be an adolescent male (despite what classic illustration suggests), so the song and its sense of starting something big makes its a good fit with the story.

I am a die hard Who fan, and this song features fantastic Pete Moon drumming. Actually, the whole band is in top form, and this song is an underrated classic. Again, like the first song, it sounds like the kind of energy you find in "Jack in the Beanstalk."

George Cruikshank
3) "Helter Skelter," by The Beatles. I am aware that I have thrust us all into the way-back machine with this one, but it's hard to overstate how forward-looking (sounding) this song is. It's often credited with helping to get heavy metal started, and famously, Ringo bellows, "I've got blisters on my fingers!" at the end of the recording.

It's kind of amazing to listen to this song and realize it is 44 years old.

Here's the Jack connection: The term "helter skelter" means things flying and falling and spreading all over. There's not a lot of planning in "Jack and the Beanstalk"--and when he ogre falls down and "breaks his crown," there's a helter skeltered sense to his demise.

(Note: I know about the dreadful crime connected to this song. But I choose not to focus on it. It's not like the Beatles had anything to do with that mess. Just Google the song title if you want to know more.)

Peter Newell
What songs do you connect to fairy tales? Don't be literal. There is no right or wrong here. It's only about what you read, what you hear and what you like.


  1. I know it's been used for EVERYTHING, but Enrique Iglesias' Hero. It's got to be Beauty &the Beast (Beast's POV).

    Also, not any specific fairy tale, but these seem fairy tale like to me: Jar of Hearts (maybe Snow White's evil queen?) Princess of China (Aladdin?) and the one about "Daddy, I've fallen for a monster" (definitely the dark side there, like maybe Bearskin or Bluebeard or something. It actually makes me think of Wuthering Heights too).

  2. This has given way too much to think about!

  3. If you want to plug into the musical jack of EFM (Euro-fairy mysticism) there are many musical acts from Europe that are just for that. For example, the Scandi folk movement: Hedningarna (check out "Metsän Tyttö)." Gjallarhorn ("Blackin"), Agnes Buen, Frifot, Garmarna ("Herr Holkin,"*) Loituma ("Kultaansa Ikavoiva"), Tenhi ("Kuulut Kesiin"). Russia's Moon Far Away is wonderful, Germany has scores of EFM-oriented groups: Faun ("Wind und Geige," "Hymn to Pan"), Estampie ("Chanterai por mon corage,") etc. Hungary's The Moon and the Nightspirit ("The Secret Path"). But of course UK/Ireland rocks out the EFM: Mediaeval Baebes (many, many songs), Fairport Convention's "Liege & Lief" is a masterpiece of EFM with "Come All Ye," "Tam Lin," and "Matty Groves." But one you might have missed was "early" Genesis. Their "Trespass" album from 1970 is an unbelievable thing. Check out "White Mountain," "Stagnation," and "Harlequin." Hey this is just a fraction of EFM music.

    *"Med de andra de sova. . ." (as the other slept)

  4. "You've Seen the Butcher" by the Deftones seems to fit Bluebeard quite well.

    The whole song has an atmosphere of drawn-out sexual violence, and then there are the oft-repeated lines:

    You slowly enter
    'Cause you know my room
    And then crawl your knees off
    Before you shake my tomb

    In a compressed way, these lyrics make me think of Bluebeard's wives going into his forbidden room, dropping the key/egg on the floor in a panic, and then being caught by Bluebeard (egads!).

  5. One song I can think about that relates to fairy tales will have to be Romeo and Juliet Love Story by Taylor Swift. Besides the strong love connection between Romeo and Juliet, I don’t see how else I could make the connection.

  6. I have to say I never thought about putting music to fairy tales, at least not specific songs to them. I have thought about how if you added different styles of music to a fairy tale it would change how the tone of the story would be. I have to say your choices of songs seem a little dated, even though Mumford and Sons are modern their style of music reminds me of something my great grandparents would have listened to. If I would have to choose a song to represent a fairy story it would have to be Ain't No Rest For The Wicked for "Jack and the Beanstalk." You have the old man selling the magic beans who is speculated to be in league with the ogre. You have Jack who is constantly putting his life in danger to steal his fortune. Then you have the ogre himself who hunts down little children and eat them for breakfast. Not to mention the ogre's wife who probably knows that Jack is stealing from her husband, but keeps letting him in. I have to admit it is a great idea and I wish I had come up with it first.

  7. Very entertaining and creative post. I am a big fan of music and I often think about certain songs when I see movies, shows, or even pictures. I really like the “Helter Skelter” comparison, I don’t think I could have ever come up with that on my own but some good points are brought up here. I like the breaking of his crown being described as a “helter skeltered sense to his demise”. After reading other comments I’m not sure if I should mention other lyrics that I see connections to so I will stay on the safe side and keep those to myself. I also greatly enjoy the photo by Peter Newell. Growing up when I heard stories of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” I always imagined the ogre to look very similar to this. I picture him being several stories tall, with long hair, and a full beard, I love it!

    - Thomas L