Although Oedipus Rex may not be directly alluded to in all of these songs, his presence is still prominent as his struggles with destiny and tragedy remain universally identifiable, even within different contexts. We composed a playlist of various songs that directly and indirectly mention characters’ struggles and the play’s motifs. The playlist is presented as one unit but each song was chosen with respect to a different character or theme. A variety of genres are explored. Below, each song is listed in relation to what character/theme it parallels, along with a brief discussion framing some of these similarities.
THE PLAY (2 songs):
“Fate” by Our Last Night
This song is appropriate for the play as both discuss fate and the question of whether individuals truly have free will or are predestined from birth for doom.
“Oedipus Rex” by Tom Lehrer
Lehrer uses the infamy of the play and Freud’s interpretation of it in this humorous song.
OEDIPUS (4 songs):
“Return (Coming Home)” by The Cruxshadows:
Oedipus indeed suffers from his hubris and “taste[s] the wisdom of divinity and the horrors of its sting” upon hearing and unwittingly fulfilling the prophecies from Apollo concerning the fate of his kingdom and himself. At the end, although Oedipus is exiled and shamed, he is still “very much alive,” in the sense that he is alive to appear in the future plays and alive in the sense that his legacy lives on in culture.
“Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by The Animals
Oedipus originally only wanted to save his kingdom from the plague it is suffering from, yet in trying to find the murderer of the past king, ends up bringing his own torturous follies into light. His original intentions were good when he sent Creon to the Oracle to seek answers and he never intended to bed his own mother, yet viewers often hastily judge Oedipus despite his more subtle complexities.
“Solar Flares” by Christopher Paul Stelling
No matter that they tried to avoid the prophecies, all still fell to them. “Your own pearly knife handles still perched there in your back” refers to the inevitable nature that, despite their good intentions, the characters ended up paving their way to doom. “Always taking lefts when we know there’s only wrongs and rights” again calls back to the motif of inevitability and the frightening consideration of predetermination as the reason behind each choice. “We must at times face blindness to regain our sight” hints at how Oedipus changes between this play and the future installments.
“Ue o Muite Arukou” by Kyuu Sakamoto (“Sukiyaki” Song)
At the end of the play, after learning the truth and blinding himself in a fit of agony and shame, Oedipus is left to contemplate how it came to this. With this song, we can imagine the tragic character walking away to face his exile while mournfully reflecting on his rise and fall.
JOCASTA (4 songs):
“Nonn’ erubescite, reges” by Igor Stravinsky
Stravinsky’s famous opera-oratorio. Here, Jocasta sings after encountering Creon and Oedipus arguing while her people continue to suffer. The soaring and dramatic vocals convey the true desperation of their circumstances as rulers over people in dire need and the foolishness in turning against one another when they have more important duties to attend to.
“It’s A Sin” by Pet Shop Boys:
Despite the fact she and Laius tried to kill Oedipus when he was a baby to avoid their prophesied downfalls, Jocasta still ends up in the exact position she was destined to be in all along. Looking back on her life, she is ashamed of bedding her son and, perhaps, even mournful of the loss of her child immediately after they decide to send him away. Her taboo relationship with her son is viewed as an abhorrent sin and everything she has done, both to avoid it and fulfill it, ends up shaping her regrets.
“Ghost of a Chance” by Rush
With each choice she made, Jocasta ended up fulfilling her destiny despite trying to run away from it. Even after casting off her infant son to die, they find each other and become lovers. Jocasta initially disregards Oedipus’ concerns about the prophecy, scorning the gods and Fates themselves, only to discover their veracity. The lyrics “Each time we turn a new corner / A tiny moment of truth” tie back to their attempts to move forward from under the shadow of prophecy only to find out the horrifying truth in the end.
“Jocasta” by Noah and the Whale
This indie band named one of their songs after the tragic character and accurately portray her situation. Although Jocasta does scorn prophecy when trying to assuage Oedipus’ fears, she still believed them enough to cast off her son and seek the Oracle’s counsel when her kingdom is suffering. Despite trying to rewrite her destiny, “her verse still [goes] on the same.”
TEIRESIAS (5 songs, 1 shared):
“There’s A Storm A Comin’” by Richard Hawley
This song is appropriate because Teiresias tells Oedipus that he is the one who has brought this plight to Thebes. His revelation and the consequent truths that come to light are “the storm” that will force Oedipus into exile.
“Unconscious Power” by Iron Butterfly:
Teiresias knows the truth about Oedipus and exposes it so that Oedipus goes on to fear the fulfillment of prophecy and discover his worst fears have already come true. However, at first, Teiresias refuses to tell him, which is reflected in the lyric “I say to you nothin’ for now”, yet he does in fact “know it all.” When Oedipus is trying to coerce the truth out of him, Teiresias proclaims that he has “the right to speak [his] mind freely”, which again ties back to the concept of freedom briefly mentioned in the song.
“Head Like A Hole” by Nine Inch Nails
This song, despite not seeming to at first, does inadvertently channel the spirited exchange between Teiresias and Oedipus when Oedipus demands to know the truth. The lyrics “no, you can’t take it” not only embody Teiresias’ initial insistence that he will not divulge the truth to Oedipus, but also represent his resistance to being coerced into speaking what he does not want to discuss. “I’d rather die than give you control” is an extreme manifestation of Teiresias’ defiance and fervent belief that he has the freedom to speak his mind, something that no king can take away from him. “Bow down before the one you serve” parallels Oedipus’ demands for him to speak and his invocation of his kingly status to try and make Teiresias reveal his secret. “You’re going to get what you deserve” is, again, an extreme representation of Teiresias’ replies when he does tell Oedipus the truth, as he tells him he will bring “destruction upon [him]self” and that, for “mocking [Teiresias] for [his] blindness” and for refusing to see the truth, Oedipus will fall and his eyes will be “covered with dark night”.
“The Prophecy” by Iron Maiden
As with any prophet, Teiresias gets some skeptics and must suffer the burden of wisdom. Oedipus refuses to believe him, yet Teiresias tells only the truth. “The whole village is doomed” refers to the plague that Thebes is suffering from while the lyrics “why won’t you listen to me?” and “heed what I say and you’ll see” refer to Teiresias’ insistence that Oedipus will not want to hear the truth and, upon discovering it, he will foolishly disregard his counsel and needlessly prolong the suffering of the kingdom.
“Freedom” by Fleetwood Mac
Different parts of this song apply to different characters of the play. Here, the lyrics “look at me with daggers / It won’t do you any good / All the looks that you’ve used on me / Don’t work now that you’ve fallen” refer to Teiresias’ initial refusal to tell Oedipus what he knows and his knowledge of the king’s downfall.
CREON (5 songs, 1 shared):
“Freedom” by Fleetwood Mac:
The lyrics “my intentions were clear / I was with him / Everyone knew / Poor little fool” refer to Creon’s reaction when Oedipus accuses him of trying to steal the throne. Creon argues that he stands with Oedipus and has no treacherous plans to usurp him, something that Jocasta and the Chorus know to be true.
“Give Me the Simple Life” by Tony Bennett
Upon hearing Oedipus’ accusations of treason, Creon replies that he has no desire to have the responsibilities of king and is quite content with his position as it is. The lyric “sounds corny and seedy” refers to the fact that his argument does not convince Oedipus and Creon eventually does take advantage of gained power within future plays.
“Simple Life” by Lukas Nelson
Again, the simple life. Creon does not want to the complex life of a king, though he certainly wouldn’t mind taking its privileges, like secured housing, food, and respect as a royal relation. The line “ain’t nobody knows why” calls back to the horrified reactions of everyone upon hearing of Oedipus’ downfall and the play’s central contemplation on the nature of free will and destiny. The lyric “I’ve got something up my sleeve” refers to Oedipus’ suspicions of him and the interpretation that Creon is not as guileless and innocent as he appears in light of his actions in future plays.
“Royals” by Lorde
Creon wants to live like a king, but without all the cares, yet he will rule when Oedipus is exiled.
“Hail To The King” by Avenged Sevenfold
This song is a sneak peek into Creon’s tyrannical behavior in Antigone.
CHORUS (3 songs):
“What’s Happening?!?!” by The Byrds
The Chorus may know more than the vocalist, but they are just as afloat as he, something that is displayed by the Chorus’ role as narrator/relayer of information for the audience.
“Stayin’ Alive” by the BeeGees
All of Thebes is dying yet the Chorus remains untouched by illness. Even when faced with the madness and complex tragedies of royalty, the Chorus is still there, alive and observant.
“Forgiveness” by TobyMac, ft. Lecrae
Even after discovering Oedipus’ mistakes, the Chorus finally intervenes successfully on someone’s behalf. Despite the disdain and scorn everyone throws at Oedipus when the truth is revealed, the Chorus steps in to convince Creon to spare Oedipus’ life and instead send him into exile.
ANTIGONE (BONUS TRACK):
“The Girl From Tel-Aviv Who Wouldn’t Kneel” by Morrissey
Sneak peek at future productions. Despite her uncle’s orders, Antigone defies King Creon’s will, refusing to kneel or acquiesce to his demands.
On stage November 7 – December 8, 2019, Oedipus Rex is the first powerful installment in Court’s Oedipus Trilogy, which continues in May 2020 with The Gospel at Colonus, and concludes with Antigone in the fall of 2020. The trilogy lays bare the themes of fate, redemption, and justice in Sophocles’ works, dynamically engaging audiences with how these themes bridge cultures, cities, and communities.
Photo of the ensemble of OEDIPUS REX by Michael Brosilow.