10 Music Acts Inspired By Stanley Kubrick

10 Music Acts Inspired By Stanley Kubrick

Mike Patton Stanley Kubrick David Bowie
(L) Mike Patton. Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic. (C) Stanley Kubrick. Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images. (R) David Bowie. Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images.

He died two decades ago after more than 40 years of Hollywood success, but New York-born film director, Stanley Kubrick’s influence continues to reach well beyond his work on the silver screen. From New Order sampling his film 2001: A Space Odyssey for their track "Murder" through to Kate Bush expressing admiration for his iron-fisted creative control, the music world is rich with artists who’ve drawn inspiration from Kubrick’s oeuvre. Here are 10 music acts who’ve doffed the cap to the late director.

David Bowie

Always a sponge for artists and cultural moments to draw from, David Bowie used elements linked to Kubrick from the beginning of his career through to the end. A massive fan of Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, Bowie admitted “I was very stoned when I went to see it, several times, and it was a real revelation to me.” With a title playing on Kubrick’s film, the 1969 release of Bowie’s single "Space Oddity" neatly aligned with Apollo 11’s 1969 moon landing and became the former David Jones’ first hit. The release of The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars in 1972 gave Bowie another chance to show deference to Kubrick. The American director’s 1971 filming of Anthony Burgess’ dystopian A Clockwork Orange novel not only featured language repurposed by Bowie ("Suffragette City" references a ‘droogie’, A Clockwork Orange’s lead character Alex’s name for his violent henchmen), it also played a part in the album photography and stage production for subsequent Ziggy tour dates. Bowie’s fashion courtier, Freddie Burretti drew from both 2001 and A Clockwork Orange for the tour wardrobe designs, with Bowie modelling wrestling boots inspired by the droogs’ militant footwear. In an A&E biography documentary series, Bowie reflects on both films’ “fab” costuming: “2001 with its Courreges-like leisure suits and Clockwork’s droogs, dressed to kill”. Nicholas Pegg’s indispensable The Complete David Bowie tome notes Bowie also considered wearing a bowler hat during Ziggy shows, but ultimately instead gave an additional nod to the film via the use of Walter/Wendy Carlos’ "Ode To Joy" as the tour’s opening soundtrack. After using A Clockwork Orange’s Nadsat language in "Suffragette City", Bowie went further on 2016’s final album Blackstar, where "Girl Loves Me" is awash with Nadsat terms including “cheena” (woman), “malchek” (boy), “viddy” (look) and “deng” (money). Released a few years before his death, Bowie listed Anthony Burgess’ original tome A Clockwork Orange in his 100 favourite books list.

Led Zeppelin 

Led Zeppelin
John Bonham, Led Zeppelin. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

Like Bowie, Led Zeppelin’s acclaimed drummer John Bonham was aesthetically influenced by A Clockwork Orange’s couture, taking to wearing white boiler suits and bowler hats like the aggressive droogs of the film during the band’s 1975 gigs. Frontman, Robert Plant’s between-song banter even referred to Bonham as “Mr Ultraviolence”, a reference to A Clockwork Orange’s brutal leader Alex. It wasn’t the only time the band drew inspiration from Kubrick’s canon, with the artwork of 1976’s album Presence inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey. Created by design studio Hipgnosis, the cover and sleeve images featuring a strange black obelisk in various locations was based on the monolith seen in the opening sequence of the film. Known as “The Object”, guitarist Jimmy Page was quoted as saying, “The cover is very tongue-in-cheek, to be quite honest. Sort of a joke on 2001: A Space Odyssey.” 


While the single, drawn from the band’s 1995 album The Great Escape, offers no signs of a Kubrick influence, Blur’s subtle, elegant video for "The Universal" is a lovingly rendered tribute to A Clockwork Orange’s bar scenes. Just like misanthropic gang leader Alex, Blur’s frontman Damon Albarn wears eyeliner underneath his right eye while his band drink milk in an exotic white watering hole. Bowler hats, menacing grins, dismembered mannequins and bold orange colours are similarly employed as throwbacks to the influential 1971 film. Jonathan Glazer, who was also behind key ‘90s music clips for Radiohead, Massive Attack and UNKLE, directed the video. 


Going a step further than Blur with their close recreation of the Korova bar scenes in A Clockwork Orange, New Zealanders Shihad brought out the codpieces for their rendition of the black-walled hangout. To ensure their movements and reactions were as close as possible to the Kubrick-directed film, the band played scenes of A Clockwork Orange on the set while shooting the clip for the song, which was lifted from their classic 1999 album, The General Electric. Ironically, the band recently filmed a commentary of the 1999 single during COVID-19 lockdown and complained about Rob Zombie using a similar set-up for his 2001 video "Never Gonna Stop (The Red Red Kroovy)": “Prick, we were way before him”. Good luck with that legal battle, guys…

2 Live Crew

Attention-grabbing Miami rap trio 2 Live Crew copped plenty of media attention in the late ‘80s due to their explicit lyrics, with albums such as The 2 Live Crew Is What We Are and As Nasty As They Wanna Be passed around by their mostly young male audience with great delight. Released in 1989, the track "Me So Horny" sampled a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 Vietnam film Full Metal Jacket, where a prostitute blithely offers a couple of GIs her services. While 2 Live Crew’s track didn’t breach the Australian top 40 singles chart, the same Full Metal Jacket scene was later sampled by Sir Mix-A-Lot for "Baby Got Back", a top 10 single here in 1992.

Kings Of Leon 

Photo by LMPC via Getty Images.

While Kings Of Leon have suggested the inspiration for their debut album Youth And Young Manhood’s title was a line from one of their preacher father’s bibles, it also seems closely linked to the opening monologue of Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 film Spartacus. Starring Kirk Douglas in the title role, Spartacus is introduced to the viewer as having been raised “under whip and chain and sun, he lived out his youth and his young manhood dreaming the death of slavery two thousand years before it finally would die.” A sample of the Spartacus scene where multiple slaves stand up to the Romans by each claiming “I am Spartacus” was also used in former Pink Floyd member Roger Waters’ live performances of "In The Flesh?" during his tour dates between 2010 and 2013.

Faith No More

For 1990's "Falling To Pieces" video, Faith No More frontman Mike Patton donned a number outfits, but those watching closely will notice one of his costumes references A Clockwork Orange. Released in the wake of "Epic"’s number one success, "Falling To Pieces" sees the manic Patton ducking and weaving around a cheap fibro set while wearing a bowler hat and eyeliner a la Alex DeLarge. It wasn’t the only time the San Francisco rockers dabbled in Kubrick tributes, with two song titles also reflecting a love of the director. Album Of The Year contained the track "Paths Of Glory", which shares a title with one of Kubrick’s earliest critical successes, the Kirk Douglas-starring 1957 film. On 1995's King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime, it has also been suggested the track "Last To Know" takes its name from a banner seen in Full Metal Jacket reading "First to go, last to know - we will defend to the death your right to be misinformed.”

Guns N' Roses

Another A Clockwork Orange music video reference, with Guns N’ RosesAppetite For Destruction single "Welcome To The Jungle" video taking a leaf out of Kubrick’s filming of the Anthony Burgess novel. The clip from 1987 features Axl Rose trapped in a straitjacket and forced to watch violence on a number of television screens, a la the film’s scenes featuring Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) subjected to the ‘Ludovico Technique.’ Directed by Nigel Dick, band manager Alan Niven took the credit for the inclusion of elements of A Clockwork Orange in the video.

Arctic Monkeys

The newest song on this list, the video for 2018’s "Four Out Of Five", a single from Arctic MonkeysTranquility Base Hotel & Casino album, breaks away from A Clockwork Orange fandom in favour of a nod to Kubrick’s follow-up feature, 1975’s slow-moving period drama Barry Lyndon. Incorporating a similar use of open spaces and voyeuristic tracking shots often utilised by Kubrick (such as 1980's The Shining), director Ben Chappell filmed "Four Out Of Five" at England’s Castle Howard, where Kubrick filmed a number of Barry Lyndon scenes. 


The press release which accompanied the release of Muse's 2003 Time Is Running Out single stated, “Muse took inspiration from Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove for the Time Is Running Out video, which sees them performing amid scenes of military chaos. Director Australian John Hillcoat also used some of Kubrick’s unique filming techniques to make the video appear more authentic.” Bassist Chris Wolstenholme added, "The director had a picture of the War Room from Dr Strangelove and he said, 'Let's get a load of naked women and see what happens!'” Dr Strangelove or: How I Learnt To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb was Kubrick's acclaimed 1964 war satire, which starred Peter Sellers in multiple roles.

Prefer Slipknot's video reference to The Shining or Ministry's sampling of 2001: A Space Odyssey? Share your additional favourite Stanley Kubrick music influences on the I Like Your Old Stuff Facebook page.

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