The BBC Music Magazine Quiz: Classical pop lyrics

Can you name the pop songs these classical music references appear in?

What are the lyrics?

Classical music has regularly cropped up in the world of pop, whether inspiring whole songs (see Six of the best pop songs inspired by classical music) or making brief cameos in them (Verdi’s Requiem in Take That’s Never, for instance).


But can you name the songs in which the following classical music-related lyrics can be heard? We’ve given the year of each song and UK chart position as a clue, and give the answers at the bottom of the page (no cheating…)

1. ‘Joseph Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser and Prokofiev
Rockefeller, Campanella, Communist Bloc,
Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, Dacron,
Dien Bien Phu falls, Rock Around the Clock’

(1989; UK charts: No.7)

2. ‘Sir Bufton Tufton, Jean-Paul Sartre,
Zippy, Bungle, Jeffrey Archer,
André Previn and the LSO…’

(1990; UK charts: No. 19)

3. ‘The other night I drifted nice continental drift divide,
Mountains sit in a line, Leonard Bernstein,
Leonid Brezhnev, Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs…’

(1987; UK charts: No. 39)

4. ‘She’s sweet on Wagner,
I think she’d die for Beethoven,
She loves the way Puccini lays down a tune
And Verdi’s always creeping from her room’

(1977; UK charts: No. 9)

5. ‘My story’s infinite,
Like the Longines Symphonette it doesn’t rest’

(1989; UK charts: No. 6)

6. ‘It was Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven,
It makes me want to scream.
Bach, Tchaikovsky, violins,
Turn it off, that ain’t my scene’

(1992; UK charts: No. 2)


1. We didn’t start the fire by Billy Joel

A classic example of a ‘list song’ – i.e. in which the lyrics are comprised almost entirely of a list of things – We didn’t start the fire catalogues historical events from 1949, when Billy Joel was born, to the year of the song’s release. ‘Prokofiev’ refers to the death of the Russian composer on the same day as Stalin (5 March 1953), and ‘Toscanini’ to the conductor’s high profile in New York in the early 1950s. Joel himself was immersed in classical music from his early age, as his father was a concert pianist.

2. Hello by The Beloved

Another list song, though in this instance the items on said list seem to have been put together in a rather more arbitrary fashion by the London-based electronic group. ‘André Previn and the LSO’ refers to the maestro’s high-profile spell as the orchestra’s principal conductor from 1968-79.

3. It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine) by REM

How exactly did Leonard Bernstein appear in the seemingly random stream of consciousness that forms the lyrics of REM’s alternative rock classic from 1989? The group’s lead-singer Michael Stipe says it was because he once had a dream where he was surrounded by people who all had the initials ‘LB’.

4. Rockaria by Electric Light Orchestra

Complete with its own cello and violin section, ELO embraced the world of classical music in various ways – check out, for instance, the string quartet-style intro to Sweet Talkin’ Woman. As well as Rockaria, which begins with a warbling soprano warming up, the group also referenced classical music in the lyrics to Rock & Roll is King and did a famous cover of Roll over Beethoven.

5. Birdhouse in your soul by They Might Be Giants

Lord knows what most of the words mean in this quirky hit by the New York alternative rock band They Might Be Giants. The ‘Longines Symphonette’, however, was a classical music radio programme in the US that was broadcast overnight from 1943-49. Its name came from the watch company that sponsored it.

6. Let’s Get Rocked by Def Leppard


Def Leppard reached their highest UK chart position with this song. The words suggest that, unlike their namesake conductor Raymond, the middle-of-the-road rockers from Sheffield had little time for classical music. You can’t win them all.