10 Songs you didn't know were inspired by classical music


8th Mar 2018 Music

10 Songs you didn't know were inspired by classical music

UK composer Alexis Ffrench shares ten pop music hits that are deeply embedded in classical music. 

“Little Me” by Little Mix / Pavane by Fauré

The opening thematic idea from Fauré’s Pavane is used as a recurring motif with the Dominant seventh chord in the cadence repeated for extra emphasis. The song has a plaintive quality all of its own and is almost an organic extension of Fauré's theme with punchy vocal syncopations by way of contrast. 


“All by Myself” by Eric Carmen / Piano Concerto No. 2 by Rachmaninov

The slow movement from Rachmaninov's renowned piano concerto is cleverly used as the foundation for this iconic hit. Heavily chromatic, contrasted with expansive vocal intervals in the chorus. I remember hearing the Eric Carmen version as a kid sitting in the back of my dad's red escort with the “go faster” stripe. Looking back, I think my dad had aspirations to be in Starsky & Hutch...


“I can” by Nas / “Für Elise” by Beethoven  

The theme from “Für Elise” is transposed into F sharp minor to form the musical riff for this rap song by Nas. While it’s not necessarily woven into the fabric of the track, it still forms a striking opener for this rap with a positive message. It’s a really clever use of old meets new. 


“BLUE” by Zayn / Cello Suite in C major by Bach

Bach's Cello Suite in C major is vocalised at the start of this track and continues as an arpeggiated G throughout this song accompanied by chordal piano. This provides a unique landscape for Zayn's contemplative vocals. 


“Roll Over Beethoven” by Electric Light Orchestra / Symphony No. 5 by Beethoven

A longer passage from Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 (“The Fate”) is kicked irreverently into touch and dispatched in favour of rock ‘n’ roll-flavoured romp with shorter samples from Beethoven's symphony interspersed throughout the track. Great band—not sure if this is my favourite track by them though.


“Annie's Song” by John Denver / Symphony No. 5 by Tchaikovsky

The first five notes of the Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 (A plaintive D, C sharp, B, D, C sharp) form the basis of “Annie's Song” in a gently lilting song that exudes warmth and tenderness. “Annie's Song” is a track I hear around my household a lot—it's one of my wife's favourite songs. 


“Because” by The Beatles / Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven

The triadic motif from Beethoven's “Moonlight” Sonata (first movement) forms the basis of this somewhat impressionistic piece that sees The Beatles explore sophisticated harmonies with ever-shifting modulations. I recently watched a fascinating documentary about The Beatles made by Ron Howard. I hadn't realised what an experimental group of composers they were. They were so ahead of their time!


“Could It Be Magic by Barry Manilow / Prelude No. 20 in C minor by Chopin  

Chopin's Prelude is cleverly woven into this classic by Barry Manilow which borrows heavily from Chopin's chromaticism. An incredible composer and showman whom I really respect, I'd love to work with him one day. 


“Hey Jude” by The Beatles / Arioso by Bach

This best-loved number borrows Bach’s rhythmic motif from the Arioso from Cantata BWV 156, Adagio and weaves a gently cascading melody from a simple but beautiful motif. I've got a lot of memories of this track and remember singing it as a school boy and loving it back then. I still love it today. 


“Exit Music for a Film” by Radiohead / Prelude No. 4 in E minor by Chopin

Transposed in B minor, Radiohead take the natural chromaticism and pathos from Chopin's haunting harmonic progression and melody to conjure up this timeless classic. My wife and I would spend every Sunday browsing the record shop in the late 1990s in London where we lived at the time. We would always buy Radiohead albums—such a musical band.


Alexis Ffrench is a UK contemporary pianist and composer. With an impressive 4m streams and 1.4 Spotify listeners per month, Ffrench's success brings classical music to the Spotify generation. 

Waterfalls audio: https://youtu.be/favr_05qIo8

Loading up next...