" (from Hungarian "Szomorú vasárnap", ) is a song written by László Jávor and set to music in 1933 by Hungarian
pianist and composer Rezső Seress
, in which the singer mourns the untimely death of a lover and contemplates suicide
Though recorded and performed by many singers, "Gloomy Sunday" is closely associated with Billie Holiday, who scored a hit version of the song in 1941. Due to unsubstantiated urban legends about its inspiring hundreds of suicides, "Gloomy Sunday" was dubbed the "Hungarian suicide song" in the U.S.. Seress did commit suicide in 1968, but most other rumors of the song being banned from radio, or sparking suicides, are unsubstantiated, and were partly propagated as a deliberate marketing campaign.
urban legends regarding the song over the years, mostly involving it being allegedly connected with various numbers of suicides, and radio networks reacting by purportedly banning the song. However, most of these claims are unsubstantiated.
In 1968, Rezső Seress, the original composer, jumped to his death from his apartment. His obituary in the New York Times mentions the song's notorious reputation:
Budapest, January 13. Rezsoe Seres, whose dirge-like song hit, "Gloomy Sunday" was blamed for touching off a wave of suicides during the nineteen-thirties, has ended his own life as a suicide it was learned today.
Authorities disclosed today that Mr. Seres jumped from a window of his small apartment here last Sunday, shortly after his 69th birthday.
The decade of the nineteen-thirties was marked by severe economic depression and the political upheaval that was to lead to World War II. The melancholy song written by Mr. Seres, with words by his friend, Ladislas Javor, a poet, declares at its climax, "My heart and I have decided to end it all." It was blamed for a sharp increase in suicides, and Hungarian officials finally prohibited it.
In America, where Paul Robeson introduced an English version, some radio stations and nightclubs forbade its performance.
Mr. Seres complained that the success of "Gloomy Sunday" actually increased his unhappiness, because he knew he would never be able to write a second hit.
- New York Times, 1968
In 1997 Billy Mackenzie
, vocalist with Scottish
band The Associates
(who recorded a cover of Holiday's version in 1982), committed suicide near his father's home in Dundee
The codifying of the urban legend appears in an article attributed to "D.P. MacDonald" and titled "Overture to Death", the text of which has been reproduced and disseminated countless times online. According to the website of Phespirit the article was originally published by the 'Justin and Angi' site to augment their now defunct "Gloomy Sunday Radio Show". Their introduction to the article reads:
This message was forwarded to us by a visitor to our web site. There is some good historical information on the song intermixed with some information of more dubious repute. The accounts begin to take on the feel of a satiric e-mail chain letter after a while, but then, sometimes truth is indeed stranger than fiction. The story does read a little bit like the script of a segment from Strange Universe! So take this with a grain of salt ..... The text was [supposedly] quoted from the Cincinnati (sic) Journal of Ceremonial Magick, vol I, no I, printed in 1976.
There are two English-language versions of the lyrics. The first, by Desmond Carter, was used in the 1935 Paul Robeson recording and a few others. Most English-language recordings have used the Sam Lewis lyrics made famous in Billie Holiday's 1941 recording. That recording added a third verse, not in the original Hungarian song, indicating that the singer was only dreaming about her lover's death. See links below for the lyrics.
Artists who have recorded or reinterpreted the song include:
- 1935: Pal Kalmar (this is by many considered the original and "the granddaddy of them all)
- 1935: (UK): Paul Robeson (released in the US in 1936; Desmond Carter lyrics)
- 1935: Pyotr Leschenko (in Russian, under title "Mratschnoje Woskresenje")
- 1936: Damia (in French, under the title "Sombre Dimanche", recorded on February 28, lyrics by Jean Marèze and François-Eugène Gonda, music by Rezsö Seress)
- 1936: Hal Kemp
- 1936: Paul Whiteman
- 1940: Artie Shaw, 3rd March. Pauline Byrne vocal.
- 1941: Billie Holiday
- 1957: Josh White
- 1958: Mel Tormé
- 1958: Ricky Nelson (released posthumously)
- 1959: Eila Pellinen (in Finnish as "Surullinen sunnuntai")
- 1961: Sarah Vaughan
- 1962: Lou Rawls
- 1967: Carmen McRae
- 1968: Genesis (U.S. band unrelated to the well-known British band)
- 1969: Ray Charles
- 1979: Lydia Lunch
- 1981: Elvis Costello & the Attractions (Trust)
- 1982: Associates (Sulk)
- 1983: Marc and the Mambas
- 1983: Swans Way
- 1983: Jacques Calonne (Ténor Mondain) (in French, under the title "Sombre Dimanche", lyrics credited to László Jávor, but probably the ones by Jean Marèze and François-Eugène Gonda)
- 1984: Peter Wolf
- 1985: Harri Marstio (in Finnish under title "Surullinen sunnuntai")
- 1986: Christian Death
- 1988: Serge Gainsbourg (Le Zénith de Gainsbourg) (in French)
- 1991: The Singing Loins (Songs For The Organ)
- 1992: Diamanda Galás (The Singer) (Desmond Carter lyrics)
- 1992: Sinéad O'Connor (Am I Not Your Girl?)
- 1995: Gitane Demone
- 1996: Sarah McLachlan (Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff)
- 1996: Mystic (The Funeral soundtrack)
- 1998: Marianne Faithfull
- 1998: Satin's Sadists (On the compilation Their Sympathetic Majesties Request)
- 1999: The Smithereens (God Save the Smithereens)
- 1999: Björk
- 2000: Kronos Quartet
- 2000: Sarah Brightman
- 2001: Iva Bittova (''The Man Who Cried)
- 2001: Heather Nova (South)
- 2003: Edvin Marton
- 2003: Hot Jazz Band
- 2003: Priscilla Chan (with changed lyrics, pop, Cantonese, titled "Gloomy Sunday")
- 2004: Branford Marsalis (Eternal)
- 2004: MC Sniper (with changed lyrics, rap, Korean)
- 2005: Jaurim (Korean groupsound)
- 2005: Yellow Spots (Psychobilly)
- 2005: Eminemmylou featuring Legs MC (raps added, turned into anti-suicide anthem)
- 2006: Emilie Autumn
- 2006: Tsukimono (on Famousfor15mb.com)
- 2006: Angéla Póka (live) (performing Szomorú Vasárnap live during Megasztár)
- 2006: Red Sky Mourning
- 2006: Lucía Jiménez (for the movie the Kovak Box inspired by the song)
- 2006: Zaorany kytky (band from Czech republic)
- 2007: Candie Payne
- 2007: The Unbending Trees
- Marc Almond
- Mickey Baker
- Anton Lavey - from "htmpl productions & pcl link dump - christianity vs satanism" compilation
- Rob Coffinshaker
- 2007: Nguyen Hong Nhung & Thuy Huong (Vietnamese singers) - from ASIA DVD 56: Mua He Ruc Ro 2007 - Yeu Doi, Yeu Nguoi
- 2008: NothingTalk. (Slightly changed lyrics. First song since the 2006 Death of guitarist Joey Terrafyn)
- 2008: DJ Blackbird's EP: Goth Kids and suicide singles
- 2008: Nyári Balász és Népi Zenekara
The Dead Milkmen
quoted its lyrics in their 1987
song "(Theme From) Blood Orgy of the Atomic Fern".
Venetian Snares remixed Billie Holiday's version on his album "Rossz Csillag Alatt Született" (English: Born Under a Bad Star).
Emilie Autumn also refers to this song in her song "The Art of Suicide".
In popular culture
- Holiday's version was featured in The Simpsons episode “Treehouse of Horror XVII”.
- There is a Swedish doom metal band from Gothenburg called Gloomy Sunday, and many of their lyrics deal with depression and suicide.
- The song inspired the Spanish movie The Kovak Box (2006). A writer is trapped on the island of Majorca with people who are injected with a microchip that causes them to commit suicide when they hear "Gloomy Sunday". The song plays during the movie, sung by the actress Lucía Jiménez. A music video from the cover was released as part of the movie promotion.
- The Japanese movie Densen Uta (2007) was also inspired by this song. In the movie, a high school girl and a magazine editor investigate a series of suicides linked to a mysterious song released 10 years back, including its possible connection to "Gloomy Sunday".
- The song and its surrounding legend play a considerable part in Phil Rickman's novel The Smile of a Ghost, linked to several apparent suicides.
- The song is featured at the start of the film Schindler's List.
- The song is featured at the start of the film The Funeral.
- The song is featured in the movie Gloomy Sunday - Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod.
- The song and its urban legends were a trivia answer on the British game show QI, during the fourth series' episode on death. After the song starts playing Alan Davies presses his buzzer to trigger Always Look on the Bright Side of Life from Monty Python's The Life of Brian, which Stephen Fry comments is the antidote to Gloomy Sunday.
- In the film The Man Who Cried, Christina Ricci sings the song in the scene where she and Cate Blanchett are on the ship bound for America.
- Writer Charles Bukowski mentions the song changing its title to "Blue Monday" in the collection of his columns Notes of a Dirty Old Man, in a short story that recounts various experiences of his in relation to suicide.
a cover of the song was used as a soundtrack for this rocketboom episode