The song “Gloomy Sunday” is the stuff of legend. So many stories surround this ballad – some true, some exaggerated, some patently ridiculous. It was written in 1933 by two Hungarians, Rezso Seress and Lazslo Javor (the librettist). The lyrics are indeed gloomy, alluding to a lover considering suicide to join his or her deceased partner as is clear by the first verse: “Sunday is gloomy, my hours are slumberless / Dearest, the shadows I live with are numberless / Little white flowers will never awaken you / Not where the black coach of sorrow has taken you / Angels have no thought of ever returning you / Would they be angry if I thought of joining you?” Stories of it being banned in Hungary on the grounds of a number of suicides directly attributed to the song appear to have no basis in fact, although Hungary has traditionally been a country with one of the world’s highest suicide rates. Similarly, the story that Javor’s former girlfriend, for whom the song was supposedly written, also killed herself leaving just a two word suicide note – “gloomy Sunday” – also appears to be a complete fiction.
It is true, however, that composer Seress jumped to his death in Budapest in 1968. Also, Billy MacKenzie of Scottish band the Associates, who recorded the song in 1982 on their Sulk album, took his own life in 1997. But it’s daft to suggest that the song had anything to do with either event. “Gloomy Sunday” is a beautifully dark and melancholy song, though, even if Sam Lewis’ English lyrics are reputed to be nothing like as depressing as they are in the original Hungarian!
A few of the best versions can be found on the following CDs:
Sulk – Associates (WEA)
Lady Day: The Best of Billie Holiday (Columbia)
Jazz Profile – Stan Kenton (Blue Note)
Queen Of Siam – Lydia Lunch (Atavistic)