Gloomy Sunday (on Wednesday)

Madame Weebles —  October 3, 2012 — 178 Comments

Welcome to my first music post.  Let’s dive right in, shall we?

You may have heard of the song “Gloomy Sunday,” which has the dubious distinction of also being known as “The Hungarian Suicide Song.”  It was said that the song was so depressing that it drove people to kill themselves.  Fortunately this is just another urban legend—I will not expose you to any dangerous music here.

I learned of this haunting song only recently, but I quickly became obsessed with it.  This is the original instrumental version.  Hungarian composer Rezső Seress wrote it in 1932.  If the melody alone didn’t evoke feelings of sadness, then the lyrics, added later, probably helped:

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 thoughts of ever returning you
Wouldn’t they be angry if I thought of joining you?
Gloomy Sunday

Gloomy is Sunday, with shadows I spend it all
My heart and I have decided to end it all
Soon there’ll be candles and prayers that are said I know
But let them not weep, let them know that I’m glad to go
Death is no dream, for in death I’m caressing you
With the last breath of my soul, I’ll be blessing you
Gloomy Sunday

Dreaming, I was only dreaming
I wake and I find you asleep in the deep of my heart dear
Darling I hope that my dream never haunted you
My heart is telling you how much I wanted you
Gloomy Sunday

Right??  The only thing that would have made it more heartbreaking is if it had been written in D minor.  Because as we all know, D minor is the saddest of all keys.

This song has been covered by many, most notably the legendary Billie Holliday.  Bless her heart, Lady Day could have taken a TV jingle and turned it into a gin-soaked dirge of despair.

More recent entries include versions by Björk, Sinéad O’Connor, and Portishead.  I like all three.  I’m fascinated by the differences in musical arrangement and vocal interpretation.  (Sarah McLachlan recorded a version too but I’m not going to link to it; we all know her songs can make you miserable so let’s just move along.)

Then I saw that Elvis Costello also covered this song.  I have no idea how I missed that.  I love love love Elvis Costello.  Always have.  I lost count of how many times I saw him in concert.  I had a copy of the poster at left—it was with me through high school, college, grad school, and beyond.  Finally I retired it only because it got too torn and ratty looking.

So when I listened to his rendition, I expected to be blown away.  But I was underwhelmed.  It was nothing special.  It was perfunctory.  It could have been—and should have been—an emo masterpiece.  I thought it would sting and ache with the kind of emotion he packed into “I Want You” and “Riot Act.”  Alas, it did not.

My beloved Declan Patrick MacManus evidently didn’t quite grasp how he and this song were custom-made for each other.  And this was back when he was still AWESOME—before Diana Krall ruined him (you can go ahead and add Diana Krall to the list of Canadian Musicians Who Have Ruined the World, by the way).  I’m not sure how he managed such an epic fail.

So I was ecstatic to discover a cover that’s much better.  To me, it’s what Elvis Costello’s version should have been.  Massive props to Pat DiNizio and the Smithereens for nailing it.  I’ve played this so many times over the past several weeks that it will probably become a permanent soundtrack in my brain.

And without further ado, I present for your consideration this gloriously gloomy song:   The Smithereens – Gloomy Sunday

178 responses to Gloomy Sunday (on Wednesday)

  1. 

    Wow, love the song and post. Haunting, certainly. Thanks for sharing–I enjoy when you get educational on my ass.

  2. 

    I learned of this song six or seven years ago, I think, through the part it plays in a novel by Phil Rickman (I think you’d like his books). I started tracking down a bunch of versions of it but I think there was only one or two that really worked for me. I prefer the version of the song without the “dreaming” ending. Diamanda Galas and Christian Death do some of my favourite versions. Now I’m off to listen to the Smithereens version, since I like them anyway!

    • 

      Hello Alison! I just listened to the Diamanda Galas version yesterday, I like that one as well. I’ll have to check out Christian Death. And I’ll have to check out Phil Rickman too!

  3. 

    Yeah. That’s depressing.

  4. 

    Very cool song, Weebs. The Smithereens did nail it – fantastic vocal rendition. The lyrics could have been written by Edgar Allen Poe or maybe I’m just picking up his vibe here in Massachusetts. I like the short shift over to a major key in the “dreaming” bridge.

    • 

      That’s what I was thinking when I first read the lyrics, Cathy!! They’re worthy of Poe indeed. Although I read somewhere that the original Hungarian lyrics are even more bleak, which is hard to imagine.

  5. 

    love to read your stuff but am too close to the edge to day to read or listen to the words of something that may cause me to put rocks in my pocket and walk out into the lake (lol)

  6. 

    Laying down in a ball now, sucking my thumb. Somebody hand me my black clothes, including my black boxer shorts.

  7. 

    No. You know what would have made it more heartbreaking?
    Equations.
    I, too, enjoy it when you get all educational on my ass.

  8. 
    whiteladyinthehood October 3, 2012 at 8:44 am

    I’ve never heard of the song. I listened to the Smithereen’s version – pretty cool!

  9. 

    I feel so happy now.

  10. 

    Because I still feel like a rookie here, to discover your musical side is a pleasant surprise. Meanwhile … on to some red wine! :)

  11. 

    I’d heard the song before and, in my usual fashion, was clueless about the title and lyrics: I usually make up my own, anyway. I liked the instrumental version best because it had that hint of Hungarian paprika in its rendition.

    It’s probably only me: while it’s appropriately gloomy as I read this post and listen to the tracks, the “Salmon Tandoori Recipe” ad on the Rezso Seress clip and the “Obama Gets High” ad on the Bjork clip reduced me to helpless guffaws. Hard to be gloomy when you’re laughing your ass off…sorry! xoxoM

  12. 

    So true, mon ami. It irks me that she’s had so much success being nothing more than a glorified piano bar singer, and a very average one at that.

  13. 

    That proves you’re not completely insane, but I’m still not impressed.

  14. 

    I feel left out and a little embarrassed that the only names I recognized were Bjork and Sarah McLachlan.

  15. 

    See, this song doesn’t work on me because I LIKE being depressed. It’s pretty though.

  16. 

    I like the spinal tap version best… including the title of it…!!

  17. 

    Hungarians and other Easter Europeans are terribly misunderstood. Their “gloominess” is really a connection between constantly overcast skies and blocked nasal passages. They don’t rank their songs or literature as gloomy or happy but rather as fully congested, partially blocked, a little wheezing and no post-nasal drip.

  18. 

    Eastern Europeans not Easter Europeans but either one works.

  19. 

    *Click* *Press* *Back* *Back, again* *PlugIn crash* *Retry* *pant, pant* *Listen* *Blow nose* *Clear sinus passage* “Click* *Press again* *Retry to clear sinus passage* *Click nose back to Press again* *pant, pant* *snort* *Sinus cleared* *Click* *Press* *Listen….* I love a good music work-out in the morning. Thanks Madame W. for historical musicality…and clearing sinus passages….

  20. 
    Fish Out of Water October 3, 2012 at 10:04 am

    I’m sad that I don’t like the Portishead version. The Smithereens one is amazing, though. Thanks for schooling me Weebs.

    • 

      I too am sad that you don’t care for that version. That was my fave of those three, actually. But that’s okay. The Smithereens one really is fantastic, though, so I’m glad to share!

  21. 

    I love dirges. I love the word ‘dirge’..we named our son after a dirge-like mode/scale..Dorian.
    Loved the Smithereens rendition of Gloomy Sunday.
    I also love Eastern European music ~ I’m a fan of Limpopo and the Red Elvises…which may or may not qualify – but I don’t care – give me a Russian accent any day…I’ll TAKE IT!
    I also am a fan of Elvis Costello – I used to feel it was sacrilegious to name your child Elvis – like naming your child Jesus… hee hee…

    • 

      I love the name Dorian. I have ever since I read The Picture of Dorian Gray. It’s very dirge-worthy. I don’t know much Eastern European music, though, perhaps it’s time for me to check some out.

      • 

        Red Elvises are just flat out fun – they live in the USA (they’ve been here for years and they tour ALL the time). They defected at some point. Check out the CD Poets and Lunitics (or Lunitics and Poets)…and their early stuff – excellent!!!!

        I love the name Dorian too – I loved it for the Picture of Dorian Gray story and my husband for the musical scale – so it was something we ACTUALLY agreed on for a name…that was harder than MAKING a baby…agreement on a name.

  22. 

    Lick my Love Pump! How have I missed this all my life?

  23. 

    Sometimes you like to listen to these kind of dark tunes, especially if it’s a rainy day (which I’m ready for it to stop now). I’ve not heard this, Weebs but I like it — voice is raspy and kind of sexy. I love Billie Holiday btw and Elvis Costello.

    • 

      I’m ready for this weather to stop too, B. Enough already. No más.

      His voice is nice, isn’t it? I like his voice on other Smithereens songs too but on this one he’s doing a great Elvis Costello imitation, it’s definitely sexy.

  24. 

    I’d like to respond, but I’m too busy crying.

  25. 

    It’s a gloomy Wednesday here and I’m not in a manic phase, so gonna have to save this for a sunny day. So glad to hear that Diana Krall is Canadian; not so glad that she ruined the world. Never got her; probably never will.

  26. 

    Now my day it’s complete, I’ve learned somening new, I’m a so called “fan” of Björk and never heard her version of that song. I guess I’m not a fan after all.

  27. 

    Nice bad hair day weather song. Thanks Weebs.

  28. 

    Sundays definietely are the gloomiest of days. Maybe we can start a Suicide Club with different songs for each day of the week. Blue Monday by Orgy (the band, not the fun activity) will have to be bumped in favor of I Don’t Like Mondays because hey, it actually killed some people.

  29. 

    Woman, we are sisters from another mister. I also feel stabby whenever i hear Sara MacLachlan or however you spell her name. I had the misfortune of going to Lilith Fair(e) back in the 90s in LA and felt so out of place because I wasn’t twirling barefoot in the dirt whilst wearing my patchwork peasant skirt, nor was I doused in fucking fuck patchouli oil. Didn’t help that I dig dudes either.

    They had a special area for us broads who believed in shaving and bathing. I was scowled at for wearing a Ramones t-shirt.

    And, thank you for vocalizing what I’ve been saying for years about Mr. McManus and Ms. Krall-EWW. I do think there is still hope for him–maybe he should go back to guest-starring on TREME macht schnell!

    Thanks for the Manamanah. I woke up singing that ditty recently and had been trying to figure out a way to incorporate it into a post. Hmm…. stay tuned.

    j

  30. 

    Oh my, this is pretty excellent. I have to admit, I only listened to the Costello cover (as we all know, him and I might as well be twins. Oh, but you didn’t think so, did you? I guess my sideburns are too long, wait, never mind, that’s not possible.) and the last link from The Smithereens. If it’s at all possible you’ve just managed to move even higher on the coolness ladder. Thanks for introducing me to this cover.

    • 

      The pleasure is mine, Brother Jon. True, I don’t think there’s much of a resemblance beyond the hair color and the glasses and the sideburns, but if it helps, I think you’re both lovely gentlemen. I had a massive crush on EC for years. But that was before he hooked up with Diana Krall–I can’t have a crush on someone with such crappy taste in women.

  31. 

    I discovered this song thanks to Christian Death. They’ve got a version of this song with Gaetane Demone singing it. I loved it immediately, because it’s so dramatic :).

  32. 

    Excellent post Weebs. I had no idea the history of this song either, but I think it’s the true test of a classic that a song written in 1932 can be remade so many times and sound like it was written fresh for each performer.
    You also managed to DJ my life today: first day of snow here and it is feeling pretty gloomy.

    • 

      Snow already. Wow. That *is* gloomy. Sorry about that. I hope it’s a very light snow, at least.

      But it really is cool to see how an old song like that can be revived over and over like that, isn’t it?

  33. 

    That was magnificently dark. Now I’m going to go and huddle under my 1,000 watt grow light (we use it for growing tomatoes, honest) and pretend it’s not gloomy and snowing outside. Beer will be required.

  34. 

    Dear Professor Weebles.. I do think your class is much more fun than the three I am currently taking.
    I am diggin’ it. Love melancholy melody with kick ass lyrics.(and a sexy voice)
    A

  35. 

    I’m shocked The Cure haven’t covered this song, the ultimate depressing song for the ultimate depressing band. Too bad. All other versions listed were pretty cool. Thanks for the song intro. never heard of it, but now I know what to go for on ultimate PMS days.

    • 

      Happy to provide material for the PMS kit, Jean. I can TOTALLLY picture Robert Smith singing this song, too. But they’re still together, so who knows, maybe they’ll do a cover one of these days…

  36. 

    I’d never heard of that song. I like the lyrics, though. Also, I’d never heard of the Smithereens. *stretches collar with forefinger*

  37. 

    Thanks, Weebles: now I can pour myself a beer, settle down, and listen to all the links. The perfect close to an evening.

  38. 

    Wow!! I love this song and you’re right, it has an Elvis Costello flavor. I’m just surprised he didn’t do it up right. I love the whole Blood and Chocolate album. “I want You” is a good call as something similar.
    Well, well, well, if Weebs and I don’t have yet another thing in common… (No, I didn’t become a democrat! Sheesh!) I’m talking about our love of one, Elvis Costello. That’s right little Weebles, you and I have mutual big love for him and an equal distaste for his Canadian wife. I’ll drink a Pepsi to that!

    • 

      Raising my Pepsi to you, my fellow Costello (hey, that rhymes) fan. Blood & Chocolate is an underrated album, I think. It seems to have slipped under the radar for the most part. But seriously, he should have done a better job of Gloomy Sunday—the Smithereens out-Costello’ed him!

    • 

      My favorite Elvis Costello song is When I Was Cruel No. 2

      • 

        Well bestill my heart, Hotspur, are you a Costello fan??

        It took me a while to warm up to When I was Cruel No. 2 — at first I didn’t know what to make of it, but by the 2nd or 3rd listen I really liked it. The lyrics are classic EC. I don’t know if I can name just one favorite song of his, I’ve got about 20 that I love almost equally. But I’d say my top 5 are Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No 4, New Lace Sleeves, Riot Act, Beyond Belief, and Little Triggers.

        • 

          Yes. Here’s a fun fact: I used to think that Mickey by Tony Basil had been written by Mr. McManus because it sounded so similar to Radio Radio. Same keyboard tone and everything. I like Watching the Detectives, Veronica, Alison (which I have considered singing also) and Accidents Will Happen, in addition to tons of songs on When I Was Cruel.

    • 

      Is that the same link as I have above? I think so. I love the Portishead rendition.

  39. 
    writerwendyreid October 3, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    That’s a terrible song and I couldn’t even listening to the whole thing for fear that I might slash my wrists. :-(

  40. 

    Not a good day to listen to gloomy music, although our weather cleared up later today. I think I can handle as much Sarah McLachlan as is found on Sheryl Crow’s Live from Central Park CD….

  41. 

    Of course I find this song especially romantic.

  42. 

    I was going to say that, “Painful Canadian Singers” was redundant, they pretty much all are, but then I remembered Rush.

    • 

      Archon, you have no idea how you’ve made my night. I LOVE RUSH. But it seems, sadly, that many of your fellow Canadians around here don’t appreciate the brilliance of Messrs Lee, Lifeson & Peart.

  43. 

    I hadn’t heard The Smithereens in years. Thanks for this. :)

  44. 

    So what’s the difference between D-flat minor and c# minor???
    And I always thought the Best of Bread, Side 1, was the ultimate depressant….

    • 

      I have to admit I’ve rarely listened to Bread. I’ll have to check out that album for its depressant value. And I suppose the difference between D-flat minor and C-sharp minor is like the difference between a pound of feathers and a pound of nails. One just *sounds* heavier!

  45. 

    Bless her heart, Lady Day could have taken a TV jingle and turned it into a gin-soaked dirge of despair. <=== HAHAHAHAHAHA

    So true

  46. 

    and we share a lust for Mr. Costello… how many times has he re-invented his sound? almost as many as Mr. Bowie. gotta love ‘em…. men who don’t quit trying!

    as for the song? off to kick something. maybe knock over a liquor store and step on cracks or something really bad…

  47. 
    free penny press October 4, 2012 at 8:39 am

    I’m reading Wednesdays post on Thursday and it still fits the mood.. Loved the song and I too Like Mr Costello and am letdown he fell off the mark on this song.. Must need new glasses!

  48. 

    Has Metallica done a cover?
    Because that would be…
    wait…
    what?
    Where am I again?

  49. 

    May I propose a more chipper alternative?

  50. 

    Lordy, I had to turn that song off. It was making me feel the way I do when I read Thomas Hardy (the intense desire to through myself under a bus because there simply is no point in going on anymore). I feel like I need a prescription to Prozac now.

    • 

      Sorry, purplemary—I guess it really can be a downer for some people. I think it’s a beautiful piece, but I can certainly see how it might be too depressing. It’s pretty intense.

  51. 

    Great song. I had never heard it before. It makes me think of my first real relationship with a guy who totally broke my heart. We’d sit in his room and just listen to music for long periods of a time. How douchey of us.

    Also, props for getting Clown one step closer to loving Rush.

  52. 

    Compelling sad and some muppets great post, music and a little fun

  53. 

    Oh this song is great. I am familiar with the bjork and portishead versions but not the others, I shall have to check them out later when I am home. This song is just one of those with so many layers, and capable of evoking a lot. Good call :)

    • 

      Thanks! I still can’t believe I hadn’t heard of this song earlier, but better late than never. It’s a beauty, and I’m blown away by so many of the different versions. The Portishead cover is one of my favorites, and I hope you like the Smithereens version too!

  54. 

    came here for fu friday and got gloomy sunday, but still it works. looool. xo, sm

    • 

      I had every intention of doing a Fuck You post today, but as I was writing it last night, it just wasn’t working, It made me sad. So I ended up putting on the backburner for now.

      • 

        lol. don’t mean to laugh, but i know what you mean. i have so many of those, ‘it makes me sad’ posts. i had one on octomom that i never posted and one on paula dean. sigh. we should make a blog called, ‘dead post graveyard.’ i’m kidding. neither of us have the time… lool. xo

  55. 

    I wish my internet connection would hold up long enough for me to listed but, alas, it will not. Then again, i truly don’t feel like being depressed, so maybe it’s all for the best.

  56. 

    After such long time you made me realize I used to love this song. I still remember about 6 years I had first listened to it full of fear and anxiety…. The suicide song!

  57. 

    Thank you, Madame. That was wonderful. I, too, liked the Smithereen’s version. They’re all really beautiful though. Sad, yes, but mostly beautiful. Too bad it brought such tragedy. I never minded Diana Krall…my mom absolutely loves her. Popsicle Toes…

    • 

      I agree, Bumble, I think all of the versions are beautiful, although my favorites are the Portishead and Smithereens covers. I just hope Diana Krall decides to leave that song alone… ;)

  58. 

    That is a sad song in english – and the original Hungarian lyrics are even more depressing. I think I may have to curl up in a little ball now and not get out of bed for a week. :P

    • 

      I forgot you’ve got Magyar stock, Merlin — do you read Hungarian? I had read somewhere that the original lyrics were even more soul-killing than the English ones. I didn’t think that was possible.

      • 

        I do read Magyar – around 75% comprehension…so some things elude my understanding. Hey that is just like in my reading of English :P
        The main difference is the popular English lyrics turn the song into a “bad dream” at the end. The Hungarian version has no escape clause – the quick summary of the lament being: my true love is gone and I cannot go on- so I must take my own life to see them on the other side of death…
        Basically that Romeo and Juliet tragic ending…

  59. 

    I remember a couple of Hungarian twins at University that would sign a drink song that seemed to go like “rem, rem, rem” for as long as they could manage. I’m suspicious it’s a similar song. Though in their case they were more likely to be killed for singing the bloody song than commit suicide.

    Btw, I added some extra security to my site and have now managed to get myself locked out. Why anyone put me in charge of passwords I’ll never know.

    Cheers!

    • 

      I suppose I might have wanted to hang myself so I didn’t have to listen to those Hungarian twins anymore.

      I’m sorry but also laughing about your password situation, Nigel. But you should be heartened by the fact that your extra security really works. :D

  60. 

    I came over because Val recommended your blog and I’m so glad I did. I really enjoyed the bit of musical history you shared with us here today.

  61. 

    I’d heard of this song, but never heard it before. Good stuff! For a more modern (although now, sadly dated, I guess) version of the sentiment, there’s always Morrissey’s brilliant “Every Day Is Like Sunday.”

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