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 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
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
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