Song 21 – Gloomy Sunday

SONG: Gloomy Sunday

ARTIST: Billie Holiday

YEAR: 1941

Listen to it here: 

THE SONG:

Very unfortunately, this song is also known as “The Hungarian Suicide Song”. It was a popular song composed by Hungarian pianist and composer Rezső Seress and the original title translates to “The World is Ending.” It was a song about despair caused by war. Eventually, another Hungarian, poet László Jávor wrote his own lyrics, called Sad Sunday, in which the protagonist wants to commit suicide following his lover’s death. The song was first recorded in English in 1936 as Gloomy Sunday by Hal Kemp, and then later that same year by Paul Robeson. The most famous version is the one we’re listening to today, recorded by Billie Holiday. After her recording, the record label described the song as the “Hungarian Suicide Song” and an urban legen exists which claims that many people have died by suicide while listening to this song.

THE ARTIST:

For information on Billie Holiday, please see our review of Song 16 – Strange Fruit.

FACTOID CORNER:

Press reports in the 1930s associated at least 19 suicides with “Gloomy Sunday”.

In January, 1968, 35 years after writing the song, its composer Rezső Seress died. He took his own life. 

The BBC banned Billie Holiday’s version of the song from being broadcast, because it was too detrimental to wartime morale. This ban remained in place until 2002. 

KELLY’S REVIEW:

I love a creepy song with a dark history and backstory!  I’ve never actually heard the song before so this was a cool treat.  Billie Holiday already has a kind of a creepy, tortured sounding voice, so it’s pretty perfect for the song.  You can really hear the pain and despondency from losing her beloved.  She’s not overwrought or overly emotional, she’s just done, which was a great way to sing this song.  

HOLLY’S REVIEW:

 I had never heard of this song before. It’s creepy, and sad, and haunting, and has a bizarre history and plenty of weird coincidences associated with it. I’ve already talked about how much I enjoy Billie Holiday’s voice and interpretation, so I’ll just recap with “I love Billie Holiday’s voice and interpretation”! But really, she has such a great, understated way of conveying lyrics. You can tell she really put a lot of thought and consideration into the words she was singing. I also really like this orchestration behind her. What a great song. 

Average mark out of 10:

Holly: 10/10

Kelly: 8/10

*A mark of 8/10 or higher means this is definitely worth buying!

Other notable versions of this song (include youtube links when possible)

Elvis Costello’s version:

Paul Robeson:

And, Bjork:

Listen with us!

Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist:

Link to the Best of the Best 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist:

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