It is the world’s deadliest song, a musical composition so lethal that merely to hear it hummed may induce suicidal tendencies. It is “Gloomy Sunday”, public menace of such potentially epidemic proportions the BBC was compelled to ban it for decades. Indeed, if contemporary news reports and eyewitness accounts are to be believed, no other song comes close to it for sheer morbidity.
“Helter Skelter”? The Manson murders were horrific, to be sure, but the role of the Beatles’ song in those tragic deaths was incidental at best, and in the end, seven lives were claimed; the number of fragile souls, meanwhile, to have succumbed to the unrelenting lugubriousness of “Gloomy Sunday” may number in the hundreds if not the thousands. “Better By You, Better Than Me”? When played backwards, a US lawsuit alleged, this 1990 Judas Priest song prompts listeners to “do it” and commit suicide. But how deadly can a song be which must be listened to backwards? “Gloomy Sunday’s” impact is direct and instantaneous. One need only recall the story of the Roman shop boy who, hearing a beggar hum it, handed the man his money and jumped from the nearest bridge. Hungarian pianist and composer Reszo Seress wrote the original music and lyrics for Szomorú Vasárnap - Gloomy Sunday - in 1933, while heartbroken over the break-up of a romance. Though local publishers initially rejected the song as too despairing, a new version with less forlorn lyrics by poet Laszlo Javor became an instant hit - and began claiming innocent lives almost immediately.