Music has the power to affect the mood of its listeners. It can bring comfort, joy, sadness, and sometimes anger. But what if a song was capable of cursing someone? What if by hearing a song, someone would feel compelled to commit a crime? What if their life began to crumble after being exposed to the song? There are many songs out there that are considered “cursed” in this way. So, we figured, why not explore a topic like this in honor of spooky season? Whether they’re truly cursed or not is for you to decide, but today, we’re going to explore a few of these songs and the history behind what makes people feel they’re cursed.
“Curse of the Crossroads” - Robert Johnson
There’s always been a spooky lore behind Robert Johnson beyond just this song. It’s been said that Johnson struck a deal with the devil at a crossroads in order to become the king of Delta Blues. The story of the legend goes that Robert Johnson was terrible at guitar, but he wanted to be an awesome blues guitarist so badly. There's a mixture of stories of why he went to the crossroads, but legend says, he went there and was greeted by a tall man (supposedly the devil) who took his guitar, tuned it, played a few riffs, and returned the guitar back to Johnson. It’s been said that this exchange is how he sold his soul to the devil, giving him the ability to become an incredible guitarist.
Acquiring his talent seemingly overnight had many surmising that he must have set out to the crossroads, met the devil, and “made a deal.” It seems songs like, “Curse of the Crossroads” along with “Me and the Devil Blues,” have contributed to the myth of Johnson’s pact with Lucifer, including the part about the dark angel coming to collect his debt. His song “Curse of the Crossroads” was written just two years before his death and touches on some ideas of meeting up with a devil. Although Johnson had never verified any of the rumors regarding his rise to fame, the curse behind this song lies in what has come after its release.
The crossroads curse indicates that performing the song can cause very professional and personal tragedies. While it may sound strange, many musicians who have covered the haunting blues track have indeed had tragedy enter their lives. A few examples include:
Eric Clapton, who played a version of the tune with Cream. He lost his two-year-old son from a tragic fall out of a window.
The band Lynyrd Skynyrd covered the song and was involved in a tragic airplane crash that killed three band members and the tour manager.
Skynyrd guitarist Allen Collins. He suffered a car crash in 1986 that killed his girlfriend; Collins later died in 1990.
The Allman Brothers, who performed the tune throughout their career. Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident in 1971. A little over a year later, near the same spot, band member Barry Oakley also perished in another bike accident.
To add fire to the spookiness surrounding Robert Johnson and this song, he mysteriously passed away at the age of 27. Yes, it appears Johnson may have also been a part of the 27-club curse. Do you think the curse holds some truth, or is it just a made-up legend, warped by time? Whether the curse is true, or it’s just a legend that has grabbed hold for decades after Johnson’s death, the aftermath of covering the song is peculiar, nonetheless.
The Ninth Symphony
The concept of a ninth symphony, especially Beethoven’s is at least familiar to music lovers. But why don’t you often hear about a tenth symphony? Well, that’s because most composers don’t live to complete it. For nearly 200 years now, a curse has plagued composers. The legend says that soon after completing his/her ninth symphony, a musician is doomed to die. There isn’t much logic for why it’s happened this way, but a tenth symphony remains just out of reach for a staggeringly large number of composers.
It all began with Beethoven’s untimely death. He was working on his tenth symphony in 1827 when he passed away. The curse has also claimed dozens of classical musicians, including Anton Bruckner, Vaughan Williams, and Antonin Dvorak. Yet there’s one big “explanation” for why this happens. It can take decades to write nine symphonies, so it would only make sense that some people would die of old age before getting a chance to complete their tenth. But the strange aspect of this supposed curse is that there were a number of composers who were unable to write their tenth symphony before dying who died quite young. Some of those ridiculously early deaths include Gustav Mahler, who died at 50 of heart failure, and Franz Schubert who died of typhoid at just 31. Both died soon after writing their ninth symphonies.
So, is it clear that a composer should quit while they’re ahead? Never even think of a ninth or tenth symphony to avoid an untimely death? Well, it appears that recently, this supposed curse has been beaten by an American composer by the name of Philip Glass. The clever guy discovered a loophole. Before he released his ninth symphony to the public, he penned his tenth. Since releasing his ninth and completing his tenth, nothing tragic has seemed to have happened to the composer. He’s still alive and has even gone on to release an eleventh and twelfth symphony! However, strangely enough, an audience member did collapse at the premiere for symphony number nine. So, perhaps it wasn’t completely averted! What do you think? Coincidence, or is the idea of a tenth symphony cursed and Glass just found a loophole?
“My Way” - Frank Sinatra
While Frank Sinatra’s song is well-known and beloved in the United States, it is taboo to sing it at karaoke in The Philippines. Why? Because it is believed to be cursed. If sung or played, you or people around you may die.
The idea of it being cursed began once killings began surrounding the song. Between 2002 and 2012, numerous people were killed for singing this song at karaoke (or commonly called videoke in The Philippines). At least six killings and countless fights have been reported. It has become such a phenomenon that there is a designated category for this type of crime in the country. Explanations for these incidents vary. Some believe it’s because the song is simply frequently sung among the nation's karaoke bars where violence is common, so it’s all about timing. Others wonder if it’s because of the perceived aggressive lyrics of the song.
Attention to these killings peaked on May 29, 2007, when a 29-year-old karaoke singer was shot dead by a security guard at a bar in San Mateo, Rizal. It happened because the guard had complained that the young man's rendition of "My Way" was off-key. When the man refused to stop singing, the guard pulled out a .38-caliber pistol and shot the man dead. Some Filipinos — even those who love the song — will not sing it in public, in order to avoid trouble or because of superstition. It’s believed in the country that off-key renditions can incite violence in people. Filipino culture takes singing—particularly karaoke—very seriously, so presumably any deviation from karaoke “etiquette” could be to blame for the violence. Or perhaps, it is really cursed, that the song itself brings about a rage inside people that they cannot control. What do you think?
“Gloomy Sunday”- Rezso Seress
Written by Hungarian songwriter Rezso Seress, “Gloomy Sunday” has a devastating “curse” attached to it. In the early 1930s, a struggling Seress was severely depressed one cloudy Sunday afternoon because his career was dying since he was largely ignored by the music industry. On top of that, the woman he loved had walked out on him. And so, he sat at his piano, lonely and lost in despair. After noodling at the keys for some time, he stumbled upon the melody that would become his masterpiece – even if it was unwanted.
“Szomoru Vasarnap,” or “Gloomy Sunday,” became an overnight success. It was played nonstop after being released. Seress finally had the fame he’d been chasing for years. Little did he know that the success would lead to the demise of hundreds of others. Suicides began occurring all over the place. Corpses were found clutching the song’s sheet music. Others left behind suicide notes containing lyrics from the song. One body was found with the tune skipping endlessly on a record player. There was even a man who shot himself after complaining that he couldn’t get the song out of his head. Believed to have taken the lives of hundreds of people, it became known as the “Hungarian Suicide Song.”
"Gloomy Sunday" was first recorded in English by Hal Kemp in 1936, with lyrics by Sam M. Lewis. Lewis's lyrics referred to suicide while earlier recordings in the native language-focused more on the hopelessness caused by war. The song wasn’t played as often after the downpour of deaths, but it came back into the spotlight when Billie Holiday covered the song in 1941. This new version brought about another wave of suicides. It was banned on BBC radio among other radio stations. The ban wasn’t lifted until 2002. Some have speculated that Billie Holiday’s tragic final years of her life were partly due to her covering this song and thereby cursing herself.
So, you may be wondering, what happened to the creator of this song? I’m sure you can guess. He too committed suicide. He survived jumping out of a window in Budapest, but later in the hospital choked himself to death with a wire. And the woman who’d left him and inspired the song also took her own life. Pretty devastating, I know. Even if it isn’t a cursed song, it’s upsetting to discover the hurt the original composer was going through as he created this song.
‘Insha Ji Utho’ - Amanat Ali Khan
Pakistani poet Ibne Insha wrote, “Insha ji Utho" in the early 1970s. He didn’t know at the time that it would become his most famous poem. It tells the sad tale of a man lost in a cold, pointless existence. Although it had a very dark tone, the singer Amanat Ali Khan fell in love with the piece and he wanted to make it into a song. With Insha’s permission, he did just that, performing it on television in January 1974.
The song immediately became his biggest hit. Within days, Khan was becoming more famous than he’d ever been. He was on top of the world. But then, he had a sudden, untimely death a few months after the song was performed. To make the situation even more grim, four years to the day after the original telecast, Insha himself passed away at 50 after a difficult battle with cancer.
Yet the curse doesn’t end there. Years later, Khan’s son, Asad Amanat Ali, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a successful singer. At one of his concerts in 2006, Khan’s son decided to end the show with his rendition of “Insha ji Utho.” He did not know when he played those first few notes, that it was the last song he would ever perform. Just a few months later, he passed away as suddenly as his father. It seems by this point that the family has caught on to the sinister bad luck behind the song because Khan’s other singing son, Shafqat Amanat Ali, has since sworn never to perform the malicious melody.
Perhaps a skeptic would call it a coincidence, blame it on the elements of life, but one must admit that the circumstances are cryptic nonetheless. I think it’s safe to say that this song deserves to be on the “do not cover” list for eternity.
This is just the tip of the iceberg for many other songs that can fit into the cursed category. It’s very eerie to think that a song is capable of causing harm to others. I like to think of myself more as a believer than a skeptic when it comes to most supernatural or scary things. Still, some of these supposed curses feel more circumstantial than cursed. Yes, people may be filled with anger upon hearing “My Way” covered in a terrible way and resort to violence to make it stop. Does that make the song cursed? I don’t really think so. I don’t really see any probable explanation for the strange deaths surrounding “Insha ji Utho." But don’t worry about my opinions, which of these curses do you find the most likely to be true? Which seems a little bit of a stretch? Let us know in the comments!
Thank you for reading! Special thanks to the following sources that made this article possible.
Written by Kristen Petronio