You don’t have to be superstitious to appreciate the bizarre cultural influences of Friday the 13th. According to National Geographic, today will see an estimated $800-900 million lost in business, as the credulous among us refuse to go to work, travel, even interact with other human beings. Those who do venture out will do so with added caution, ironically making today one of the safer days of the year to get behind the wheel. Friggatriskaidekaphobia (or the fear of Friday the 13th) is here to stay, so how about we pay our respects to this most unloved day of the year with a musical tribute! Please enjoy this genre-spanning playlist of unlucky songs, cursed musicians, and eerie stories:
1. Gioachino Rossini’s “Petite messe solennelle – Kyrie”
The earliest known reference to Friday the 13th is written in an 1869 biography of the brilliant Italian composer Gioachino Rossini, a very superstitious man with both a fear of the number 13 and a separate fear of Fridays (which, surprisingly, was a fairly common fear before ABC introduced their TGIF programming block). Rossini, best known for providing the soundtracks to countless Bugs Bunny shenanigans, wrote three-dozen comedic operas in his lifetime. In the last years of his life, he turned his talents towards a considerably more serious work, the hauntingly beautiful Petite Messe Solennelle. Once finished, he wrote a note on the score, pleading God’s forgiveness for the piece, which he described as his “last mortal sin.” Rossini died the following year, on a date that was the Perfect Storm of his fears: Friday the 13th.
2. Rezso Seress’ “Gloomy Sunday” (aka “the Hungarian Suicide Song”)
Legend holds of three songs that drive their listeners to commit suicide, either through insanity, overwhelming melancholy, or long-haired ghosts that crawl out of your television screen and drip dirty well water all over your brand new carpet. Luckily, I could only track down one of these three songs (the other two have supposedly been destroyed by listeners in heroic displays of self-sacrifice worthy of John Carpenter’s “The Thing”). What we have left is the forlorn “Gloomy Sunday.” It’s a song that has been linked, however dubiously, with over 100 suicides since 1933, including that of its composer. The version by Billie Holliday was even banned from American radio during World War II, not because of this superstition, but simply because it was too much of a bummer for national morale.
3. Robert Johnson’s “Cross Road Blues”
The great and brief life of Delta Blues musician Robert Johnson is shrouded in mystery. But here’s what we know: When Johnson first came on the scene, he wasn’t a great musician. In fact, he was downright awful. But he was compelled to be great by any means necessary. So one evening, just before midnight, he took his guitar to where two roads met outside Clarksdale, Mississippi, and there he waited for the devil. When the devil arrived, just as Johnson was assured he would, he took Johnson’s guitar, tuned it, played a few songs, and handed it back, thereby empowering Johnson with the ability to play anything. All it cost Johnson was his soul. (Side-note: Radiolab does a fantastic investigation of Johnson’s origin story in their “Crossroads” episode.) Johnson never knew fame in his lifetime, and upon his death in 1938, became a member of the 27 Club, before the 27 Club was even a thing. The next song on our list comes from another club member…
4. Jimi Hendrix’s “Mr. Bad Luck”
“Look over yonder, here come the blues
The thirteenth of any time, powered by fools”
Like Robert Johnson, Hendrix had a bad case of the blues. “Blues” in this case referring to the police officers who come to break up his war protest, confiscate his pipe, arrest his girlfriend, and generally make life a never-ending string of Friday the 13ths. Hendrix has a familiar epithet for his blue-clad abusers: the devil. But unlike Johnson’s devil, Jimi’s is less interested in tuning guitars than he is in busting them.
5. Johnny Cash’s “Thirteen”
Cash’s dismal song about a boy named 13 makes his song about a boy named Sue sound like the musings from a happy, well-adjusted childhood. More interesting than the song itself is where it comes from: The track was recorded in Rick Rubin’s living room, and written in 20 minutes by the Misfits’ Glenn Danzig (who later recorded it himself for his sixth album, “6:66 Satan’s Child.”
6. Megadeth’s “13”
“13” is the thirteenth song on Megadeth’s thirteenth album, very appropriately titled TH1RT3EN. Frontman Dave Mustaine, who was born on the 13th and started playing guitar at age 13, has an understandable affinity for the unlucky number, even if he blames it for “a bunch of weird things” to happen while recording the album. In all fairness, most of those weird things were of the minor annoyance variety (car troubles, sudden illness, missing items!), but the eerie pattern did cause the thrash-metal heavyweights to tread lightly.
7. Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic”
Let’s be the first people in history to not get pedantic about this song (it’s been 20 years; we’ve all had that conversation). Instead, let’s focus on what we really have here: A sticky song about all sorts of bad luck.
8. Harry Nillson’s “Coconut”
Harry Nillson was an influential rock icon of the ‘60s and ‘70s. He was also, according to legend, cursed. Among the musicians who fell victim to The Curse of Harry Nillson include Mama Cass and The Who’s Keith Moon, who both died in his London flat, Pete Ham and Tom Evans of Badfinger, who both hung themselves years after he covered their song “Without You,” and John Lennon, who was a close pal. One could argue that these untimely demises had less to do with a curse than with the hard and fast living of being rock and roll in the ‘70s. From a practical stand-point, Nillson was less an albatross than a Kevin Bacon, too well connected within the music scene to not be near the epicenter of these terrible events. But if the legend is better than the truth, let the legend live.
9. Buddy Holly’s “That’ll be the Day”
Existing in a similar space as the Curse of Harry Nillson, but predating it by a good decade, is the Curse of Buddy Holly. Buddy Holly, who died tragically in a plane crash with The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens (on “the day the music died“), has been loosely, and not always convincingly, tied to the untimely deaths of dozens of musicians. Before the plane crash, and before anyone had reason to suspect a curse, a friend of Holly’s named Joe Meek visited a fortune teller, who gave him an unsettling premonition: “February third, Buddy Holly dies.” Meek relayed the message to Holly, who probably thought the fortune was a joke, as the date had already past. Buddy Holly died the following year, on February 3rd, 1959.
10. Weezer’s “My Name is Jonas”
Weezer’s debut album starts with “My Name is Jonas.” Jonas is a song, according to frontman Rivers Cuomo, about getting dicked around by The Man; a theme it shares with Hendrix’s “Mr. Bad Luck.” Whether intentional or not, the song builds on its bad luck references by using the name Jonas. Jonas is a variation of the Hebrew “Jonah.” Herman Melville fans will recognize Jonah as the name mariners (a group with a penchant for superstition) gave to a person or item that brought bad luck upon a ship and her crew. This use of Jonah is itself a reference to the biblical Jonah, who tried to escape God by sailing far away, and thereby brought a great storm upon his ship that only ceased when Jonah was thrown overboard. (Side-note: A lot of numerological distrust of the number 13 also springs from the bible. For example, Judas is often considered the 13th Apostle.)
11. Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”
Everybody loves Ol’ Blue Eyes’ triumphant victory-lap of a song. But nobody loves to hear it butchered. This rings especially true in the Philippines, where people take their karaoke very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that over a half dozen people have been murdered for daring to cover “My Way” outside the privacy of a shower. The song is now banned in many pubs across that country.
12. Alice Cooper’s “He’s Back (Man Behind the Mask)”
Shock rocker Alice Cooper provided three songs for the Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives soundtrack, “He’s Back” being the theme song. This is one of those things that’s better experience, than described. Next time a teenager asks you what the ‘80s were like, just play them this music video.
13. The Happy Campers in 3D project
Just before the 2009 remake of Friday the 13th hit theaters, Paramount re-released the first three installments of the storied Jason Vorhees franchise on DVD. At that time, Casey Trela, Jon Mackey and Will Donegan, three of the founding members of the Los Angeles-based indie-folk band Hi Ho Silver Oh, were working day jobs at a DVD quality control company, and were tasked with the inhumane burden of repeatedly viewing the Friday the 13th saga in various languages. They watched the films 17 times in total (side-note: in Italy, Friday the 17th is considered the unlucky). Not unlike Alex in A Clockwork Orange, the Hi Ho boys came out of the viewing experience changed men. As Trela describes it, when you are forced to watch something over and over again, “You begin to delve deeper into the stories than maybe you should. You ascribe backstories to one-sided characters, you think about what they do with their weekend, what feelings they feel other than ‘horrified’ or ‘stoned.’” Suffering from the movie equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome, the band were unable to get Friday the 13th out of their heads. So they decided to put it in their music. What resulted is the delightfully macabre side-project, Happy Campers in 3D. Every Friday the 13th, the concept band (which now also includes instagram-famous Ryan Gosling doppelgänger Philip Eastman) invites their friends and fans to gather in a house, cabin, or abandoned campground somewhere, and take part in an interactive musical celebration of the charmingly imperfect slasher movies. You can listen to all the Happy Campers in 3D songs on BandCamp.
Now that you’ve heard my list, let’s hear yours! Please, add your song in the comments below.
Abel Charrow is a Los Angeles-based illustrator and writer. His first comic-book, TEEDY, is available for pre-order on Kickstarter.