347. ‘Seasons in the Sun’, by Terry Jacks

From one mawkishly sentimental #1, to another…

Seasons in the Sun, by Terry Jacks (his 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 31st March – 28th April 1974

Let’s not pull any punches: this record is seen by many as one of the worst songs, ever. And I can understand why. From the opening riff, both ominous and irritating, to the nursery rhyme lyrics that don’t quite scan: Goodbye to you, My trusted friend, We’ve known each other since we were nine or ten…

It’s the swan-song of a dying man, a man who has lived quite a life: drinking, carousing, chasing girls… The self-confessed black sheep of the family. He lies upon his deathbed, smelling spring in the air, hearing children playing outside. There’s a verse for his friend, his father, and his daughter Michelle.

Jacks’ voice is perhaps the biggest problem here. It’s reedy, and at times sounds like bad impression of Kermit the frog. But it’s far from being the only problem… There’s an early key-change, and then another, and another, and another, until you’re left wondering if the song might continue until it’s reached a key that only dogs can hear. And then there are lines like: we skinned our hearts and skinned our knees… and like: but the stars we could reach were just starfish on the beach…

‘Seasons in the Sun’ is in many ways a terrible song. Saccharine, cloying, cheesy, simplistic… throw all these adjectives at it and they stick in the sentimental gloop. But I’ve never been able to hate it. I quite like this record. In reflective moments I picture myself singing it on my own deathbed… I find the Goodbye papa, It’s hard to die, When the birds are singing in the sky… line very moving, and a reminder of our own great insignificance in the grand scheme of things. The birds don’t give a shit if you live or die – they’ll go on singing regardless. And Jacks was inspired to write his version of the lyrics when one of his friends was diagnosed with terminal leukaemia, so that’s very sad.

In the right hands this could be a powerful song. Unfortunately the only other version I can think of is Westlife’s – a version we will meet atop the charts one day – and they are certainly not ‘the right hands’. The very first version had come in the early sixties as ‘Le Moribund’, in French, sung by Jacques Brel. In it the singer is ‘dying’ from a broken heart, and he sarcastically dedicates the final verse to the girlfriend that cheated on him. It sounds so unlike ‘Seasons in the Sun’ that you wouldn’t instantly connect them.

The first English version was recorded by folk act The Kingston Trio. It’s just as strident as Brel’s. Meanwhile, the Beach Boys were working on a version at the same time as Terry Jacks and his wife. Sadly it never saw the light of day. But what’s this I’ve found…? A demo version? By Nirvana? With Kurt Cobain mumbling, and making up half the lyrics, including a line about ‘foggy turds’…? Still not convinced they’re the right hands, but I like it…

Terry Jacks doesn’t quite make it as a one-hit wonder – his follow up to this chart-topper made #8. He lives in his native Canada, where he semi-retired from the music industry in the eighties, enjoying many a season in the sun, and where he has won several awards for his environmental campaigning.

13 thoughts on “347. ‘Seasons in the Sun’, by Terry Jacks

  1. I really like this one as long as I don’t hear it too often. His missus and he had hits as The Poppy Family, sort of folkpop. I hate the Westlife version, ugh! Karoake. If You Go Away was also a Brel French translation, previously done by Dusty (much better), and I have a real soft spot for Jacques Brel (see Scott Walker, who doted on him, the awesome Jackie, If You Go away, Mathilde, Next – also covered on the Old Grey Whistle Test by the fab Sensational Alex Harvey Band, and Amsterdam – see Bowie).

    Jacks also had a go at having the hit version to the then-flop Rock ‘n’ Roll (I Gave You The Best Years Of My Life), a decent follow-up effort to If You Go Away but not anywhere near up to the original Kevin Johnson emotional effort – Jonathan King acquired the rights for UK Records and pushed it into the UK charts, which effectively ended Terry Jacks chart-aiming days.

  2. badfinger20 (Max)

    I’m not sure if any hands are right. What is that old saying? It’s like putting lipstick on a pig…it’s still a pig.
    The Nirvana one is funny…I’ve read where they done it but never heard it before. It is catchy…that is the whole problem…almost too catchy.

  3. This is second only to “Alone, Again, Naturally.” I remember it being on the radio and I liked it. I was seven years old and didn’t really grasp that the protagonist was dying. I don’t want to hear it, again. I heard it plenty back then. The opening chords are like a twisted version of The Troggs “Wild Thing.” And, yes, he does kinda sound like Kermit the Frog. I nearly spit out my tea on the “dog whistle” reference. LOL!

    I don’t know that anyone can make this better. It’s a sad song but, give me some Evanesence for true gut wrench. Hmmm…maybe Amy Lee could do something with it?

  4. Seventies terrace anthem.

    We had joy, we had fun, we had (insert rivals name here) on the run, but the fun didn’t last ’cause the (insert choice of profanity here) were too fast.

    Great days!

  5. I don’t hate this song as much as others but one main issue I have is that for a song about imminent death it sounds way too happy and of course Terry Jacks just isn’t the best singer to convey the feeling needed. As Stereogum’s Tom Breihan said in his review, “But as a singer, Terry Jacks was no replacement for all five Beach Boys. His voice is a thin, tremulous squeak, a vehicle that’s simply not equipped to convey the song’s feeling. In that voice, “Seasons In The Sun” doesn’t sound like a sweeping and loving farewell to life. It sounds like whining. The production fits squarely into that mid-’70s cheese-pop aesthetic, too. There’s a nice sustain on the opening guitar chords, but soon enough, all the obligatory strings drown those sounds out. And in Jacks’ hands, the chorus becomes a maddening earworm, an unshakable jingle.”

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