19
Oct 07

TERRY JACKS – “Seasons In The Sun”

FT + Popular66 comments • 6,337 views

#347, 6th April 1974

“Seasons In The Sun” is one of those records that was never not going to be enormous. The weird dolour of its intro chords, Terry Jacks’ tear-choked vocals, Brel’s terrace-ready chorus and the sheer oddness of the song….even if you think it’s awful or kitsch you can’t be surprised at its success. Sometimes I do think those things, but the elements mockers tend to point to are also keys to “Seasons”‘ effectiveness. Those final chord shifts, for example – outrageous manipulation yes, but also the desperate last grabs at life by the dying singer.

I’ve not heard Brel’s “Le Moribund” though I know that a hefty subtext went missing in the transition from Jacques to Jacks – the dying man may be a suicide, driven to it by his wife’s infidelity. It seems to me though that removing that story, that explanation, must improve the song, or at least make it much stranger. “Seasons” is now about the awful blank randomness of death, rather than the bitter punchline to life as a bad joke.

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Comments

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  1. 31
    o sobek! on 21 Oct 2007 #

    like casino i know this almost entirely due to k-tel/time-life sounds of the seventies tv ads – like ‘billy don’t be a hero’, ‘the night chicago died’, and many other am radio monsters that ppl who lived thru the 70s perhaps shudder at but ppl who came afterward look at and go ‘seems harmless enough to me’ it’s a genre that seems to have stayed in the 70s with no revival and little exposure afterwards – unlike philly soul, glam, socal rock, disco, punk, wimprock, singer songwriters, prog, funk, crossover country, southern rock, yacht rock, or any other ‘sound of the seventies’ i NEVER hear these songs played except in the context of ‘hey – remember the seventies?’, only serving to remind me that i will NEVER be able to get a grasp on the seventies.

    6 seems fair.

  2. 32
    Waldo on 22 Oct 2007 #

    Morbid, dying Hoser, Jacks, caterwaulers his way back to the pavilion in a dour soliloquy of self-pity. He has just enough petrol left in the tank to say tatty-bye to a few of the folks and donate a few choice guitar chords to posterity before hitting the snooze button. Do we care? Er…no.

    But cards on the table, peeps. I bloody loved this back in the day. It was completely miserable, negative and self-centred and so was I at that time. I played it over and over, also the B-side, which told the story of Terry’s mutt getting run over, and only stopped playing it when my brother, older by three and a half years, suggested that if I really wanted to feel sorry for myself, I was welcome to his Neil Young and Leonard Cohen albums. I snapped this offer up in a microsecond. What is it about Canadian soloists? Young, I discovered, is a wonderful artist, as to a certain extent is Cohen. But it certainly would not be wise putting any of their records on the jukebox in the Beachy Head Tavern, one of my own occasional watering holes.

    I now regard “Seasons in the Sun” as a comedy record and this allows me to pay it an unexpected compliment, in as much as suggesting that Jacques Brel could have written it and Lord Scott Walker could have sung it, as has already been discussed by all you clever dickies. It certainly is an oddity and that ticks the main Brel/Walker box before we get out of the starting blocks. Terry Jacks himself, meanwhile, had earlier featured in a hippy-type mob alarmingly called The Poppy Family, who charted here with a ridiculous offering called “Which Way You Going, Billy?”, the song’s subject most certainly not the same Billy who got relieved of all his earthly burdens in the last episode here.

  3. 33
    Waldo on 22 Oct 2007 #

    Well, yes, I suppose technically speaking, Brel did indeed write it…

  4. 34
    Marcello Carlin on 22 Oct 2007 #

    “Which Way You Goin’ Billy?” was a GREAT record by a GREAT group with a HIDDEN SUBTEXT THINK ABOUT IT

    Cohen’s one of the funniest writers in all of “rock.” If you want black comedy you can’t beat “Dress Rehearsal Rag” (and if you want unintentional comedy you can’t beat Noel Harrison’s version of “Dress Rehearsal Rag”).

    1974 Neil Young would have been On The Beach – not a bundle of laughs for sure but then it’s not suicidal either (the irony of those two IMac reviews a lifetime apart).

    Is there actually a Beachy Head Tavern then? I bet it’s been turned into one of those themed Irish pubs with non-stop Corrs and Westlife on the jukebox. Now THAT would be enough to drive me off the cliff.

  5. 35
    Erithian on 22 Oct 2007 #

    Oh yes, I was going to mention Bowie’s marvellous version of “Amsterdam” – a far better Brel cover with all the atmospheric qualities of the original. Pity it was tucked away on the B-side of “Sorrow”, but lines like “He’ll drink to the health of the whores of Amsterdam” and “He pisses like I cry on the unfaithful love” would have sat uncomfortably alongside the Wombling Song.

    Marcello (#29) – when I said we weren’t too far away from having a number one from BTO, I did mean one chart place away!

  6. 36
    Waldo on 22 Oct 2007 #

    Marcello (#34) – Yep, The Beachy Head Tavern, although it’s now just called The Beachy Head. I was in there yesterday afternoon, in fact, with Mrs Waldo and there were plenty of blokes in England rugger shirts milling around with a very worried-looking Beachy Head Chaplain weaving his way around them. The pub is an excellent eatery and is certainly not “themed”, which is just as well. Outside on the cliffs there are a series of plaques quoting the scriptures, basically telling folk not to jump. Of course, one poor guy was once famously racing to the edge in order to turn himself over but was checked by being upended by one of these monuments stating “NO PROBLEM IS TOO GREAT FOR GOD”. I’m sure that’s true but it cost this poor fucker a broken ankle. Even more bizarrely, a wonderful local man, who has saved several lives up on the Head, was recently cautioned as to his activities by none other than the Coastguard for breaching Health and Safety regulations, that is to say he was putting himself at risk. This guy has now ceased his work. Honest to God, you couldn’t make it up.

  7. 37
    Lena on 22 Oct 2007 #

    Sounds like it has a theme to me – don’t jump off the cliff!

    Terry Jacks’ best friend had died just before he recorded this song, plus his wife Susan (who sings “Which Way You Goin’ Billy?”) was divorcing him. He had a right to sing the blues…

  8. 38
    Waldo on 22 Oct 2007 #

    Lena – “Sounds like it has a theme to me – don’t jump off the cliff!”
    Good one, I have to say…

  9. 39
    Lena on 22 Oct 2007 #

    :-)

  10. 40
    Snif on 23 Oct 2007 #

    “”don’t jump off the cliff!

    Never did Sue Barker any harm

  11. 41
    doofuus2003 on 23 Oct 2007 #

    I always put this one together with Honey by Bobby Goldsboro, surprised it hasn’t been mentioned yet

  12. 42
    Marcello Carlin on 23 Oct 2007 #

    That came back in ’75, a number two hit for the second time thanks to Noel Edmonds and his sodding Saddest Song Ever poll. It was bad enough the first time around!

    For no reason whatsoever Tommy Cooper’s 1960 hit single and Junior Choice perennial “Don’t Jump Off The Roof Dad (You’ll Make A Hole In The Yard)” has just sprung to mind.

  13. 43
    LondonLee on 23 Oct 2007 #

    “The melody is so simple and well known that it must have been used as a terrace chant, but I can’t for the life of me think of any.”

    We had joy, we had fun
    We had Tottenham on the run

    That’s the one I remember

  14. 44
    Erithian on 24 Oct 2007 #

    Stuart Maconie played another great Brel cover last night – “Next” (“Au suivant”) by the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. A fine band, though slightly deranged and you might not necessarily want them next to you in the bus queue. I see MC has referred to Alex Harvey in the “Streak” thread – maybe he can verify the legend of his jeans being held together with sellotape? Oddly enough I don’t remember “Next” from the time, but did get “The Faith Healer” single, which shoulda been a monster.

  15. 45
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Oct 2007 #

    It was a monster in Scotland (another knockout Phil Wainman production) but the rest of the nation took a longer while to catch on to the greatness that was SAHB. I still think their Christmas show at the Glasgow Apollo in ’75 – which both my dad and I attended – is the greatest gig I have ever witnessed.

    The jeans/sellotape interface was indeed true; he admitted it on Tiger Tim Stevens’ show on Radio Clyde.

  16. 46
    Waldo on 24 Oct 2007 #

    I have an old tape of “Whistle Test” showing Harvey doing “Next” and, yes, it’s magnificent. Whispering Bob pronounced it “great”. So no stereotyping there, then. Also featured was Tim Buckley, only months away from edging one to the keeper, the poor sod. He performed “Dolphins”. Brilliant also.

  17. 47
    crag on 24 Oct 2007 #

    hello
    longtime listener first time caller
    Having just listened to Seasons again for the first time in a few years I was reminded of something I was told about it a while back- the fab swampy guitar riffs at the intro and after each chorus (IMO the records main appealing factor) were played by none other Link Wray, creator of “Rumble” famous as the only instrumental disc banned on US radio for fears it would incite teenage riots. Can amyone confirm this or was I dreaming?

  18. 48
    Erithian on 25 Oct 2007 #

    Welcome along Cragster, the more the merrier.

    “Edging one to the keeper” – great phrase!

  19. 49
    Marcello Carlin on 25 Oct 2007 #

    Wikipedia says that the riffs were inspired by “Rumble” rather than Link Wray playing them as such (at the time LW was putting out some rather fine records on the then nascent Virgin label).

  20. 50
    crag on 26 Oct 2007 #

    thanks for the welcome (not sure about “cragster”, mind).
    You might be right about the Link thing Marcello though i personally cant hear any similarity between the two riffs and, besides surely even before the recent events of Hazelhurstgate we all knew to take much of whats on Wiki with at least a pinch of salt?
    Either way I think i’m going to continue to keep believing it if only cos its such a bizarre idea.

  21. 51
    doofuus2003 on 26 Oct 2007 #

    For sure Next was a big part of the SAHB live show; saw them several times at the big outdoor kind of event, always 4th or 5th on the bill, but with a theatrical style suited to the big crowd in the days when there were no huge screen close ups.

  22. 52
    Caledonianne on 2 Nov 2007 #

    #45

    Aaaah! Tiger Tim Stevens. I remember bopping at his Sunday afternoon gig in Shuffles in Sauchiehall Street…

  23. 53
    wichita lineman on 19 Jun 2008 #

    Re 37. Terry got his revenge on swingin’ Susan by ensuring he owned the rights to her solo records and the Poppy Family, which explains why they so rarely crop up on cd. Unlike this dilly of a death disc.

    Got to agree with Marcello, the Poppy Family were a FABULOUS group – Susan Jacks’ voice is one of the purest and saddest in all of pop. Which Way You Goin’ Billy is ok, but their 2 lps feature far better stuff. Check out Free From The City on one of Finders Keepers’ semi-legit compilations (possibly Folk Is Not A Four Letter Word).

  24. 54
    Billy Smart on 13 Feb 2009 #

    NMEWatch: 9 March 1974. A thumbs-up from guest reviewer Kenny Everett;

    “Very nice production, very clean, very jolly, very bouncy. Lots of tune – should be played on the radio. Sounds like he hasn’t had a shit in years.”

    No Single of the week. Also released;

    Portsmouth Sinfonia – William Tell Overture
    Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye – You Are Everything
    Doobie Brothers – Listen To The Music
    Bubblerock – Get Off My Cloud

  25. 55
    Ken Shinn on 31 Jul 2012 #

    “Rod McKuen’s out right now
    Oh wouldn’t you just know it?
    Because I am an artistic man
    In fact a bit of a poet.

    I’m a man of Nature too
    The land, the sea, and the sky.
    So why don’t you just hang up now
    And have another try.”

    (c) Pretentious Productions Inc

  26. 56
    Shayne on 14 Sep 2012 #

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  27. 57
    wichita lineman on 14 Sep 2012 #

    The intro is gorgeously dark and liquid, the best bit of the song. I don’t really hear Link Wray who played WAY more aggressively.

    As for Tom’s view that it was an obvious no.1, I dunno. The Fortunes had recorded it a few years earlier (’69 or ’70) and flopped, and the T Jacks production is weirdly chirpy given the subject matter.

    As a kid it scared the hell out of me though – my mum told it was about someone injecting themselves (wha?) with “drugs” and dying (HUH?). Why would they do that? “I don’t know,” she said. “I just don’t know.”

  28. 58
    swanstep on 15 Sep 2012 #

    Aside from the chorus, this one is new to me. I find SITS’s overall effect quite disagreeable but, like others here, I enjoy both the grunty guitar bits (which I think both Nirvana and Hole nicked on occasion) and the angelic backing vox in the verses (which Blur may have nicked for To The End, but more likely there’s an in common Euro-source).

    I wonder about the claim that this was an ‘obvious number one’ too. I’m actually surprised that it could be any sort of hit in 1974 since it sounds so 1969/1970 to my ears, back with Peter Sarstedt’s hit (which I like more than most do) perhaps. Mike Atkinson says above that he grouped SITS with, e.g., The Air That I Breathe and You Are Everything at the time, but both of those feel a lot more modern (and of course just pleasurable) than SITS to me.

    SITS spent 3 weeks at #1 in NZ (following the Hollies’ six week run at the top with Air that I Breathe).

  29. 59
    Mark G on 15 Sep 2012 #

    Nice spot re: Blur, there.

  30. 60
    mapman132 on 17 Mar 2014 #

    Count me among those who wonders why this song is despised by so many. I mean it’s not for everyone, but it’s not THAT bad. 6/10 is probably what I’d give it too. Also #1 for three weeks in the US. 1974’s batch of US number ones seems to have a special place for derision by music fans, and there was certainly far worse that year than this.

    PS: Didn’t realize this was a translation of a French song, which I’m listening to as I write. It’s interesting have very different the versions sound, and not just because of the language change. The French version somehow sounds more upbeat, but also angrier – they barely sound like the same song.

  31. 61
    hectorthebat on 29 Jun 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010)
    Bob Merserau (Canada) – The Top 100 Canadian Singles of All Time (2010) 50
    Chartattack (Canada) – The 100 Best Canadian Singles of All Time (1996) 36
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 15
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  32. 62
    Erithian on 30 Jan 2015 #

    So farewell then Rod McKuen. Mixed reception on this thread mind you.

  33. 63
    Mark M on 9 Jul 2015 #

    Phil’s been talking about this on the Never Had A Dream… thread, but I’m going to try to move it back here. Having listened to Le Moribond properly for the first time yesterday, I’d say there’s only a hint, the barest skeleton, of the chorus melody deployed in Seasons In The Sun to be found in Brel’s barking. It’s not just lyrically that its very loose cover – I don’t like Seasons In The Sun, but I guess I’m saying that the English language version has evolved into a substantially different song – the very interesting link being (as I think has been mentioned above) the Kingston Trio’s take, in which you can hear back to Brel and forward to Jacks. (The wife has still cheated on him in this and, for that matter, The Beach Boys’ version).

  34. 64
    Phil on 9 Jul 2015 #

    Rosie @37 seems to have eerily anticipated everything I had to say about the relationship between this & its original. As it goes, I’m old enough to remember this & vaguely hated it at the time – syrupy, sentimental, obviously aimed at GURLS hem hem. Hate it even more now, clearly, although the arrangement isn’t entirely stupid – those ominous chords are a good touch. Thanks, Mark M – fascinating to learn that the lyrical vandalism was Terry Jacks’s own as well as (on top of) McKuen’s, and to hear that those guitar chords were already there on the Beach Boys’ version (produced & perhaps arranged by Jacks).

  35. 65
    BT on 10 Jul 2015 #

    Was Brel’s Le Moribund the inspiration for The Last Will and Testament of Jake Thackray? If so, it’s a far finer tribute than SITS.

  36. 66
    Phil on 10 Jul 2015 #

    #65 – it’s a nice idea, but the answer’s almost certainly No. Jake Thackray was a huge fan of Georges Brassens, whose (few) admirers over here tended to think he’d got a bit of a raw deal by comparison with Brel. JT translated/adapted some of Brassens’ songs and borrowed from others. In this case Brassens’ “Le Testament” looks like it was the inspiration – and the source for a couple of lines, although much more of the song is in Thackray’s own voice.

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