Oct 07

TERRY JACKS – “Seasons In The Sun”

FT + Popular68 comments • 7,251 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.



1 2 All
  1. 1
    CarsmileSteve on 19 Oct 2007 #

    i hatehatehate this song so very much, it just totally sets my teeth on edge…

  2. 2
    Doctor Casino on 19 Oct 2007 #

    I love this one! One of several songs we’ll encounter that I know primarily thanks to “Sounds of the 70s” ads that used to run during Robotech reruns in the early 90s. Only in the last few months have I bothered to track down the whole song, and it really threw a curveball – from the hook you think we’re going to get some sort of “All Summer Long” type thing, a wistful but positive look back at the good old days. But when you hit “Goodbye Michelle, it’s hard to die”…I mean, what do you do with that? I agree with Tom about the weirdness of the thing – but it’s a weirdness that works, fusing the suicide ballad type of “Alone Again, Naturally” with the thick gauziness of “Crimson and Clover.” Above-average track.

  3. 3
    Marcello Carlin on 19 Oct 2007 #

    The original “Le Moribond” certainly had those factors in mind – Brel says goodbye to the other man as well as his wife and proclaims inter alia that death is preferable to boredom and that he wants everyone to dance with joy “when you put me in the hole” because let’s face it you’re going to anyway – so it’s a not-too-distant prequel or equivalent to his “Funeral Tango.” Additionally, Brel’s original recording is about four times the speed of “Seasons In The Sun” – a rapid tempo, brass-dominant march as though adding another “damn you” to the song’s fabric.

    But I will leave it to other Canadian regulars to evaluate fully the success of Can-Con’s greatest commercial triumph (at least for now). I don’t think I’ve ever heard the Pearls Before Swine version but I’d like to.

  4. 4
    Mark G on 19 Oct 2007 #

    One time, I’ll post here before Marc gets to. Unlikely, I know…

  5. 5
    jeff w on 19 Oct 2007 #

    I’ve never understood why this song has so many h8ers. (I nearly wrote ‘can’t understand why anybody would hate it’, but OK I can see why it’s not for everyone). Come on though, it’s a sublime interpretation of the song. Just the way Jacks sings “ev’ry-wHere”, emphasising the ‘h’, is a pure pop moment all its own! And don’t get me started on the arrangement…

  6. 6
    Pete on 19 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.

    This song always makes me think of poor seventies quality video and a man throwing a frisbee to a shaggy retriever-like dog. I have no idea why.

  7. 7
    Kat on 19 Oct 2007 #

    Listened to this for the first time on Youtube just now (though was fully aware that a song with this title existed). CHRIST what a dirge! Actually I dimly remember seeing this in Mum’s ’100 Easy Guitar Tunes’ songbook. His voice is like a guitar teacher actually, patiently explaining that you should be hitting the chord change in time *here* for the seventeenth time.

  8. 8
    Tom on 19 Oct 2007 #

    Pete – I’m sure I’ve seen one quoted as “We had joy we had fun we had xxxxxx on the run” – can’t remember how the rest of it goes though, it’s a hooligan song as much as a terrace one I guess.

  9. 9
    Tom on 19 Oct 2007 #

    As for the frisbee-throwing, I think this one was caned on the Golden Oldie Picture Show.

  10. 10
    Tez Burke on 19 Oct 2007 #

    A pretty awful Brel cover all round, though much more of the discredit needs to be attached to Rod McKuen’s mawkish mistranslation than to Jacks’ harmlessly anodyne voice. Once upon a time, many people considered McKuen’s own Patience Strong-esque pronunciamentos to be “poetry”, believe it or not.

    Wasn’t it Charlton Athletic who had joy, and had fun, and had Millwall on the run?

  11. 11
    Lena on 19 Oct 2007 #

    It’s one of those days; one of those rare days when we are told we can play quietly in class and yes even bring music – there is school today, but not school as usual. The girls bring girly things, dolls and coloring books, the boys bring hockey cards. A big boxy record player sits by the teacher. A single is put on: “Seasons in the Sun” by Terry Jacks (not that I knew his name at the time). Even if the sun wasn’t shining, the song brings the sun and summer to life. We don’t get the main lines to do with death, though the singer sure has a sad voice, in a pretty way. We are all seven years old, after all.

    As was Kurt Cobain, across the continent, who loved it and somehow went out and got it. (More at Slate, but also – spoiler alert after the Nirvana section.)

    Terry Jacks’ biggest hit milked the sadness in his voice, but his voice could be creepy too – “Where Evil Grows” makes me uneasy whenever I hear it on the oldies show, as does the song about how a beautiful lady has to run and hide, on the last night of her life (I don’t know the song title). “Where Evil Grows” was covered by Canadian punk legends D.O.A. (also from Vancouver) and intended as an environmental anthem, and the other song could be a melodramatic elegy to poor Mother Earth herself. (Caring about the environment in a rather overdramatic soppy way = early 70s)

    I think as seven-year-olds “Seasons in the Sun” was all “oh it’s fall now and any minute winter’s going to arrive” – BUT we had joy, we had fun, even if it was for, what, two months? And now summer is dying into autumn and it’s gone too soon. But the song doesn’t seem to mind. This is how life is, and summer will come back again. Maybe not for the singer, but it will come back. In a country where the summers are so short (in general), a song like this makes total sense to kids, though I imagine kids everywhere loved it.

    If you dislike the song, then consider it Canada’s revenge on a world that wouldn’t recognize its music – I don’t know if Anne Murray, Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young, The Band, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell etc. had singles out in the UK, but they never got to #1. This did…

  12. 12
    mike on 19 Oct 2007 #

    As far as I was concerned at the time, this song was The Enemy Of Pop, and part of a wave of soppy dirges (Everyday, Remember Me This Way, Emma, The Air That I Breathe, You Are Everything… and hell, even Barry Blue had forsaken me with the drippy School Love) that made me instantly nostalgic for the good old days of glam. My first ever “The Charts Aren’t What They Used To Be” moment, no less.

    Round about the same time, a well-meaning friend of the family bought me a paperback collection of Rod McKuen’s poetry back from the States. Eww, so not me. Rightly or wrongly, I still associate his work with that whole ghastly wave of pseudo-deep gift-shop blank verse, invariably all in lower case, that you could pick up in pamphlet form, somewhere between the Snoopy key fobs and the pot-pourri. (Leonard Nimoy was a particular star in this field, by the way.)

    Best of all, you could actually send off for customised pamphlets of this stuff, into which various personalised details could be inserted. (“oh DAVE / your BROWN eyes are deep like the ocean / i knew you were for me / when our souls first entwined / that sparkling starlit night / at TOP RANK HEMEL HEMPSTEAD / etc etc”)

    Maybe I was a little harsh?

  13. 13
    Tom on 19 Oct 2007 #

    I don’t think these lyrics are particularly good btw, though I’ve not been lucky enough to read any of Rod McKuen’s other work.

    Meanwhile – look who it is on the title bar! Thanks Steve.

  14. 14
    mike on 19 Oct 2007 #

    Oh, happy dawn! :-)

  15. 15
    Steve on 19 Oct 2007 #

    So massive they’re on John McCain’s iPod AND obscuring the caption text.

  16. 16
    Marcello Carlin on 19 Oct 2007 #

    Bit of a SPOILER that banner, chaps!

    Mike must surely have heard McKuen’s recording of “Eros.” Also I liked the way he conned Sinatra into making an album of gay songs (A Man Alone).

  17. 17
    Tom on 19 Oct 2007 #

    We’re not remotely suggesting that the band on the title bar are about to make an appearance Marcello – merely that they seem to sum up the pop of the mid 70s quite well. And let that be the final word on the matter for today :)

  18. 18
    Lena on 19 Oct 2007 #

    There’s a great version of “Seasons in the Sun” on The Squirrels’ homepage. Total greatness.

  19. 19
    Marcello Carlin on 19 Oct 2007 #

    I’ll check that one out later!

    BTW, Number Two Watch: ’twas the aforementioned Adam Ant/Rachel Stevens-inspiring “The Cat Crept In” by Mud.

  20. 20
    Mark G on 19 Oct 2007 #

    Hooligans recall:

    We had joy we had fun
    we had arsenal on the run
    but the fun did not last
    cuz the bastards ran too fast.

  21. 21
    Mark G on 19 Oct 2007 #

    Rod McKuen?

    “I’m a mummy” as covered by The Fall.

  22. 22
    mike on 19 Oct 2007 #

    Oh God, Rod McKuen’s “Eros”, how could I forget that one? (It’s on the Jon Savage Queer Noises comp.) It’s all a bit “mine is a twilight world”, but undeniably effective, and clearly penned from personal experience. Cast in a certain light, and given McKuen’s bisexuality, “Seasons” could almost be read as an eerie premonition of… but then again, let’s not.

  23. 23
    Rosie on 19 Oct 2007 #

    Aaaaaarrrrrrrggghhhh! I hoped to get in first on this one (and at least before Marcello) and I missed the cue!

    It’s not entirely clear what the protagonist of Jacques Brel’s Le Moribond is dying of. (It might have something to do with Antoine, whom he didn’t much care for.) What is clear is that Brel’s protagonist is not going gentle into that good night, that he’s lived life to the full, got on with most people (except Antoine, but including the priest even if they didn’t tread the same path), and that the terrace-ready chorus exhorts his friends to celebrate his life and not mourn his death:

    Je veux qu’on rit
    Je veux qu’on danse
    Je veux qu’on s’amuse comme des fous

    (I find it unutterably depressing that all English people learn Frech at school and so few can be arsed to speak it afterwards. All the same, this is, roughly, “I want you all to laugh, I want you all to dance, I want you all to act the fool [when it’s time to put me in the hole]”)

    Brel’s chanson is upbeat, affirming, and not in the least sentimental. After all, death is the one thing that is certain in life, and the real point is to make the most of one’s time. On the other hand, Jacks’s/McKuen’s version (it’s not possible to call it a translation) is full of the kind of nauseating sentimentality that the anglo-saxon world seems to be so adept at.

    Jacques Brel has a station on the Brussels Metro named after him. I can’t imagine anywhere having a station called Terry Jacks, or Rod McKuen, can you?

    In the past I’ve mentioned that one reason for me giving a 10 is where an already good song is given something extra special in the performance. Following much the same reasoning, my 1 would be a perfectly good song transformed into an appallingly bad one. I love Le Moribond as I love most Brel, and I hate this record with a vengeance. I’m only sorry that Tom’s scoring system doesn’t allow for a 0. Quite the worst so far, for me.

    Oh, and Lena, my collection is stuffed with Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, The Band and Neil Young (if not the others you name). So what did I do to deserve Terry bloody Jacks?

  24. 24
    Matthew H on 19 Oct 2007 #

    I wouldn’t want to lower the tone, but… ah well:

    We had joy we had fun,
    Flicking bogies at the sun;
    When the sun got too hot…

    You can probably guess the rest. Just a North London playground thing, maybe.

  25. 25
    Erithian on 19 Oct 2007 #

    It’s possibly best if you don’t spend too much time comparing this to Brel – it’s taken the tune and the theme, yes, but turned the lyric around so much that it’s almost a different song entirely. And it has to be said that it’s a gorgeous pop production, and a suitably massive hit. Wasn’t there a particularly weird dance involved with this, a kind of forerunner of the “Oops Upside Your Head” rowing thing?

    Lena and others discussing Canadian bands – we weren’t too far away, later that same year, from having a number one from the poptastic Bachman Turner Overdrive… mate!

    Mike – oddly enough I had a “The Charts Aren’t What They Used To Be” moment around that time with the equally dirge-like “Rock’n’Roll Suicide”. I guess you had to hear it in context.

  26. 26
    My name is Kenny on 19 Oct 2007 #

    Unjustifiable. The worst song ever recorded. Tom’s entry reads like complete gibberish to me; I literally disagree with every line in this review. Tom lives in an alternate universe; I have nothing in common with him.

  27. 27
    Rosie on 19 Oct 2007 #

    By the way, I did say in the previous thread that we were about to discuss a good death song, if only obliquely. The good one is Jacques Brel’s; this one lousy, and I’m sorry Erithian, it would be lousy anyway but it’s impossible for me not to compare it with Le Moribond and in comparison it’s not only lousy but a desecration.

  28. 28
    intothefireuk on 19 Oct 2007 #

    Not being privvy, at the time, to the Brel original (in fact I only heard Le Moribund a couple of years ago) I had to judge Jacks song only on its own merit. I wasn’t particularly fond of the sing-songy chorus which was easily adapted for nefarious uses such as :-
    ‘we had joy, we had fun, we stuck fingers up our ****’ (thanks West London massive). I didnt like the mawkish nature of the verses. But, I did like Jacks voice, the production, the twangy guitar and that indefinable quality that you can’t quite put your finger on. So I developed a soft spot for the record which was further softened by the fact that I discovered Bowie, who I was mad on at the time, had also released a Brel song, ‘Amsterdam’ as the flip of Sorrow. He’d also played ‘My Death’ live. So Brel became a familiar name to me. Further enhanced by finding Scott Walkers recordings. Which, of course, leads us to Jacks next hit. Again, he used another Brel song, ‘If You Go Away’ and tinkered with it. Severely edited and knocked into a more straightforward pop format it triggered a similar reaction in me to Seasons.

    Listening to Seasons now, post Le Moribund, I actually like it a little more. Brel’s songs do lend themselves to interpretation, and this was Mr Jacks own (even with McKuens dodgy lyrics). Listen to The Poppy Family and you’ll see where he’s coming from – or just call it ‘slightly sad pop’.

  29. 29
    Marcello Carlin on 20 Oct 2007 #

    I think you’ll find that “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” only made number two here.

  30. 30
    Caledonianne on 20 Oct 2007 #

    I don’t know whether, before I joined your happy band, you discussed a perfect loo book from a couple of years ago – “I hate myself and want to die: the 52 most depressing songs you’ve ever heard”? Naturally about half of them are on my Ipod, but that’s just me.

    “Seasons” is the lead entry in the “Perfect Storm” category – ” the absolute most depressing….. when songwriters, attempting to create an emotionally affecting song, swing for the catharsis fence, but end up fouling into the grandstand, wiping out 1,000 nuns and orphans. There’s a complete cluelessness to perfect storms, with the perpetrator completely unaware of the catastrophe that’s being unleashed” (Actually that’s nonsense, one of his Perfect Storms is Harry Chapin’s “The Shortest Story”, and Chapin knew EXACTLY what he was doing).

    If anyone’s interested I could post the entry in full.

1 2 All

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)

If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)


Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page