Sometimes something gets lost in the translation. Then again, with the law of conservation of energy in play, something else may be gained.
Terry Jacks took “Seasons In The Sun” to #1 in 1974, and it went on to become one of only a handful of singles to sell over 10 million copies. However, he didn’t write the song. Nor was he the first to cover it. Hell, if things had gone according to plan, he never even would have recorded it.
To the beginning!
Jacques Brel composed and released the original version — én français — in 1961, with the title “Le Moribond” (“The Dying Man”). It was jazzy, uptempo, and sung with a smile. Brel’s sarcastic, sardonic, and darkly humorous lyrics about an old, dying man’s cheating wife and how everyone should party after his death were then completely transformed when translated (and I use that word loosely — re-imagined might be better) into English by populist poet Rod McKuen. While the song did lose a bit of its bite, it gained a pretty catchy chorus.
The Kingston Trio recorded the first cover in 1964 (sounding exactly like you would expect a version by The Kingston Trio to sound). Five years later, UK group The Fortunes recorded a poppy, Beatlesque version. Neither of these proved anything close to a hit. At this point, the song may have remained an obscurity to the world at large, but let’s fast forward a few summers.
When The Beach Boys asked Terry Jacks to work with them in 1972, he brought his own arrangement of “Seasons In the Sun” with him, thinking it would perfectly suit the group. Which it certainly would have — had they actually completed their recording. With The Beach Boys abandoning their version, Jacks decided to record “Seasons In The Sun” himself. A close friend had recently died quite suddenly of leukemia and Jacks thought the song would serve as a fitting tribute. He rewrote portions to make it even more universal and turned it into a worldwide smash, touching the hearts of millions.
Critics often point to “Seasons In The Sun” as one of the nadirs of 70s music, lachrymose and sentimental. Pish posh. I defy the army of naysayers and their negativism. I am Spartacus.
I mean, the stars we could reach were just starfish on the beach, man! Come on ! What are you? Robots?
As long as we’re here, I may as well detail a little more of the Terry Jacks story (for I sincerely doubt I’ll ever return to him). “Seasons In The Sun” wasn’t, in fact, his first time at the big dance. As a member of The Poppy Family with his then-wife Susan, Jacks and company scored a massive hit in 1969 with “Which Way You Goin’ Billy?” (a song which certainly qualifies as a front-runner for worst of the 60s…Billy). However, they also recorded one of my favorite country-rock songs, “A Good Thing Lost” (please ignore the truly bizarre, non-sequitur of a video).