Thursday Inspiration #119 Seasons in the Sun

Respond to this challenge, by either by using the prompt word wine, or going with the above picture, or by means of the song ‘Seasons in the Sun’, or by going with another song by Terry Jacks, although Jacks never had another big hit like this, so just go with anything that you think fits, as it shouldn’t be all that difficult to find another depressing song.  It is a bit gloomy, but the self-produced single ‘Seasons in the Sun’ from the 1973 album of the same name, sold over eleven million copies worldwide, going to #1 in the US and the UK.  It went on to win two Juno Awards for best male vocalist and best contemporary/pop single and it was the best-selling single in 1975.  Terry released this on his own label, Goldfish Records, and was amazed when it became the largest-selling single in Canadian history, selling more than 285,000 copies sold in a matter of weeks.

This song is about a man who is about to die and he says his goodbyes to his loved ones, which must be heartbreaking.  The French Belgian poet-composer Jacques Brel wrote and performed this in 1961 and it was titles as ‘Le Moribond’ which translates to ‘The Dying Man’.  Originally this song was written about an old man who was dying of a broken heart, because his best friend was screwing his wife.  Brel wrote his version while he was in a whorehouse in Tangiers, and the words were quite different and done to a marching tune.  While the old man was dying of a broken heart, he was saying goodbye to his priest and his best friend and his wife Francoise, who cheated on him.  He forgave her for cheating on him with his best friend, and he admitted that without her that he would have had a lonely life.  Brel was a family man and cardboard-factory worker until his breakthrough in the 1950s.  In the clubs of Paris, he became a hipster chansonnier, a cabaret hero who was compared with Dylan, and he was an inspiration for David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, and many others.  Shortly before Terry’s recording came out, Jacques Brel retired, at the peak of his popularity.  Fans around the world were stunned, but the composer gave no reason for his retirement.  As it turned out, Brel succumbed to cancer after a quiet, six-year battle with the disease and died on October 9, 1978.

The American poet Rod McKuen translated the lyrics to English, and in 1964 The Kingston Trio released the first English-language version of the song.  Terry Jacks heard this version of the song, and that became the basis for his rendition.  Rod McKuen, being a poet didn’t just slavishly translate Brel word for word, instead he drew on the original song to create a new work.  Brel’s version of the song, was much darker, telling his good friend Emily, his priest and his wife that he was about to die, and Rod McKuen decided to lighten up the lyrics, however he did credit the writing of this song to Jacques Brel.  Terry Jacks made some significant musical changes and wrote an entirely different last verse, but didn’t get a songwriter credit, since he never claimed one.  Jacks says he didn’t think of it at the time, and never anticipated the song becoming a royalty-generating hit.

The original version is rather morbid, but Jacks had an earnest inspiration for his reworking of the song after his good friend developed leukemia, and was given just six months to live.  Sadly, his friend passed after just four months, and that made Jacks remember this song of an old man dying of a broken heart, which he liked some of the melody and felt that it had promise, so he rewrote the song about his good friend.  The Kingston Trio rewrote the chorus to include, “We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun”.  Jacks rewrote it again, taking out all the cheating-wife stuff and replacing it with uncomplicated declarations of love about his friend that just died.

The Beach Boys became friendly with Jacks, and asked him to produce a song for them, which Jacks was honored to do.  Terry played them his arrangement of ‘Seasons in the Sun’ and suggested that they record it, since he thought it would sound great with their harmonies and with Carl Wilson singing lead.  They went to work on the song together, but the Beach Boys were in a state of flux at this time.  The Beach Boys were going through all this weird stuff at the time, with Mike Love coming into the studio in a white guru suit with a girl on a watermelon fast and although this is supposed to be a healthy diet, it is known to cause bloating, flatulence and diarrhea.  Dennis Wilson was out playing around in the desert with Charles Manson, and one night he came home and found all his car windows broken.  They were trying to keep the group together and Brian Wilson the band’s troubled production genius was off in la-la land, trying to take over wanting to work on songs until they sounded perfect to him.  Other members of the band disagreed when Wilson kept trying to tinker with Jacks’ production, and Jacks eventually got sick of all the intra-band drama and it never got finished.  Brian wanted to get hold of the tape and add some things, and the engineer would have to take the tape home at night so that Brian wouldn’t get hold of it.  This went on and on, causing Jacks to almost have a nervous breakdown, because he put so much energy into this thing and the stress really got to him.  Jacks shopped the song around to some other people and then he eventually decided to record the song himself.  Al Jardine and Carl Wilson were great, and Jacks worked with Al Jardine on the backing vocals and came up with an arrangement that he used when he recorded the song.

According to Terry Jacks, a young David Foster played a bit of piano and did some engineering on this song, his specific contributions being the piano arpeggio after the “flowers everywhere” line, and doubling the bass after the “Goodbye papa, please pray for me” line.  Link Wray supposedly played the opening electric guitar riff on this song.  Jacks didn’t think this song was going to be a hit, so he never gave himself a songwriting credit, even though he could have done that.  This song about pure heartbreak, when somebody realizes that they are going to die and would rather be alive, watching and listening to “all the birds are singing in the sky.”

Before releasing this song, Terry Jacks had considerable success in his native Canada as half of the duo The Poppy Family with his wife, Susan.  Singer, songwriter, guitarist and record producer Terry Jacks was a member of the hippie generation, who joined the Vancouver, British Columbia-based band The Chessmen as both a singer and guitarist in the mid-60s.  The group had a few minor local hits before breaking up.  Jacks subsequently met singer Susan Pesklevits and formed a duo with her called The Poppy Family.  They married and she became Susan Jacks.  With the money he made from this song, Jacks purchased a boat, which he christened “Seasons in the Sun”.  He began sailing up and down the west coast of Alaska and Canada, and had some revelations along the way, becoming a Christian and participating in a quest to protect nature.  He gave up music and became an environmental activist, fighting the Canadian paper mills, which he accused of dumping toxins and destroying forests.

But the wine and the song
Like the seasons have all gone
We had joy, we had fun
We had seasons in the sun

21 thoughts on “Thursday Inspiration #119 Seasons in the Sun

  1. Seasons in the Sun was Terry Jacks’ one and only hit here in the UK. I do like the Kingston Trio’s version as it’s the first time I’ve heard it. I even like the interpretation:

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