I remember the record from the spring of 1974, there may be a seven inch vinyl version of it lying around somewhere, part of a job lot of records bought on eBay in the mid-Noughties after I had acquired a red portable Dansette for £40 (the seller contrived to charge me £48 for the postage and packing of the record player, sent within the United Kingdom in bubble wrap). I don’t remember ever actually playing the record, it was a miserable song.
To be honest, Terry Jacks’ Seasons in the Sun wasn’t just miserable, there were plenty of miserable songs, it was morbid. In my memories of 1974, it had seemed like a reworking of Tom Jones’ awful Green, green grass of home. Tom Jones had sung about a man waiting to be executed and Seasons in the Sun seemed to be about a similar theme. Admittedly, Seasons in the Sun has no mention of the walls of a prison cell or people coming for him, but the second stanza would suggest that these are the final words of a condemned man:
Goodbye Papa, please pray for me,
I was the black sheep of the family
You tried to teach me right from wrong
Too much wine and too much song
wonder how I got along.
Goodbye Papa, it’s hard to die
When all the birds are singing in the sky
Now that the spring is in the air
Little children everywhere
When you see them, I’ll be there.
Listening to Tom Robinson’s Sounds of the Seventies on BBC Radio 2 this afternoon, some forty-five years after Terry Jacks’ song was Number One around the world, (being one of a small number of singles to sell more than ten million copies worldwide), I discovered that Seasons in the Sun wasn’t about a condemned man at all, it was about a terminally ill man lying at home. Furthermore, the song was not an original piece of work but was a translation of Le Moribond, a song by Jacques Brel, a singer, songwriter actor and director whose work was internationally respected and whose songs had been covered by some of the greatest names in music history – including Joan Baez, David Bowie, Glen Campbell, Ray Charles, John Denver, Marlene Dietrich, Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams – oh, and Tom Jones. Brel was not a name to take lightly.
Perhaps Seasons in the Sun deserved a second hearing. I listened again to it. Brel or no Brel, it seemed as bad as it had in 1974. It was reassuring to discover that an online poll had nominated it as one of the worst songs in history – not that a singer who sold ten million copies of a record will have been worried about what people thought.