“We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun, but the wine and the song, like the seasons have all gone…”
Springtime, 1974: Everyone my age listened to AM pop radio, mainly WLS in Chicago. As soon as a song would become popular, they would play it TO DEATH. “Seasons in the Sun” by Canadian Terry Jacks was certainly no exception. It maintained the number one spot on the Billboard Pop Chart for three weeks starting on March 2nd. Everytime I hear that heavy guitar at the beginning, I immediately hear the song on a 4 inch AM radio speaker, and hear John “Records” Landecker talking over the intro.
Today, Jacks celebrates his 67th birthday. He was a mere lad of 29 when he and his wife, Susan (together they had a US hit in 1969 as The Poppy Family with the song “Which Way You Goin’, Billy?”) decided to take the tune that Rod McKuen had adapted in 1965 from Frenchman Jacques Brel, who wrote it as “Le Moribond”. I don’t remember much high school French (Miss Matyas was hot, so I probably paid more attention to what she was wearing), but as near as I can figure, “Le Moribond” means “The Morbid Song”. It’s basically a tune about a guy dying and saying goodbye to his wife. Puh-lease! How maudlin can you get?
However, the “sad song” was the in-thing during the mid-70’s. Besides “Seasons in the Sun”, there was “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero”, a song about a guy who joins the army, volunteers for a dangerous mission, and gets whacked by the enemy as a result. There was also “Rocky”, which had someone dying in it, although I can’t really remember who it was. And there was even a remake of “Last Kiss”, a song that came out during the original teen tragedy period of the early 1960’s. You wanna talk depressing, check out these tragic hits: “Teen Angel”, “Tell Laura I Love Her”, “Leader of the Pack”, “Patches”…someone died in every one of them, which led to some great parody songs, like “Leader of the Laundry Mat” (“My folks were always putting her down…because her laundry came back brown”) and the immortal “I Want My Baby Back” by Jimmy Cross, which is sick, sick, sick…and sensational. He keeps talking through the song about how he wants his baby back, and during the second-to-last verse, you can hear someone digging, the creak of a casket door, then a muffled voice singing “I got my baby back…I got my baby back…” Genius.
NOTE: We even made up a parody of “Seasons in the Sun”: “We had joy, we had grass, we had no cops on our ass, and the joint that we toked was the best I’d ever smoked…”
Back to the subject at hand. I was never a fan of “Seasons in the Sun,” but I kind of respect it for a couple of reasons:
Reason #1: Before Jacks recorded the song himself, he and his afore-mentioned wife went to California and presented it to the Beach Boys to record, which, I think, would have sounded pretty cool. At this point in time, the boys had just released their “Holland” album, which still had a little involvement from Brian Wilson, but showcased brother Carl Wilson as a great songwriter and singer. Even though the song remains unreleased, there is a rough version of it out there in bootleg land. It sounds like it might be Carl singing it, but it’s very high and kind of uninspired. If Carl dropped it a key and tried again, it may have sounded pretty cool.
Reason #2: I read somewhere along the line that legendary guitarist Link Wray actually played the heavy vibrato guitar at the beginning of Jacks’ version. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Link Wray, he’s about the coolest guitarist that ever lived (he died in 2005). With his band, the Wraymen, he recorded an instrumental in 1957 called “Rumble”, a tune that he wrote on the spot at a dance where he was performing as they watched a fight break out in front of the stage. When he recorded the song, he wanted a fuzzy sound to his guitar, so he took a pencil and poked a bunch of holes in the speaker. Link had a really cool look, too.
On top of all that, the song has been covered many times since Jacks’ hit in 1974, including a version by Nirvana. Yeah, Nirvana.
So there you have it. Happy birthday, Terry Jacks. I’m sure you would like to be remembered for something other than a maudlin AM pop tune, but I’ll bet it earned you a comfortable lifestyle. Plus you got to hang out with the Beach Boys and Link Wray.
That would be good enough for me.