Puneet Varma (Editor)

Seasons in the Sun

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February 22, 1961





"Seasons in the Sun" is an English-language adaptation of the song "Le Moribond" by Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel with lyrics by American singer-poet Rod McKuen. It became a worldwide hit in 1974 for Canadian singer Terry Jacks and became a Christmas Number 1 in 1999 for Westlife. Jacks's version is one of the fewer than forty all-time singles to have sold 10 million copies worldwide.



The song is a dying protagonist's farewell to relatives and friends. The protagonist mentions how hard it will be to die now that the spring season has arrived (historically, spring is portrayed as the season of new life).

Original version

The original French-language song is a sardonic ballad, in which the speaker gives backhanded farewells to his adulterous wife and her lover and the priest he disagreed with while sarcastically expressing his wish that there should be singing and dancing when he is buried.

This is an English translation of the original final verse by Jacques Brel:

Good-bye, my wife, I loved you well Good-bye, my wife, I loved you well, you know, But I'm taking the train for the Good Lord, I'm taking the train before yours But you take whatever train you can; Goodbye, my wife, I'm going to die, It's hard to die in springtime, you know, But I'm leaving for the flowers with my eyes closed, my wife, Because I closed them so often, I know you will take care of my soul.

Rod McKuen version

Rod McKuen, in his translation, attempted to retain the sarcastic tone of the original French song. The last verse in McKuen's three verse freehand rendering retains Brel's reference to the wife's infidelity but with a different sensibility:

Adieu, Françoise, my trusted wife; Without you I'd have had a lonely life. You cheated lots of times but then, Adieu, Françoise, it's hard to die When all the birds are singing in the sky. Now that spring is in the air

Terry Jacks version

Terry Jacks modified the McKuen translation to make the song more positive and sentimental. In each verse, the protagonist bids farewell to someone important in his life:

  • The first verse refers to "a trusted friend" that he had known since he was "9 or 10". The original specifically names the friend as "Émile", which Jacks's versions does not.
  • The second verse refers to the protagonist's father (who unsuccessfully tried to warn him of his lifestyle); this verse differed from the original as it was sung in a manner which downplayed the original's bitter tone of regret.
  • The third verse refers to "Michelle, my little one" (implied to be his daughter, who will now grow up without her father). This verse completely replaced the third and fourth verses referring to infidelity in the French original.
  • Terry Jacks's new third verse reads:

    Goodbye, Michelle, my little one; You gave me love and helped me find the sun, And every time that I was down Goodbye, Michelle, it's hard to die When all the birds are singing in the sky; Now that the spring is in the air,

    Terry Jacks recording

    Terry Jacks recorded "Seasons in the Sun" in Vancouver in 1973 with his then-wife Susan Jacks. They made the decision to record the song when The Beach Boys, who had recorded a version with Terry Jacks producing, decided to abandon their recording.

    Jacks released his version as a single in 1973 on his own label, Goldfish Records. "Put the Bone In", an original composition about burying a deceased pet dog, was included as the B-side. The single soon topped the record charts in the U.S. (where it was released on Bell Records), in Canada, and the UK, selling over 14 million copies worldwide.

    Jacks's version was released in the United States in December 1973, and made the Billboard Hot 100 a month later. On March 2, 1974, the song began a three-week run at No. 1 atop the Hot 100, and remained in the top 40 until almost Memorial Day weekend. Jacks's version also spent one week on the Easy Listening charts. Billboard ranked it as the No. 2 song for 1974. Although he released several other singles that were moderately successful in Canada, "Seasons in the Sun" would become Jacks's only major solo hit in the United States. In Canada, the single (Gold Fish GF 100) reached #1 on the RPM Magazine charts January 26, 1974, and remained there 4 weeks.

    Though the song enjoyed contemporary success, modern criticism has tended to be more critical of Jacks's overly sentimentalized rewriting of the original song. Jacks's version is commonly held up as an example of bad music, having been called one of the worst pop songs ever recorded, and ranking number five on a CNN poll in 2006.

    Westlife recording

    Irish boy band Westlife covered "Seasons in the Sun" for their self-titled debut album Westlife (1999). It was released on December 19, 1999 as a double A-side with a cover of ABBA's "I Have a Dream" and became the 1999 Christmas number one. It has sold over 650,000 copies in UK so far.

    Other versions

    There have been numerous cover versions of the song. Before Jacks popularized the song, earlier recordings had been released by The Kingston Trio, with the first cover version of McKuen's translation in 1963, and the British band The Fortunes in 1968.

    Generally, English-language versions since the Terry Jacks version was released have used his lyrics for the song.

    Swedish dansband Vikingarna covered the song in Swedish in 1974, as "Sommar varje dag" on the album Här kommer Vikingarna. The song has also been covered by Andy Williams, The Beach Boys, Nana Mouskouri, The Fortunes, Bad Religion, Too Much Joy, the Squirrels, Spell, Black Box Recorder, Nirvana, Indochine, Karel Gott (Léta prázdnin), Klaus Hoffmann (in German), Pearls Before Swine, Alcazar, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Second Run, The Others, Television Personalities, and Gob featuring blink-182.

    In 1993, Nirvana recorded an informal version of the song which was never intended for release, but was eventually included on the DVD portion of their 2004 box-set With the Lights Out. Nirvana's lead singer, Kurt Cobain, would often reference the song in interviews, mentioning the fact that it made him cry as a child.

    Another cover version, by Bobby Wright (son of Johnnie Wright and Kitty Wells), reached the Top 40 of the Billboard magazine Hot Country Singles chart in 1974.

    The Manchester-based Coachmen's version was recorded at EMI's Abbey Road Studios in July 1966 and released on Columbia DB8057 in November 1966.

    Spanish versions are entitled 'Epocas de Sol, Estaciones en el Sol, or Etapas de mi Vida.

    There is a German version called Adieu Emile by Klaus Hoffmann published in 1975. The translated lyrics are very close to the French ones but the melody is slightly altered and the whole song has a 3/4 beat.

    Italian singer/songwriter Roberto Vecchioni recorded an Italian version called "Stagioni nel sole" for his 2005 acoustic, jazz-influenced live album Il Contastorie. The title of his version is a literal translation of "Seasons in the Sun", but both the lyrics (rewritten by Vecchioni himself) and the musical structure of Vecchioni's version are much closer to Jacques Brel's original (including a vague allusion to the protagonist's wife being unfaithful) than to the Jacks/McKuen version. The accompaniment of this rendition, played on acoustic guitar, piano and double bass (with no drums) is march-like, similar to Brel's, and pointedly un-romantic.

    A second French-language version, Adieu la Vie, Adieu Soleil, was recorded in 1974 by Quebec musician Jacques Amar; this version is the Québécois adaptation of Terry Jacks' version.

    Croatian singer-songwriter Arsen Dedić recorded a Croatian version of the song in 1983 under the title Pjesma umirućeg. Dedić's lyrics draw more heavily on McKuen's English translation.

    The band Beirut has covered "Le Moribond" live on a number of occasions. A version performed for KEXP was recorded along with "My Family's Role in the World Revolution" for the third track on the Elephant Gun EP. Beirut performs a cover that is quite faithful to the original Jacques Brel version, maintaining the French lyrics and the marching up-beat tempo.

    The Finnish schlager singer Arto Sotavalta have recorded a Finnish version of the song called Päivät kuin unta (Eng. Days like dreams). The Finnish translation is very similar to the English text.

    The Vietnamese version, called "Những mùa nắng đẹp" was translated by musician Pham Duy. The translated lyrics are quite similar to the English ones. A number of Vietnamese singers have covered this version.

    Swedish Eurodance group Alcazar covered this song for their debut album Casino.

    British musician Damon Albarn recorded an acoustic version of this song for a BBC Radio 2 show with Dermot O'Leary.

    Parodies and alternate lyrics

    The 1993 song "Twice My Age" by Shabba Ranks uses the melody of "Seasons in the Sun" with a different set of lyrics. Sean Kingston covered "Twice My Age" on his 2011 mixtape King of Kingz.

    In 2002 a satirical version of the song lambasting the Canadian government's ageing Sea King helicopters was leaked to Esprit de Corps magazine. The lyrics were published in the Ottawa Citizen on November 20, 2002.

    Another spoof was recorded in 2006 by Dundee United fan under the alias 'Terry Jack'. This version mocks the possible demise of Dundee United's archrivals, Dundee FC who were suffering severe financial difficulties at the time. This version contains swearing and adult themes.


    Seasons in the Sun Wikipedia

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