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Seasons in the Sun – Terry Jacks

As a little kid, I thought “Seasons in the Sun” was the saddest song ever written. It starts with these attention-grabbing lyrics:
Goodbye to you/My trusted friend
We’ve known each other/since we were nine or ten
Together we’ve climbed hills and trees
Learned of love and A-B-C’s
Skinned our hearts and skinned our knees

Ok, it’s a cute song about kids going away to school. Or changing elementary schools. Or leaving for summer camp.

But then things suddenly take a turn for the worse:

Goodbye my friend it’s hard to die
When all the birds are singing in the sky

Hard to die? Someone is dying? The singer is dying? What is this peppy little pop song trying to say?

And just like that you are glued to the radio (or iPod) as you listen to this post-pubescent passion play.

And in the midst of all this sadness comes this earworm-worthy chorus that you hear once and can sing the rest of your life:
We had joy, we had fun
We had seasons in the sun
But the hills that we climbed
Were just seasons out of time

Joy. Fun. Seasons in the sun. What a great song for a funeral. But that’s what “Seasons in the Sun” is all about; the impdending death of the singer from some unspoken illness.

As a kid I immediately wondered: is the singer really going to die? Is the singer of this song already dead?

Let me quickly dispel some rumors and reveal the meaning of “Seasons in the Sun.”
1. Terry Jacks did not write “Seasons in the Sun”
2. Terry Jacks did not die soon after singing “Seasons in the Sun”

But here’s where things get interesting: the writer of the song, Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel, did die of cancer in 1978 after enjoying many seasons in the sun.

So how did Terry Jacks end up recording a song written by a Belgian songwriter in 1961 and turn it into a monster Billboard hit in 1973? Dumb luck, we think.

You see, Jacks heard a recording of the song by The Kingston Trio from the 1960s. He loved the song but never recorded it until The Beach Boys started an ill-fated recording of “Seasons in the Sun” that they never finished. So Jacks revised the lyrics, recorded the song and released it on his own label.

That early 1970s “indie” recording ultimately sold six million records worldwide and earned Terry Jacks the #1 position on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks in 1974. That makes Jacks and “Seasons in the Sun” a one-hit wonder. And this song lives on in our minds as one of the saddest yet happiest songs about death ever to grace the top of the Billboard charts.

What’s it all about? We’re not exactly sure. But we think it has something to do with appreciating what you have while you have it. Or something like that.

Click to read the “Seasons in the Sun” lyrics

Written by

I'm an obsessive music collector, cataloger, commenter and trivia nut. Sometimes I'm even a listener. One-hit wonders have always been a guilty pleasure.

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6 Responses to "Seasons in the Sun – Terry Jacks"

  1. MarkSpizer says:

    great post as usual!

  2. Joshua says:

    This song also turned out to be a major influence on a young boy growing up in Seattle at the time that you may have heard of, by the name of Kurt Cobain.

  3. joshua michaels says:

    The remix cover that nirvana mad is pretty funny when especially when he says “I don’t know all these words, I have brought 3 turds. With my bb gun I would kill birds.”

  4. John Weriuk says:

    You’ve got the story partially correct. American poet Rod McKuen translated the lyrics to English and modified them in the process. Terry Jacks made some further changes to the lyrics and gets, I believe, 1/4 of the songwriter’s royalties. McKuen gets 1/4 and 1/2 of the royalties go to Jacques Brel’s estate.

    Many people find the song melodramatic to the point of sappiness, but is one of a small number of songs that have achieved over 10 million certified airplays. That’s an achievement and it made Terry Jacks independently wealthy. I’ve never heard anything about Rod McKuen’s response to all the money it has earned him.

  5. grandude says:

    There was a rumor in ’74 that Terry Jacks had committed suicide after recording the song! I was still in high school at the time, so I don’t know if the rumor was more widespread than just among high school students or nationwide. I never questioned the story. And with no way to check into it, plus no other songs by Jacks, I always accepted it as a tragic fact. Then in 2010 while in China, a friend told me it was one of her favorite songs! Well, I found out it was the Westlife 1999 cover of Jacks’ version that was popular there. So I told her about the ’74 story of Jacks. I decided to search the internet after, and was happy (really happy) to find out it was a rumor. In fact, today I found out he’s still active in music business, currently working on a project. If not for the rumor, I might’ve forgotten the song and Terry Jacks soon after the radio stations stopped the heavy rotation.

  6. Michael Waterman says:

    Yes, the Terry Jacks suicide (or cancer diagnosis) was a popular rumor of the 1970s. I remember hearing it and was also relieved to discover in the 1980s that it was merely rumor. Thanks for sharing your story.

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