I first heard it in my elementary school music class.
Terry Jacks’s 1973 chart-topping hit, “Seasons in the Sun,” was so popular with my fourth grade class that our teacher would play it for us as a reward on good days.
Adults, however, feel differently.
For years, critics have lambasted the record, complaining that it took the original French version, which was a sarcastic and bitter farewell to everyone – including a priest and an unfaithful wife – and made it too saccharine. In a CNN public opinion poll, it was listed as one of the worst songs of all time while Slate called it, among other things, “abominable,” “impossibly maudlin,” “unforgivably mawkish,” and “an unsurpassed nadir of pop music.” The fact that it was a treat for a bunch of ten year olds is all the proof anyone that hates it needs to prove their point that it’s awful.
It’s not a surprise that snobbish critics would value an ironic French iteration over a sentimental American one, but, once again, critics completely miss the point. Slate wrote about it precisely because of its (seemingly baffling) endurance and resonance, four decades after its release and, even if no one admits it now, ten million people did buy that record. I cry every time I hear it. Even Kurt Cobain, someone not exactly known for sentimentality, loved it, admitting that it also made him cry as a child. It obviously left an impression, because Nirvana even covered it once.
It endures because the song does exactly what music is meant to do – it conjures emotion deep within the listener. I can still remember sitting in that classroom, listening to that song, and feeling almost overcome with emotion. It struck a chord with me. Although I was still a child myself, it made me feel incredible longing for the carefree childhood from which I had only recently exited.
All of it breaks me down. The opening guitar string. Jacks’s emotional delivery. The background harmonies. And especially the words. The lyrics may be sappy to some, but to me they’re both heartfelt and heartbreaking.
When Jacks begins the song, “Goodbye to you, my trusted friend,” I immediately think of my late best friend, someone that I knew from childhood and, like Jacks says, with whom I “learned of love and ABCs,” and together we “skinned our hearts and skinned our knees” more times than we could count. I wish I could have said goodbye to her.
When Jacks begins the second verse, “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,” I think of my own father and all of the times I disappointed him or failed to live up to my potential because I was far too busy pissing my life away in pursuit of fun, full of alcohol and music. I think of how far our relationship has come and how much I value and appreciate him and how I’ll never be the same once he’s gone.
When Jacks begins the final verse, “Goodbye, Michelle, my little one / You gave me love and helped me find the Sun,” I think of my daughter, who has given me incalculable amounts of love and, as Jacks says, when “I was down,” she always helps to “get my feet back on the ground.” Her life has taught me to live and love in ways I never thought possible before.
Three different verses describing three different relationships and it resonates with me far more than the majority of other songs that are considered brilliant.
Critics can mock it. The general populace can hate it. Everyone else can think it’s shit. To me, “Seasons in the Sun” is an honest window into the soul. It speaks to me in a way that very few songs do – and it has for decades.
What more could you ask for?
Christopher Pierznik’s eight books are available in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.