anadian-born Terry Jacks grew up admiring American rock'n'roll, especially the Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley, and Buddy Holly. "Buddy was the greatest," Terry recalled. "I used to have a job delivering papers in the morning, and all the money I earned was spent buying Buddy Holly 45s."
Terry began his own career as rhythm guitarist and lead singer for a Vancouver group, the Chessmen. They recorded extensively in Nashville and Los Angeles, but never managed to have a hit. "It was frustrating," said Terry, "and I had to find out why. So whenever I could, I'd hitchhike down to L.A. and study the record trade."
One night, while playing with the Chessmen on Canadian TV's "Music Hop," Terry met a young singer named Susan Pesklevits, who was then making her national debut. The two decided to team up, personally and professionally, as a husband-and-wife duo: the Poppy Family. Susan was lead vocalist, while Terry composed, arranged, and produced all their material. One tune, written quickly to fill up a B side, became a huge Canadian hit early in 1970. American listeners whose radios picked up the song from over the Canadian border demanded its U.S. release. The London label obliged, and before long, "Which Way You Goin' Billy?" reached number two in the States. In Canada, the tune was voted "Song of the Year" by RPM, the Canadian music industry trade paper.
The Poppy Family had one other Top 30 single, "That's Where I Went Wrong," issued later in 1970. After that, everything seemed to go wrong. "We stayed together as long as possible," Terry explained, "but it got to be too much for us. I liked making records, and sometimes singing live, but hated to go on the road. Susan enjoyed traveling." By mid-1973, both their marriage and their act had broken up.
Terry continued to write and produce for Susan, but was then open to outside projects. The Beach Boys called and asked him to supervise one of their sessions. In the studio, he had them cut one of his favorite tunes, "Seasons in the Sun." When the group refused to released the finished track, Terry began to consider singing the song himself.
Terry received permission, but not credit, for changing part of "Seasons in the Sun." He rewrote the last verse and rearranged the words and chords in the chorus in order to "lighten up" the song. He released it on his own label, Goldfish Records, and was amazed when it became the largest-selling single in Canadian history -- more than 285,000 copies sold in a matter of weeks. Bell's A&R vice president, Dave Carrico, heard the record, flew to Vancouver, and snapped up American rights. On February 14, 1974, it earned its first RIAA Gold Award, for sales of over a million copies. Eventually, it sold more than three million copies in the United States alone. Worldwide, the figure is over six million.
"Seasons in the Sun" is the story of a dying man, bidding farewell to loved ones who have shared his life. Shortly before Terry's recording came out, Jacques Brel retired, at the peak of his popularity. Fans around the world were stunned, but the composer would give no reason. Finally, the truth was revealed. After a quiet, six-year battle against cancer, Brel succumbed to the disease and died, on October 9, 1978.
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