This song is generally thought of as a bad Seventies Bubblegum tune, but it actually goes back much farther than that. The original source of the song was the French-language Jacques Brel classic “Le Moribund”, which had the same melody and the same premise (a dying man saying goodbye to the ones he loved), but with vastly superior arrangement and lyrics, not to mention a stunning performance by Brel himself. (It’s actually worth seeking out Brel’s original recording of “Le Moribund” just to see how good this song actually was before they ruined it). But even the English translation that has become so familiar and universally hated predates the Seventies hit version. A version of the song with the same English title and virtually the exact same lyrics (including the infamous line ‘But the stars we could reach/were just starfish on the beach’) was a popular Folk standard in the Sixties and was recorded by the Kingston Trio, among others. All singer Terry Jacks really did was perk up the arrangement into Bubblegum Pop territory (which completely destroyed any remaining value from Brel’s original tune) and turn the song into an inexplicably enduring mainstream Pop hit. Still, I’d argue that’s enough to justify the hatred aimed at him for this song, even if he wasn’t the only one to blame for desecrating Brel.
Verdict: For the original “Le Moribund”, good, but for all the English versions using this translation and title, unequivocally bad.