Le Moribond was famously turned into Seasons in the Sun by lyricist Rod McKuen, and recorded to huge success by the Kingston Trio, Terry Jacks and later Westlife. Anyone who’s studied the original lyric about the confessions of a dying man and compared them with the tirelessly cheerful, sing-songy Anglophone version will know it’s less a translation than it is an abomination (“I want them to dance when it’s time to put me in the hole” becomes “We’ll have joy, we’ll have fun, we’ll have seasons in the sun”). Similarly some of the power of Ne Me Quitte Pas is lost in translation, but that never stopped Frank Sinatra, Dusty Springfield, Glen Campbell, Shirley Bassey, Emiliana Torrini, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Nana Mouskouri and so on, recording it in English. If You Go Away – the English title – is conditional of some future whim from the objet de désir, whereas “do not leave me” – a more accurate translation – is very much an expression of fear of imminent desertion. Brel’s original, inspired by his mistress Zizou, is more cloyingly intense when compared to other variants, almost embarrassingly so at times. Marc Almond, who felt the McKuen lyric wasn’t accurate enough, had it translated again when he recorded his version; he said of the original that it was “a pleading, desperate song – voyeuristic, sexual and sinister”. It may have been recorded hundreds of times in different languages, it may even be Brel’s best known song because of all the versions out there, but nobody sings it more truly than the man who wrote it.
10 of the best