Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Those Were the Days

For some reason, I was recently thinking of the song "Those Were the Days," which was popular when I was a kid. As a child, I knew it was about older people being nostalgic for their youth, and I thought I understood it. But thinking of it now, I realize I couldn't fully appreciate the feeling of being older and looking back through the telescope of age. 

Musically, I knew then that it wasn't a typical pop song of the time, that it was "ethnic" in some sense or other. My vague remembrance is that I knew its sound was Russian or Eastern European; maybe someone told me that. 

Now I have a few fast facts about it, courtesy of its Wikpedia page.

  • The tune is, indeed, an early 20th century Russian song about youth, dancing, and drinking, but the English version is not a literal translation. The Russian version, whose name translates better as "By the Long Road," was recorded several times in the 1920s and used in a movie in the 1950s.
  • The English lyrics were written in the early 1960s in New York City. Gene and Francesca Raskin were part of the folk scene in Greenwich Village. Gene had grown up hearing the song. They wrote the lyrics together, though Gene copyrighted both the lyrics and music under just his name.
  • The Raskins also played each year at a club in London, where Paul McCartney often went. He tried to get several acts to record the song (the Moody Blues, imagine!), until finally when The Beatles formed Apple Records, he produced Mary Hopkin's version of the song.
  • "Those Were the Days" was the second single released on Apple Records, after "Hey Jude." It hit number one in the UK and Canada, but only made it to number two — for three weeks — in the U.S. because "Hey Jude" sat in the number-one spot for such a long time.

You can see a recorded performance of the song by Hopkin on YouTube here.



Michael Leddy said...

That orchestra does a good job of capturing the feel of the recording.

I just looked at MH’s Wikipedia page and was reminded that Paul gave her his lovely song “Goodbye.” But insisting that she record “Que Sera, Sera” — well, that’s Paul for ya.

Daughter Number Three said...

I don't think I knew Hopkin had recorded "Que Sera, Sera" (just as well!), and I barely recall "Goodbye." I remember "Temma Harbour" much more. https://youtu.be/d3o-k0ZB0pU

Looking at her Wikipedia page after your prompt (which I had not when I posted... bad!) I realize I had her last name spelled with an "s" on the end. Fixed now.

And I also learned that Hopkin is Welsh, grew up in a Welsh-speaking household, is and obviously part of the long tradition of singing in Wales.

Thanks, Michael!