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Mary Hopkin (born 3 May 1950), credited on some recordings as Mary Visconti (from her marriage to Tony Visconti), is a Welsh folk singer best known for her 1968 UK number one single “Those Were the Days“. She was one of the first to sign to the Beatles’ Apple label.
Early singing career
Hopkin was born into a Welsh-speaking family in Pontardawe, Wales; her father worked as a housing officer. She took weekly singing lessons as a child and began her musical career as a folk singer with a local group called the Selby Set and Mary. She released an EP of Welsh-language songs for a local record label called Cambrian, based in her hometown, before signing to Apple Records, owned by the Beatles, one of the first artists to do so. The model Twiggy saw her winning the British ITV television talent show Opportunity Knocks and recommended her to Paul McCartney.
Her debut single, “Those Were the Days“, produced by McCartney, was released in the UK on 30 August 1968. Despite competition from well-established star Sandie Shaw, whose single was also released that year, Hopkin’s version became a number 1 hit on the UK Singles Chart. It reached number 2 on the US Billboard Hot 100, where for three weeks it was held out of the top spot by the Beatles’ “Hey Jude“, and spent two weeks at number 1 on Canada’s RPM singles chart. It sold over 1,500,000 copies in the United States alone, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA. Global sales topped 8,000,000.
On 2 October 1968, Hopkin appeared at St Paul’s Cathedral in London for the Pop Experience, where she sang “Morning of My Life”, “Turn Turn Turn” and “Plaisir d’amour”. In December that year, the NME music magazine reported that Hopkin was considering a lead acting role in Stanley Baker’s forthcoming film, The Rape of the Fair Country. That particular project did not materialise but Hopkin did sing the title songs to two of Baker’s films, Where’s Jack? and Kidnapped.
On 21 February 1969, Hopkin’s debut album, Postcard, again produced by McCartney, was released. It included covers of three songs from Donovan, who also played on the album, and one song each from George Martin and Harry Nilsson. It reached number 3 on the UK Albums Chart, although it proved to be her solitary success in that chart. In the United States, Postcard reached number 28 on the Billboard albums chart.
The next single was “Goodbye“, written by McCartney (credited to Lennon–McCartney), and released on 26 March 1969. It reached number 2 on the UK Singles Chart, where it was kept from the top by the Beatles’ “Get Back“, number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, and number 15 on the RPM chart in Canada. Hopkin said she interpreted “Goodbye” as McCartney pledging to stop “micromanaging” her career, since she was uncomfortable with his positioning of her as a pop chanteuse. She also expressed dissatisfaction with her manager at this time, Terry Doran.
Hopkin’s third single, “Temma Harbour”, was a re-arrangement of a Philamore Lincoln song. Her first single not to be produced by McCartney, it was released on 16 January 1970 and peaked at number 6 in the UK and number 42 in Canada. In the US, “Temma Harbour” reached number 39 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 4 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart. Along with Donovan and Billy Preston, Hopkin was one of the chorus singers on the Radha Krishna Temple’s 1970 hit single “Govinda”, produced by George Harrison for Apple Records.
In March 1970, Hopkin represented the United Kingdom in the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest, achieving second place with “Knock, Knock Who’s There?” Although she gave a confident performance and sang in a crystal-clear voice, and despite being the pre-contest favourite, Hopkin lost to “All Kinds of Everything”, performed by Irish singer Dana. Produced by Mickie Most, “Knock, Knock Who’s There?” was released as a single on 23 March 1970 and peaked at number 2 in the UK. It was a worldwide hit, selling over a million copies.
Hopkin’s final big hit was “Think About Your Children”, released in October 1970, which reached number 19 in the UK. Hopkin has expressed dissatisfaction with the material produced by Most, who had taken over as her producer with “Temma Harbour”. After appearing in Eurovision, Hopkin wanted to return to her folk-music roots.
At McCartney’s insistence, Hopkin had recorded a cover of “Que Sera, Sera” in August 1969. Hopkin had no wish to record the song and refused to have the single released in Britain. Initially issued in France in September 1969, it was released in North America in June 1970. The single peaked at number 77 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 47 in Canada, and was also a hit in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Zimbabwe.
The last single to hit the British charts was “Let My Name Be Sorrow”, which reached number 46 in July 1971. It was produced by Tony Visconti, whom Hopkin had met earlier for a Welsh recording of “Sparrow”. “Let My Name Be Sorrow” was a hit in Poland in January 1972.
Hopkin’s second album, Earth Song, Ocean Song, was released by Apple on 1 October 1971. The album was produced by Visconti and included cover versions of songs written by Cat Stevens, Gallagher and Lyle and Ralph McTell, as well as the two title tracks by Liz Thorsen. Hopkin felt it was the album she had always wanted to make, so, coinciding with her marriage to Visconti and with little left to prove, she left the music scene. The album’s single, “Water, Paper and Clay”, missed the Billboard Hot 100. It was Hopkin’s last single for Apple Records, which she left in March 1972. […]
Last updated on October 13, 2019