The Paul McCartney Project

Those Were The Days

Written by Boris FominGene Raskin

Album This song officially appears on the Those Were The Days / Turn, Turn, Turn 7" Single.
Timeline This song has been officially released in 1968
Sessions This song has been recorded during the following sessions

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Song facts

From Wikipedia:

Those Were the Days” is a song credited to Gene Raskin, who put a new English lyric to the Russian romance song “Dorogoi dlinnoyu” (“Дорогой длинною”, literally “By the long road“), composed by Boris Fomin (1900–1948) with words by the poet Konstantin Podrevsky. It deals with reminiscence upon youth and romantic idealism.

Mary Hopkin’s 1968 debut single of “Those Were the Days“, which was produced by Paul McCartney of the Beatles, became a number one hit on the UK Singles Chart. The song also reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100, behind “Hey Jude” by the Beatles. It was number one in the very first edition of the foreign singles sales chart launched by the Centre d’Information et de Documentation du Disque.

Early history

Georgian singer Tamara Tsereteli (1900–1968) and Russian singer Alexander Vertinsky made what were probably the earliest recordings of the song, in 1925 and in 1926 respectively.

The song appears in the 1953 British/French movie Innocents in Paris, in which it was sung with its original Russian lyrics by the Russian Tzigane chanteuse Ludmila Lopato. Mary Hopkin’s 1968 recording of it with Gene Raskin’s lyric was a chart-topping hit in much of the Northern Hemisphere. On most recordings of the song, Raskin is credited as the sole writer, even though he wrote only the later English lyrics (which are not an English translation of the Russian lyrics) and not the music.

Later history

In the early 1960s Raskin, with his wife Francesca, played folk music around Greenwich Village in New York, including White Horse Tavern. Raskin, who had grown up hearing the song, wrote with his wife new English lyrics to the old Russian music and then copyrighted both music and lyrics in his own name. The Limeliters subsequently released a recording of the song on their 1962 LP Folk Matinee. The Raskins were international performers and had played London’s “Blue Angel” every year, always closing their show with the song. Paul McCartney frequented the club and being quite taken with the song he attempted to get several singers or groups (including the early Moody Blues) to record it. Failing at that, after the formation of the Beatles’ own Apple Records label, McCartney immediately recorded Mary Hopkin performing the song. He later said “I thought it was very catchy, it had something, it was a good treatment of nostalgia… (Hopkin) picked it up very easily, as if she’d known it for years.” The song was eventually recorded in over twenty languages and by many different artists, including Gene and Francesca, and Raskin was able to live very well on the royalties, buying a home in Pollensa, Mallorca, a Porsche Spyder and a sail boat.

Hopkin’s recording was produced by Paul McCartney with an arrangement by Richard Hewson and became a number-one hit on the UK Singles Chart. In the United States, Hopkin’s recording reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 (held out of the top spot for three weeks by “Hey Jude” by The Beatles) and topped the Billboard Easy Listening charts for six weeks. In the Netherlands, it topped the charts for two consecutive weeks. The Russian origin of the melody was accentuated by an instrumentation that was unusual for a top-ten pop record, including balalaika, clarinet, hammered dulcimer or cimbalom, tenor banjo and children’s chorus, giving a klezmer feel to the song. Mary Hopkin played acoustic guitar on the recording, and Paul McCartney also played acoustic guitar and possibly percussion. The cimbalom was played by Gilbert Webster. The player of the banjo is not recorded, although McCartney was known to occasionally play banjo.

McCartney also recorded Hopkin singing “Those Were The Days” in other languages for release in their respective countries:

The non-English sets of lyrics were also recorded by Dalida and Sandie Shaw, with Shaw recording the English lyrics as well.

The UK and United States recording’s B-side was Pete Seeger’s “Turn! Turn! Turn!“, which had been a United States number-one hit for The Byrds in 1965.

Those Were the Days” was catalogue number APPLE 2 (the APPLE 1 number had been given to an unreleased version of “The Lady Is a Tramp” by Frank Sinatra, recorded specially in 1968, for Maureen Starkey’s 22nd birthday, as a gift from Ringo Starr, under the name of “The Lady is a Champ”). It was the second single to be released on the Apple label, the first — “Hey Jude” by the Beatles —had retained the sequential catalogue numbers used by Parlophone (in the UK) and Capitol (in the US).

Hopkin’s version was released on the back of her success on the television talent show Opportunity Knocks, and around the time of its release popular singer Sandie Shaw was also asked to record the song by her management, feeling that it should be done by a “real” singer. Shaw’s version was released as a single, but did not match the success of Hopkin’s version.

At the peak of the song’s success, a New York company used the melody in a commercial for Rokeach gefilte fish, arguing that the tune was an old Russian folk-tune and thus in the public domain. (The commercial included the line “The perfect dish, Rokeach Gefilte Fish” where the English-language song would go “Those were the days, oh yes, those were the days.”) Raskin successfully sued and won a settlement, since he had slightly altered the tune to fit his lyrics and had taken out the valid new copyright.[citation needed]

In the mid-1970s, after Hopkin’s contract with Apple ended, “Those Were the Days” and “Goodbye” were re-recorded with producer Tony Visconti, whom she had married in 1971. These re-recorded versions can be found on music compilations.

On 25 October 2010, Apple Records released Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records, which included the original recordings of “Those Were the Days” and “Goodbye“. The greatest hits compilation album contained songs by artists signed to the Beatles’ Apple record label between 1968 and 1973, the first such multi-artist Apple compilation. […]

From MixOnline:

Who could possibly predict that a five-minute recording of a Russian romance song composed in the early 1900s with English lyrics written in the early ’60s, recorded in July 1968 by a green 17-year-old Welsh folk artist, produced by a Beatle, and arranged by a jazz nerd with unlikely instrumentation would result in a Number 2 on the Billboard charts?

Engineer Geoff Emerick says “Those Were the Days,” produced by Paul McCartney and sung by artist Mary Hopkin, appealed to the public because of those unique qualities.

It was so different for the time,” Emerick says. “Everyone loved it. It was one of those things like Paul’s ‘Mull of Kintyre,’ with the bagpipes. That record sold like two-and-a-half million records in two weeks. [It was Wings’ biggest hit in Britain.] Who knows about these things? We were always looking for something different, something spectacular every time we worked.” […]

The story with Hopkin and “Those Were the Days” is that model Twiggy saw the singer win the British talent show “Opportunity Knocks” and recommended her to McCartney, who then signed her to Apple Records. McCartney brought “Those Were the Days” to the table after hearing it in a London club performed by the English lyricist Gene Raskin.

Arranger Richard Hewson remembers the earliest moments of his involvement. He had recently graduated from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London, during which time he and a gentleman by the name of Peter Asher had been in jazz band together. Hewson knew nothing about pop music.

Stravinsky, Ravel, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, John Coltrane—I was studying orchestration and I was playing in a jazz band at the time,” Hewson recalls. “Peter Asher was a friend of Paul McCartney’s because Paul McCartney was going out with his sister at the time. I was at Peter Asher’s house and Paul was there with Jane and Peter said, ‘Oh Richard, Paul is looking for an arranger to do a record with this girl called Mary Hopkin. You can do arranging, can’t you?’ I said, ‘Of course I can,’ never having done an arrangement for a record before,’” He had, however, worked on Blow-Up with Herbie Hancock while still in college.

Hewson and McCartney spoke about what the producer had in mind for the arrangement, which only amounted to an instrument called the cymbalum. Interestingly, the percussion teacher with whom Hewson had been studying had a cymbalum.

It’s a Hungarian instrument that is like a piano without the lid on, hit with hammers,” Hewson explains. “That’s the ding, ding, ding sound you hear on the song. He said that’s all he had in mind, and, ‘After that, do what you like.’ So I wrote the arrangement, and not knowing pop music, that’s why it doesn’t sound like the pop music of the time.

I immediately liked the use of the cymbalum, which John Barry used to use in a lot of his film scores,” Emerick comments.

As Emerick recalls, “I think we took a day out of the Beatles’ schedule so Paul could do this. We did it in Studio Number 3, Abbey Road.” […]

Though Hewson doesn’t recall any of the contracted musicians on the session, one player does stick out.

I’m pretty sure Paul played guitar on the session,” Hewson recalls.

While Mary Hopkin does not give interviews, she did email a corroboration about the guitar. She also addressed a question about McCartney, who was known to slap his thigh for rhythm on her album, Postcard.

It’s hard to remember all the exact details from so long ago but here are a few answers for you,” she wrote.  “I did not play guitar on ‘Those Were the Days.’  Paul played acoustic guitar. Paul’s thigh slap was on my second single, ‘Goodbye,’ where he and I played the two rhythm guitars. I don’t recall who played the drums on ‘Those Were the Days,’ but since it was a full, orchestral arrangement [by Richard Hewson], I believe it was a session player, though Paul sometimes played additional drums [often enhancing Ringo’s basic pattern] on the Postcard album tracks.”  […]

From left to right, Paul McCartney, Mary Hopkin and arranger Richard Newson enlist the aid of the Aida Foster Children's Choir to record Hopkin's song 'Those Were the Days' for the Apple label, 26th July 1968.
From left to right, Paul McCartney, Mary Hopkin and arranger Richard Newson enlist the aid of the Aida Foster Children’s Choir to record Hopkin’s song ‘Those Were the Days’ for the Apple label, 26th July 1968.

Last updated on October 24, 2019

Lyrics

Once upon a time there was a tavern
Where we used to raise a glass or two
Remember how we laughed away the hours
And dreamed of all the great things we could do

Those were the days my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we choose
We'd fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way.

Then the busy years went rushing by us
We lost our starry notions on the way
If by chance I'd see you in the tavern
We'd smile at one another and we'd say

Those were the days my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we choose
We'd fight and never lose
Those were the days, oh yes those were the days
La la la la...

Just tonight I stood before the tavern
Nothing seemed the way it used to be
In the glass I saw a strange reflection
Was that lonely woman really me

Those were the days my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we choose
We'd fight and never lose
Those were the days, oh yes those were the days
La la la la...

Through the door there came familiar laughter
I saw your face and heard you call my name
Oh my friend we're older but no wiser
For in our hearts the dreams are still the same

Those were the days my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we choose
We'd fight and never lose
Those were the days, oh yes those were the days
La la la la...

Officially appears on


Those Were The Days / Turn, Turn, Turn

7" Single • Released in 1968

5:05 • Studio version

Paul McCartney:
Producer
Mary Hopkin:
Vocals
Richard Newson:
Orchestra arrangement
Aida Foster Children's Choir:
Choir

Session Recording:
Mid July 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Abbey Road ; Trident Studios, London, UK

Live performances

Paul McCartney has never played this song in concert.


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Mary Douglas 1 years ago

Fantastic site! Thank you!


The PaulMcCartney Project 1 years ago

Thank you for the kind words, Mary !


Adrian Ford 1 years ago

I heard this song sung by the Choir of St Petersburg on Saturday night at Blandford Forum Parish Church - Fan-tas-tic!


Ronald Beaumont 1 years ago

Unless our concepts of taste and skill change fundamentally, we'll never see the likes of this again.