Mary Hopkin – Those Were The Days

10th September 1968 · 1960s, 1968, Music
This was the first single I ever bought, at the age of ten. A sentimental song called Those Were The Days, sung by an apple-cheeked blonde from Wales by the name of  Mary Hopkin – and produced by Paul McCartney.

Listening to it now, it’s obviously a boisterous drinking song, with its roots in a Russian folk tune. But I didn’t know that as a small boy.  I only found out decades later when I went to a recording studio in Barnes and found the classical groupo Bond recording it in instrumental form. 

It was Paul McCartney who ‘discovered’ the tune in a London folk club called The Blue Angel, where it was regularly performed by its American lyricists, The Raskins. He tried to persuade several artists – including The Moody Blues – to record it. In the end it was the fragrant Mary Hopkin, who had come to fame on the TV talent show Opportunity Knocks, who accepted the opportunity.

Macca produced it himself, creating an elaborate arrangement that incorporated strings, balalaika, dulcimer and clarinet to lend it a klezmer feel. Sandie Shaw was so miffed to hear it sung by a talent show contestant that she recorded her own version, feeling it should be sung by a ‘proper’ singer.

What did she know? Her version flopped, while Mary Hopkin’s went to number 1 and stayed there for weeks in September 1968. The B-side was her take on Pete Seeger’s Turn, Turn, Turn – the song that won her Opportunity Knocks – and the version that introduced me to that tune long before I ever heard The Byrds.

It was the second release by The Beatles’ label Apple (after their own Hey Jude), and Hopkin went on to marry producer Tony Visconti – and to lend her vocals to David Bowie’s great Sound + Vision.

Meanwhile, in a bathetic footnote, Those Were The Days went on to be reborn eternally on the football terraces, adapted as the tune of the Ireland  team’s anthem Come On You Boys In Green.