"Those Were the Days" is a song credited to Gene Raskin, who put English lyrics to the Russian romance song "Dorogoi dlinnoyu" ("Дорогой длинною", lit. "By the long road"), composed by Boris Fomin (1900–1948) with words by the poet Konstantin Podrevskii. It deals with reminiscence upon youth and romantic idealism.
The song is featured 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, but is probably best remembered in English-speaking countries for Mary Hopkin's 1968 recording, which was a chart-topping hit in much of the Northern Hemisphere. On most recorded versions of the song, Raskin is credited as the writer, even though he wrote only the later English lyrics and not the melody.
Mary Hopkin's version was released as "Kanashiki Tenshi" (悲しき天使?, lit. "Sad Angel") in Japan.
In the early 1960s Raskin, with his wife Francesca, played folk music around Greenwich Village in New York, including White Horse Tavern. They released an album which included the song, which was taken up by The Limeliters. Raskin had grown up hearing the song, wrote lyrics in English and then put a copyright on both tune and lyrics. 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, after the formation of the Beatles' own Apple Records label, recorded the song with Mary Hopkin, McCartney's agent having purchased the song rights from Raskin's. The song was subsequently recorded in over twenty languages and by many different artists and Raskin was able to live very well on the royalties, buying a home in Pollensa, Mallorca, a Porsche Spyder and a sailing boat.
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. 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.
Although the song was popularized in the early 1960s by The Limeliters, Welsh singer Mary Hopkin made the best-known recording, released on 30 August 1968, shortly after Hopkin had been signed to the Beatles' newly created Apple label. Hopkin's recording was produced by Paul McCartney and became a number-one hit on the UK Singles Chart. In the US, 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 which was unusual for a top-ten pop record, including balalaika, clarinet, hammered dulcimer, tenor banjo and children's chorus, giving a klezmer feel to the song.
Paul McCartney, who produced the session, also recorded Hopkin singing "Those Were The Days" in four other languages for release in their respective countries:
"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 Rodgers and Hart, 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.
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. Only these re-recorded versions can be found on music compilations because Apple never allows its original recordings to be used.
On Christmas 1975, the President of Equatorial Guinea, Francisco Macías Nguema, had 150 alleged coup plotters executed in the national stadium while Mary Hopkin's cover of "Those Were the Days" was played over the PA system.
1968 - The French version of the song, "Le temps des fleurs", was popularized by the international recording star, Dalida. She also recorded the song in Italian and German.
1968 - The international recording star Vicky Leandros recorded the French version "Le temps des fleurs" and had a huge hit in Japan, Canada, and Greece with this song.
In the 1960s Mary Hopkin and Sandie Shaw also sang the song in French, as well as in Italian, Spanish and German. Both Shaw's and Hopkin's versions were released roughly around the same time, as a sort of competition between the two, to see whose single would fare better with the public. When Hopkin's album, Postcard, was re-released on CD, the Spanish and Italian versions of the songs appeared as bonus tracks. Sandie Shaw has had all of her versions re-released on separate CDs, split up by language.
1969 - Bing Crosby recorded the song for his album "Hey Jude/Hey Bing!"
^Kay, Hilary (1992). Rock & Roll Memorabilia: A History of Rock Momentos With over 600 Illustrations. Prentice Hall. p. 174. ISBN978-0671-77931-3. The Hopkin single, a McCartney-produced traditional Russian folk song, knocked Apple 1 ("Hey Jude") off the U.K. top slot.
^Spizer, Bruce. "An Apple a Day: Mary Hopkin – Post Card". Beatlesnews.com. Retrieved 1 June 2013. Mary Hopkin's debut single paired "Those Were The Days," a Lithuanian folk song adapted by American Gene Raskin