American singer/songwriter Gene Raskin is best known for transforming a traditional Russian folk melody into "Those Were the Days," an international blockbuster for Welsh vocalist Mary Hopkin in 1968. Born in New York City in 1909, Raskin studied architecture at Columbia University, serving as an adjunct professor there between 1936 and 1976. In 1949 he wrote a play, One's a Crowd, followed two years later by Amata; in 1954, he also published Architecturally Speaking, the first of three books on the subject. During the early '60s Raskin and his wife played Greenwich Village folk clubs under the name Gene & Francesca, releasing an eponymous LP on Tetragrammaton in 1962; the album included "Those Were the Days," a tune of either Russian or Ukrainian origins traditionally known as "Dorogoj Dlinnoyu" and dating back to the turn of the 20th century. Recorded by Russian cabaret star Alexander Vertinsky and gypsy singers Rada & Nikolai Volshaninov, the song gained international recognition when it was performed by Maria Schell in the 1958 movie adaptation of The Brothers Karamazov -- Raskin's version contained new English lyrics but retained the original's lovely melody. Both "Those Were the Days" and Raskin's original "That's Just the Way It Goes" were later popularized by the Limelighters; in 1966, while Gene & Francesca were headlining London's Blue Lamp Club, Paul McCartney caught their act and two years later, while assembling material for his protégé Hopkin's Apple Records debut, he suggested she record "Those Were the Days" as well. The resulting single topped the U.K. pop charts for six weeks in the autumn of 1968; Hopkin subsequently recorded renditions in Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Hebrew as well, selling eight million copies worldwide and becoming Apple's biggest hit outside of the Beatles' own recordings. The Ventures, Engelbert Humperdinck, the 5th Dimension, Wanda Jackson, and the Three Tenors all recorded "Those Were the Days" in the decades to follow. Raskin died in New York on June 7, 2004.
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