No one has ever given it a name, but there is a brief, distinct era of popular music that lies between the onset of the Great Depression on October 24, 1929, and the birth of the swing era on August 21, 1935. It is an era of crooners like Bing Crosby and "sweet" dance orchestras like Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians; a time when pop music drew heavily on songs written for motion pictures, and when songwriters struggled to define a response to the economic catastrophe that had struck the world. Those Were the Days is a two-disc, 42-track compilation assembled for mail-order firm the Good Music Record Co. by Sony Music Special Products and surveys that nameless era. Producer Renfrew Dibble III (the only credited name on this virtually unannotated collection) has chosen major hits for the most part; 26 of these tracks hit number one, according to chart researcher Joel Whitburn. But the set is more a sampler of the era than a collection of its greatest hits. Dibble seems to be interested in representative songs, standards, and memorable performers than in simply collecting the best-selling recordings of a period when record sales had dropped to negligible numbers. Many of the songs either take a brightly defiant attitude toward the dire times or reflect its appalling impact. The entertainment industry's stylish, romantic alternative to hard times (especially seen in expensively mounted movie musicals) is suggested by closing the set with Fred Astaire singing "Cheek to Cheek." All in all, Those Were the Days is an excellent compilation of an interim period in popular music history. If its scattershot selection and sequencing and its lack of annotations mark it as a bare-bones effort, it nevertheless gathers some of the most popular and memorable music of the late '20s and early '30s in vintage performances.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann