Mary Hopkin

Those Were the Days

Song Review by

"Those Were the Days" was an ultra-smash for Mary Hopkin in 1968, getting to #2 in the US (where it was kept out of #1 only by another of the first singles on the Apple label, the Beatles' "Hey Jude") and spending six straight weeks at #1 in the UK (where it actually knocked "Hey Jude" out of the #1 spot). Perhaps part of the key to its amazing success was its appeal to several different age groups: not just the rock'n'rolling teenagers who comprised a large part of the singles-buying audience in the late '60s, but also non-rock older listeners. And "Those Were the Days" became a pop standard of sorts because it was perhaps the ultimate song about nostalgia. For all of the above reasons, it hasn't been written about much by critics in subsequent decades, but the song did have substantial merits. Chief among them was its memorable sad tune, which seemed to owe a lot to Central or Eastern European gypsy music, particularly in the uptempo sections. It was also delivered with a certain bravado, counter to the bittersweet nostalgia of the lyrics, that could have made it into a staple of a Broadway musical had it ended up in such a production. It's a varied song for a single, alternating as it does between slow sentimental parts and an uptempo chorus that winds itself up into a faster frenzy like a Greek wedding dance. In one of his comedy routines, in fact, Robert Klein even specifically cited the chorus of "Those Were the Days" as a song that defied listeners not to clap along, even if their hands were tied behind their back. The arrangement was ingenious too, no doubt in part because of Paul McCartney's production, with its combinations of saloon piano, weepy strings, hoe-down banjo, light theatrical orchestration, and dramatic choral backup vocals in the latter part of the song. And to add drama at that point, the tune swings upwards a few keys for the final verse, the massed voices ending in a particularly exultant, unexpected major chord. Mary Hopkin herself came off as just one of several factors in the track's effect rather than dominating the performance, but the sweet innocent quality of her young, high voice suited the production well. It was pretty long for a hit single, running over five minutes, but then late 1968 gave such long tracks a window of opportunity, due in no small part to the Beatles' own seven-minute "Hey Jude," which was released at the same time. "Those Were the Days" had actually been around for some time before Hopkin recorded it, as a Lithuanian folk song adapted by American folk singer Gene Raskin, who performed it when he was in the act Gene and Francesca. McCartney had become aware of the song a few years earlier when he saw the duo do it in a cabaret club in London, and had been convinced of its hit potential for some time before recording it with Hopkin for Apple. There have been many other versions of the song, including a few by Hopkin herself, who also recorded it in French, Italian, German, and Spanish. Among the others who've cut it have been the Boston Pops Orchestra, the Clancy Brothers, the Fifth Dimension, Dexter Gordon, Engelbert Humperdinck, Wanda Jackson, Sandie Shaw, the Ventures, and Roger Whittaker. Bizarrely, it was also recorded by John Lennon's ex-wife, Cynthia Lennon, on a little-heard release in the mid-'90s long after the Beatles split.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Post Card 1969 Apple Records 5:08
Super Box of Rock [1992] 1992
Various Artists
Dominion 5:05
Heartbreakers, Vol. 5: Dreaming of the '60s 1993
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 5:05
The Sensational 60's, Vol. 2 [Dominion] 1993
Various Artists
Dominion 2:43
60s British Invasion [Fat Boy] 1993
Various Artists
Fat Boy 4:59
Music to Remember [Box] 1993
Various Artists
Dominion 5:05
Music to Remember, Vol. 3 1993
Various Artists
Dominion 4:58
Those Were the Days 1995 EMI Music Distribution 5:10
Congratulations [Galaxy] 1996
Various Artists
Galaxy Music 4:58
20th Century Rocks, Vol. 8: '60s Pop - Those Were the Days 1997
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 5:00
Party Dance Mix [Riviere] 1997
Various Artists
Riviere International Records 1:13
The Ultimate History of Rock 'N' Roll Collection 1997
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 5:05
The Ultimate History of Rock & Roll Collection, Vol. 10: Those Were the Days 1998
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 5:05
1968 Classic Rock 2000
Various Artists
Direct Source 4:59
Classic Rock: Hits of 1968 2000
Various Artists
Direct Source 4:58
Women in Rock: Changing Times 2000
Various Artists
Direct Source 4:21
Nothing but Number 1's of the 60s 2002
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 4:59
Sixties: A Decade to Remember [3 CD] 2002
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 5:00
The Sixties - A Decade to Remember: Girls Only 2002
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 5:00
Mother's Memories 2003
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 5:00
New Hooked on Number Ones Experience 2003
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 0:49
Number 1 Pop Collection 2004
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 5:02
Hits of the 60s: Those Were the Days [3 Disc] 2006
Various Artists
BMG / Delta 5:11
Apple Box Set 2010
Various Artists
Apple Records / Capitol / EMI / EMI Music Distribution 5:11
Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records 2010
Various Artists
Apple Records / Capitol / EMI 5:11
101 Most Beloved Pop Masterpieces
Various Artists
Warner Music 5:03
No Image
Various Artists
Sire 5:05
Party Dance Mix, Vol. 2
Various Artists
Euro Trend 1:13