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Aug 06

MARY HOPKIN – “Those Were The Days”

FT + Popular37 comments • 6,862 views

#259, 28th September 1968

If you want an illustration of how much closer together the pop world of the 1960s seems compared to today’s, consider this sequence of events:

1. Teenage girl wins reality TV talent show.
2. Member of most famous and respected band in the country offers her a contract on an extremely high-profile new indie label.

Naturally, Opportunity Knocks fame and Beatle patronage combined to make “Those Were The Days” a colossal hit – six weeks at number one to “Hey Jude”‘s two. I think it would have been a hit without the backstory, though – it’s a winning commercial combination of the unusual and the instant, a study in contrasts. It has an immediate chorus – if this wasn’t a standard before 1968, it certainly became one, I heard it everywhere when I was growing up – and verses that reward careful listening. You could sing – even shout – along to it, but the arrangement, reflecting the song’s Russian origins, is delicacy itself. It’s a wise song sung by a child, and a song about lost and recovered potential sung by someone being rewarded for her own potential, and a song about going to the pub sung by someone barely old enough to drink. These are all gaps through which magic could sneak.

Perhaps because of its familiarity, though, it slips by me very easily: I have to concentrate quite hard to catch the nuances in Hopkin’s performance and in the production – those shivery, ghostly backing vox on the return-to-the-tavern verse, for instance. And then I listen to something else, and when I go back to “Those Were The Days” I have to listen all over again to notice what I like about it. The only time it made me actually feel things rather than notice them was when I read the lyrics and connected them to what I do with my friends in pubs: the schemes and dreams in the song sound rather grander than plans to make giant boiled eggs, but this is a difference of degree not kind. So there’s something about it, or about me, that stops it connecting with me when I actually hear it. I wish I liked it more, in fact.

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Comments

  1. 1
    pˆnk s lord sükråt cunctør on 30 Aug 2006 #

    We lost our starry notions on the way!!

  2. 2
    Tom on 30 Aug 2006 #

    Here’s Marcello Carlin on “Those Were The Days” – scroll down, it’s very good.

  3. 3
    My name is Kenny on 30 Aug 2006 #

    This song ranks up there with “Seasons in the Sun” and “The Thong Song” as one of pop music’s most inexplicable, unlistenable hit records. IF YOU DISAGREE YOU ARE STUPID. My day is now ruined because I have been forcibly reminded of this song.

  4. 4
    Tom on 30 Aug 2006 #

    Both of those are even better records than this!

  5. 5
    stevem on 30 Aug 2006 #

    I wonder if a case could be built towards Sandi Thom’s ‘I Wish I Was Punk Rocker…’ on the basis of support given towards Hopkin’s song, even though the head screams the superiority of the latter. Can it be that they are essentially saying the same thing? Or is it that Thom’s song is more annoying for it’s short-sighted nostalgia, harking back only 30-40 years ago whereas Hopkin laments the passing of a time before all this pop music nonsense altogether (so it seems), concerned with more than just musical and lyrical content – coming off as more ethereal and dare I say timeless in the process?

  6. 6
    Tom on 30 Aug 2006 #

    Totally different perspectives!

    Hopkin: I lived and dreamed and the dreams didnt come off but we can still dream.

    Thom: Modern life is awful compared to what I’ve heard it used to be.

    The one is self-analysis, the other is criticism. The one rooted in experience, the other in fairytale. The one ultimately positive, the other a whinge.

    (Except of course Hopkin’s OWN experience is no more real than Thom’s imaginings of the 60s and 70s, but what does that matter if she sells the song?)

  7. 7
    Chris Brown on 30 Aug 2006 #

    It’s possibly ironic that just as the Beatles were disintegrating, we hit a rich seam of affiliated Number Ones. I haven’t actually heard this record for ages, but I have nice memories of it.

    The version of ‘Seasons In The Sun’ that I remember getting to Number One is indeed hideous, but I’m told the Brel original was good. The ‘Thong Song’ is an entertaining enough novelty.

    Oh, and a spot of Resurrection Watch: Cynthia Lennon did a version of this about ten years ago.

  8. 8
    Doctor Mod on 31 Aug 2006 #

    I actually like this song–a lot–especially now that I’m in the place of the song’s narrator. In 1968, I knew no more of middle age than did Mary Hopkin, and the song forced me to contemplate an unimaginable distant future. (And the past I really long for is the 80s and not the 60s.) Nonetheless, I found it–and still find it–a compelling work.

    The trouble is that I don’t know how to begin to discuss it. There has been very little with which to compare it–the folk pseudo-klezmer arrangement, a voice more suitable to traditional Celtic/British balladry than pop/rock, etc. There are very few recordings I’d actually deem sui generis within a pop/rock context, but this must surely be one.

    The only analogy I can draw is with another record supervised by a major British rock group (the Stones) featuring a young girl with an aetherial voice–Marianne Faithfull’s “As Tears Go By.” Once again, a contemplation of old[er] age. But if Mary suggests you can still dream, Marianne suggests you can’t.

    Twenty years on, Marianne re-recorded the song–no longer “pretty” but certainly effectively poignant. It would have been interesting if Mary H had done likewise.

    Cynthia Lennon? I’d no idea she was a singer…..

  9. 9
    Admin on 31 Aug 2006 #

    (Got to love the related articles system noticing the link to that busted post from sarah there)

  10. 10
    DV on 31 Aug 2006 #

    My Name Is Kenny seems to talk a lot of sense. It is nice to know that pop back in the 1960s was actually as rubbish as now.

  11. 11
    Marcello Carlin on 31 Aug 2006 #

    Oh FFS…I remembered why I stopped posting to the Popular comments box in the first place.

    Good posts, Tom, shame about some of your readers.

  12. 12
    Daniel_Rf on 31 Aug 2006 #

    People disliking different records is such a pain, eh.

  13. 13
    Steve Mannion on 31 Aug 2006 #

    words like ‘inexplicable’ and ‘unlistenable’ as reasons for dislike ARE lazy and annoying tho.

  14. 14
    Doctor Mod on 31 Aug 2006 #

    THE PEDAGOGUE SPEAKS:

    To say one likes or does not like (or, in more extreme form, “loves” or “hates”) something or someone is not an argument in and of itself. One most give some analytical explanation to support one’s opinion that goes far beyond “it sucks” or, by contrast, “it’s so hot,” if one is to avoid saying more about oneself than about the individual or object under discussion. And what one says about oneself in such instances is not terribly flattering. Please bear in mind that others might reasonably hold opinions which differ from your own.

    (Excerpted from Doctor Mod’s class materials on “How to Write an Effective Critique”)

  15. 15
    Daniel_Rf on 31 Aug 2006 #

    I thought it was pretty obvious that the comments here were displays of mock-outrage humour, not attempts at effective critique; I won’t argue that this does not qualify as lazyness, but the occasional burst of flippancy in between the actual thoughtful criticism isn’t something I particuarly mind, and hardly worthy of Marcello’s drama.

  16. 16
    Daniel_Rf on 31 Aug 2006 #

    (imo)

  17. 17
    wwolfe on 31 Aug 2006 #

    I was nine when this was a hit. For some mystifying reason, I had a huge attraction to songs about nostalgia when I was very young – I have no idea why, since I was a happy kid. How did I even know what nostalgia was at that age? I couldn’t have, really. And yet I clearly remember finding this record, as well as “Try to Remember” from “The Fantasticks,” major emotional events when they came on the radio.

    It strikes me that I don’t think I’ve heard this song since it was a hit back in ’68. It never gets played on oldies stations in America (or at least I’ve never heard it). I think, without really ever giving it any analysis, I’d assumed over the passing years that the record was probably not so good. Having now read Marcello’s essay, and this entry, I’d like to hear the record again to find out how it sounds to me today. I wonder if I’d feel nostalgia for the nostalgia I felt as a nine-year old. Post-modern nostalgia: a very odd concept.

  18. 18
    My name is Kenny on 31 Aug 2006 #

    Indeed, I would agree with my good defender that my outburst was meant as mock-outrage. However, laziness does seem a good criticism, as I am completely stymied in my attempts to come up with an actual critique: My hate for this song is so pure I can’t even explain why. I’ve hated this song since I was eight, when my range of taste didn’t extend farther than Garth Brooks, and I hate it now. To be honest, I’m completely dumbfounded that people think it deserves to be defende. You’re the freaks, not me.

  19. 19
    Oh No It's Dadaismus on 1 Sep 2006 #

    Was this Macca jumping on the “Fiddler On the Roof” bandwagon perhaps? Was there a “Fiddler On the Roof” bandwagon?!??!

  20. 20
    Marcello Carlin on 1 Sep 2006 #

    Not really, unless you count “If I Were A Rich Man” going top ten in the Summer Of Love.

    It could have been Macca jumping on the Hughie Green bandwagon though. What a thought. I’ll leave it to others to illustrate.

  21. 21
    Chris Brown on 1 Sep 2006 #

    Just as a slight update, I’ve just been listening to an MP3 of the original Russian version (via ).

    Oh and as for Mrs Lennon not being a singer: she isn’t really. But it’s hard not to admire her.

  22. 22
    Doctor Mod on 1 Sep 2006 #

    Oh and as for Mrs Lennon not being a singer: she isn’t really.

    Well, then, she actually does have something in common with the other Mrs Lennon–and the first Mrs McCartney.

    Her record must be quite rare–no copies were for sale on eBay.

  23. 23
    Chris Brown on 1 Sep 2006 #

    Oops, sorry I knackered the link in that previous post there.

    Apparently Cynthia’s single was produced by Chris Norman (of Smokie “fame”) and issued on his own label which could explain the limited distribution – I don’t remember even seeing one at the time, but I saw the video once or twice.

  24. 24
    pat on 2 Sep 2006 #

    I enjoyed reading all these comments, gosh hate is a strong emotion to have over a song! i am a Mary ‘fan’ and yes there are lots still around the world! I have a page dedicated to this song on my site trying to trace the origins of the melody etc. Paul McCartney heard this song and kept it for a few years and offered it to a few other people before Mary recorded it, the Moody Blues and Donovan amongst them.
    Its interesting to read/hear how other listeners interperate the lyrics, to me it is a song of youth, a young person just starting out in life, just finished college about to start work and looking back on the carefree days of youth … I think it’s a wonderful combination of a most mememorable melody and a strong lyric.

  25. 25
    Doctor Mod on 13 Sep 2006 #

    When this thread started two weeks ago, I went searching for my Mary Hopkin CD. Alas, eleven years after The Truly Big and Truly Awful Breakup, I’m still discovering what CDs went missing (surely in the hundreds) from the gigantic collection I previously had. So I ordered a replacement that arrived yesterday, and I’ve been listening to it ever since. I’d forgotten the extent of Hopkin’s talents and what a lovely voice she had. She also had a knack for trying out combinations (Jazz and folk, for example) that were quite daring back then–and they usually work.

    Something dawned on me that I should have figured out twenty-years ago, namely that Hopkin’s voice combined with her stylistic eclecticism suggest that she was a major influence on another unique British female singer–Kate Bush. It’s probably not coincidental that they both did covers of Donovan’s “Lord of the Reedy River.”

  26. 26
    Marcello Carlin on 13 Sep 2006 #

    Hopkin was/is essentially a folkie at heart, though her Banquo’s ghost cameo on Bowie’s “Sound And Vision” a decade later is still startling. Presumably you’ve got the Those Were The Days Apple compilation, which is a useful reminder of how many other factors there were to her music once you get past The Hits.

    A word also to Richard Hewson for his very ingenious arrangement, with different instrumentation for every verse and chorus a la Randy Newman on Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” around the same time.

  27. 27
    Alan Connor on 12 Nov 2006 #

    Important Resurrection Watch: just read this piece on Mark Thatcher in the LRB (subs reqd) and felt it needed adding:

    Equatorial Guinea had the bad luck to come to independence under Macias Nguema, whose rule was so terrible that a third of the population was either killed or fled. Though he had people garrotted, buried alive and beheaded (and their heads stuck on poles), the detail that sticks in my mind is his having 150 people executed to the tune of ‘Those Were the Days, My Friend’ played over stadium loudspeakers.

  28. 28
    Steve on 8 Feb 2007 #

    I was about 9 y/o at the time, but I remember hearing this song on the radio when my dad was getting ready for work. To this day, I still love to hear it every now & then. It’s the “Russian” styling I love so much. It probably has influenced the range of music I like to listen to: from classical to lo-fi & electronic jazz… Thank you MaryH for the nice memory!

  29. 29
    terry on 7 May 2007 #

    I have a copy of this on apple single
    apple 2 produced by paul mcCartney in 1968
    those were the days and turn turn turn
    its going on ebay if anyone wants it
    or email me at tay4457 @ yahoo dot co dot uk

    leave out the spacesthough
    regards
    terry

  30. 30
    Matthew on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Maybe this held the number one spot three times as long as Hey Jude because it’s three times as good? It makes me a little trembly inside every time I hear it: like a previous commenter, I had a big thing for aching nostalgia, and thereby for this song, when I was a small child. I think it taps into something really primal, which the cynical constructed-ness of Jude doesn’t do for me. God, I’m doing a really bad job of swallowing down my Beatles-bile.

  31. 31
    Waldo on 27 Oct 2009 #

    Yes, X-Factor 1968! Twiggy was the counduit for getting Welsh Mary from Hughie to Macca and thus onto Apple. I can’t really say I ever took to TWTD, I’m afraid. It’s an insipid little dirge and Mary’s vocal is more than a little annoying. The melody of the chorus, however, was another one taken up as a footy chant. At the Bridge, Chelsea go behind and the visiting fans are suddenly serenaded with: “There’s..only..one way out, There’s only one way out, There’s only one, There’s only one way out!…”

    I think the follow up “Goodbye” was a good deal better and just failed to also top the chart, as did her rather fey little Euro entry “Knock Knock Who’s There?” In between there was “Temma Harbour”, which I thought was a lovely little song.

    The next time I came across Mary was in a TV commercial for Blue Band margerine, a product for poor people.

  32. 32
    Mark G on 28 Oct 2009 #

    I remember that, wasn’t Tony Visconti in it as well?

    Anyway, I remember the variation in lyric when Scotland/”Ally’s tartan army” were knocked out of the World cup, and the fans who had got themselves to Argentina were all “We want our money back, We want our money back, We want our mon, We want our money back”…

  33. 33
    crag on 14 Apr 2011 #

    DESERT ISLAND DISCS WATCH:

    Lord David Cobbold, Owner of Knebworth House (2010).

  34. 36
    lonepilgrim on 2 Oct 2016 #

    this is another song like the Bee Gees ‘Message’ that I found almost overwhelmingly sad as a kid. The idea that the good times I was enjoying with my friends and family would one day be swept away was particularly terrifying. It’s a great tune with a rich arrangement that prevents it from sounding too folky.

  35. 37
    Phil on 3 Oct 2016 #

    #36 – gosh yes; I remember getting a real shiver at the spooky bit near the end, when the narrator initially doesn’t recognise her own reflection because she’s grown old without realising it. Which says something for McCartney’s writing – and the unforced sincerity of Hopkin’s delivery – when you consider that I was eight years old at the time.

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