Watch video! 1968 Pop Hit “Those Were the Days”

In 1968, a song with a nostalgic and Old World feel was playing on the radio and dominating the charts in both Europe and the United States. You may have heard this song several times and thought it sounded terribly old-fashioned each time. There is a reason for that! Despite the fact that the lyrics for “Those Were the Days” were written in English by Gene Raskin, a New York architect, songwriter, and dramatist, the melody and concept are Russian from another era.

The Russian song features a traditional tune that is popular in Slavic countries. Raskin, despite changing the words in the translation, maintained the original Russian lyrics’ sentimentality. While the Russian version mentions long horse rides and seven-stringed guitars, Raskin’s song from the 1960s mentions going to the tavern and having naive dreams, both of which are equally melancholy. The original song melody was written by Russian Boris Fomin in 1924, with lyrics by poet Konstantin Podrevsky.

The song gained popularity in Slavic countries thanks to a mid-century rendition by Romani performers Rada & Nikolai Volshaninov, and subsequently in 1968, when Paul McCartney released Mary Hopkin’s version for Apple Records. Hopkin delivered the song in Welsh as well as six other languages, and her clear voice made her an excellent option for this soon-to-be smash.

The song reached number one in the United Kingdom in 1968 and number two in the United States, making it one of the few popular songs of wistful longing that aroused intense emotion in roughly equal measure across Europe and North America. In the video below, Mary Hopkin performs the 1968 Apple Records version.

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