#160 – Those Were The Days by Mary Hopkin
– Take an old Russian folk song, rewritten English lyrics, a talent show winner and a Beatle and you come up with a 1968 hit record. That was the formula for one of the earliest releases by Apple Records that hit number one in England. In the States it was kept from the top spot by another early Apple release, Hey Jude by the same Beatle and his three business partners.
Working off trivia memory that I must have read somewhere, Paul McCartney heard this song performed in a London club by Gene Raskin, an American folksinger. Raskin is the guy that wrote the English lyrics, which is information I can’t claim to have in my memory bank. He’s given songwriter credit on the record.
McCartney liked the song, but never had any intention for the Beatles to record it. Those Were The Days was so very different than anything else on the pop charts that he needed someone very different to record it. When Mary Hopkin won the televised British talent show Opportunity Knocks, he found the voice. Taking a break from recording The Beatles (The White Album) he took her into EMI Studios and produced this very different sounding song.
It was also a very different way to wake up on September 21st with Mary Hopkin’s voice singing this song in my mind. It’s not one you hear… well, at all on Classic Rock Radio. And since I don’t own a copy and haven’t heard it in… well, it seems like forever, it goes in the subliminal category of Dream Songs.
But I did own a copy at one time. It’s a very catchy tune and after hearing it on Top 40 AM Radio late that summer, I bought the 45 rpm single. But it wasn’t the type of song my friends and I would play at parties because it wasn’t exactly uplifting. It wasn’t the vinyl you’d put on a turntable to get everyone up to dance.
But speaking of parties…
My best friend and I were fifteen years old and had summer jobs at my family’s bakery when this song was climbing the charts. We lived in a tourist town on the shores of Lake Erie and though we started work early in the morning, we’d usually be finished around noon. That gave us plenty of daytime to hang out at the beach or ride our bikes around town looking for adventures. And since fifteen year old guys don’t need a lot of rest, we’d stay up most of the nighttime supposedly sleeping outside in one of our backyards (both with and without a tent), which was actually an excuse to have no parental supervision. That meant we could also ride our bikes around town all night looking for more adventures.
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We were pretty much inseparable and kept ourselves – and our circle of friends – very entertained.
I’ll go ahead and say Kevin and I were ringleaders of fun because we always had ideas and something going on. One of our objectives was to have parties so we could hang out with the cool girls in our class. But we didn’t want to throw a party like everyone else. We had to make it seem like an event, which meant we would have a theme.
Our most popular was a movie premier.
If you wanted to see a movie in 1968 you either went to the local theater or watched television. There were no video rentals, we had never even heard of Beta, VHS or the very futuristic DVDs, cable, internet or streaming services. Of course that lack of technology wouldn’t stop this great theme idea. We just had to make our own to make it happen.
Kevin’s family had a home movie camera (we’re talking about using a reel of film) so we became producers, writers, actors and directors. Kevin and I were cast as the stars (hey, it was our movie) and if we needed villains for any scenes, we’d use his younger brother and best friend. We’d pick on them anyway, so the only difference would be filming it.
We’d create short scenes of craziness and comedy bits, separated by brief psychedelic light shows. This visual effect was accomplished by holding the camera lens directly on different colored light bulbs for a few seconds each, resulting in changing color bursts when we projected it on a screen, signaling the end of one bit and the beginning of the next.
We had no editing capabilities, so whatever we shot would be in the movie. There was also no sound with 1968 home movie cameras (at least not on the one we had), so like silent movies we had to write out any important dialogue on poster boards and hold it up in front of the lens. It’s no wonder our sight gags (silent) worked the best.
Much of this is lost to memory, but one bit is worthy of being stuck in my mind.
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The scene opened with me sitting at an empty kitchen table. I’d rub my stomach acting like I was hungry, act like I had a great idea and snap my fingers. Kevin would stop the film and I’d stay motionless as he put an empty dinner plate in front of me. He’d start the film and just like in the television show Bewitched, it looked like I had magically made the plate appear. We continued with the routine until I had silverware, a napkin, lit candles, a wine glass and then the glass filled (but not with wine). In what should have been my final finger snap conjuring up a delicious meal, an old shoe appeared on the dinner plate.
But wait – that wasn’t the end of the bit. Acting disgusted, I snapped my fingers again. Then, like magic, I disappeared and Kevin was sitting in my chair at the table with a sandwich on the plate. Acting happy, he reached for the wine class (not with real wine) and took a sip.
Laughter and applause from our audience, a psychedelic light show on the screen – and then onto the next scene.
As the scene’s featured thespian my emotions had to run from hungry, to surprise, to almost elated and at the end, disappointment. Too bad we never came up with an awards ceremony theme to our parties because I would’ve been a shoe-in (pun intended – thank you).
The final films were about ten minutes long. But just so our invited guests (especially the cool girls) didn’t have to watch a completely silent movie, we’d also record a soundtrack playing various instruments (we had some talent) onto my reel-to-reel tape recorder. We’d do our best to sync the sound and film when we’d hit “play” on both at the same time.
Together we were also a good promotional team and built up the anticipation for these premiers that would happen at one of our houses. And since we also had a good group of friends these were successful parties. There were always enough laughs for us to show the latest film a few times, then play the latest records, dance, laugh some more and talk up the cool girls. And if our star power was bright enough (like a psychedelic light show) the evening might end with a kiss, or two… or three.
So, would I say those were the days? Yeah, they really were fun.
But even though I enjoy reminiscing as The Classic Rocker, and Mary Hopkin with Those Were The Days stirred up memories of my cinematic career as a fifteen year old child actor (where was The Disney Channel when I was looking for a job?) I don’t think I’d ever want to go back. Just like each song on this countdown serves as a reminder, I think there are plenty of adventures, laughs – and even a little magic – down the long and winding road ahead. I’m still finding ways to entertain myself. Yesterday was cool, but you never know – tomorrow might be even cooler.
I just wish there was a psychedelic light show I could use to signal my next bit. Why? Because it would look very cool projected on a screen before my entrance into the new scene.
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Here’s a video from 1968 (with production quality a lot better than mine!) of Mary Hopkin performing Those Were The Days.
To purchase Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records with Those Were The Days and Mary’s follow up hit Goodbye (written by Paul McCartney) visit Amazon.com
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