Fifty years ago I bid farewell to many of my friends in a farewell party. A week later I was on a plane bound for Canada.
In the intervening years, a few have passed away, many have dispersed to all corners of the world, and many simply have faded away. Although I have been back to Hong Kong in 1963, 1966, 2001, and 2002, many of them I was never to meet again. I was hoping to meet many of them in the 50th class reunion this November, but, alas, fate intervened! I can no longer walk more than than a couple of blocks and my arms are practically useless.
Once upon a time there was a tavern,
Where we used to raise a glass or two,
Remember how we laughed away the hours,
Think of all the great things we would do.
Those were the days my friend,
We thought they’d never end,
We’d sing and dance for ever and a day.
We’d live the live we’d choose,
We’d fight and never lose,
For were young and sure to have our way….
La La La La La La, La La La La La La,
Those were the day, oh yes, those were the days.
OH YES, THOSE WERE THE DAYS
Then the busy year went rushing by us,
We lost our starry notions on the way,
If by chance I’d see you in the tavern,
We’d smile at one another and we’d say,
Just tonight I stood before the tavern,
Nothing seemed the way it used to be,
In the glass I saw a strange reflection,
Was that lonely (fellow/woman) really me?
Through the door there came familiar laughter,
I saw your face and heard you call my name,
Oh, my friends we’re older but no wiser,
For in our hearts the dreams are still the same…
DOROGOJ DLINNOYU 路漫漫
Ehali na trojke s bubencami,
A vdali mel’kali ogon’ki. Mne b sejchas, sokoliki, za Vami,
Dushu by razveyat’ ot toski.
Dorogoj dlinnoyu, da noch’yu lunnoyu,
Da s pesnej toj, chto vdal’ letit zvenya,
Is toj starinnoyu s toj semistrunnoyu,
Chto po nocham tak muchala menya…
Tak zhivya bez radosti, bez muki,
Pomnyu ya ushedshie goda, I tvoi serebryanye ruki V trojke,
uletevshej navsegda… Dorogoj dlinnoyu…
Dni begut, pechali umnozhaya, Mne tak trudno proshloe zabyt’.
Kak-nibud’ odnazhdy, dorogaya,
Vy menya svezete horonit’.
And now – the translation.
There are only three verses in the Russian song.
Words in brackets are not in the text but are implied.
As sung by A.Vertinskiy:
(We) Used to ride in a three-horse carriage with bells (tinkling)
And lights were blinking in the distance
I wish I could go with you (again), falcons
To clear my soul off all my grief
(Going down) that long road on a moonlight night with that
song that is flying away, ringing
And with that old seven-string one (guitar)
That troubled me so much at nights
Living such life without joy and torture,
I recollect the years that passed by
And your silver hands
in that three-horse carriage which went away for good…
Refrain: (same as above)
Days are passing by, multiplying my sorrows,
It’s so hard for me to forget the past
And one day the day will come, my dear,
When you are going to bury me…
“Those Were the Days” is a song credited to Gene Raskin, who put English lyrics to the Russian song “Dorogoi dlinnoyu” (“Дорогой длинною”, lit. “By the long road”), written by Boris Fomin (1900–1948) with words by the poet Konstantin Podrevskii. It deals with reminiscence upon youth and romantic idealism. The Georgian Tamara Tsereteli (1900–1968) in 1925 and Alexander Vertinsky in 1926 made what were probably the earliest recordings of the song. However, it is best remembered for Mary Hopkin’s 1968 recording, which was a top-ten hit in both the U.S. and the U.K. On most records of the song, Gene Raskin is credited as the writer of the song, even though he just wrote the English lyrics and not the melody.
Gene Raskin frequented the White Horse Tavern in New York’s Greenwich Village in the 1960s and the song lamented the passing of the golden folk days of Dylan, Paxton, Ochs, and The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem.
Although the song was popularized in the early 1960s by The Limeliters , Welsh singer Mary Hopkin made the best known recording, released on 30 August 1968, shortly after Hopkin had been signed to the Beatles’ newly created Apple label. Hopkin’s recording was produced by Paul McCartney and became a #1 hit in the UK singles chart. In the US, Hopkin’s recording reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the Billboard Easy Listening charts for six weeks . The Russian origin of the melody was accentuated by an instrumentation which was unusual for a top ten pop record, including clarinet, hammer dulcimer and children’s chorus, giving a klezmer feel to the song.
Paul McCartney, who produced the session, also recorded Hopkin singing “Those Were The Days” in four other languages for release in their respective countries:
In Spain, Que Tiempo Tan Feliz
In West Germany, An jenem Tag
In Italy, Quelli Erano Giorni
In France, Le temps des fleurs
All four non-English sets of lyrics were also recorded by Dalida and Sandie Shaw with Shaw recording the English lyrics as well.
The UK and the USA had the B-side, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” which was written by Pete Seeger (from Ecclesiastes), which had been a U.S. #1 hit for The Byrds in 1965.
“Those Were the Days” was catalogue number Apple 2 (APPLE 1 catalogue number was given to the unreleased version of ‘The Lady is a tramp’ by Frank Sinatra, recorded especially in 1968 for Maureen Starkey as Ringo Starr’s gift for her 22nd birthday, under the name of “The Lady is a Champ”).
Hopkin’s version was released on the back of her success on the television talent show Opportunity Knocks and around the time of its release popular singer Sandie Shaw was also asked to record the song by her management, feeling that it should be done by a “real” singer. Shaw’s version was released as a single but did not beat the success of Hopkin’s version.
In the mid 1970s, after Hopkin’s contract with Apple ended, “Those Were the Days” and “Goodbye” were re-recorded with producer Tony Visconti. Only these re-recorded versions can be found on music compilation discs because Apple never allows its original recordings to be used. On Christmas 1975, the President of Equatorial Guinea, Francisco Macías Nguema, had 150 alleged coup plotters executed in the national stadium while a band played Those Were the Days.
In 2005, Dolly Parton released a cover of “Those Were the Days,” which featured backing vocals by Mary Hopkin. That year, the song became the title track of Dolly Parton’s album Those Were The Days.