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On this day: Russia in a click

Mary Hopkin Mary Hopkin

25 September

On September 25, 1968, the Russian song “Dorogoy Dlinnoyu” topped the UK music charts. It was sung by Mary Hopkin and called "Those Were the Days", with different lyrics from the Russian original, penned by Gene Raskin.

Many might still remember the famous chorus:

“Those were the days my friend,

We thought they’d never end,

We’d sing and dance forever and a day,

We’d live the life we choose,

We’d fight and never lose,

For we were young and sure to have our way

Lalala lah la la, lalala lah la la,

Those were the days, oh yes, those were the days.”

However, in 1968 when the record went “gold” in the West, no one knew about the origin of that nostalgic melody. The first ever pop song to emerge from behind the Iron Curtain, “Dorogoy Dlinnoyu” (“By the long road”) was written by famous Russian composer, Boris Fomin, and poet, Konstantin Podrevsky, in the 1920's, especially to be performed by singer and poet Elizabeth Belogorsky.

Fomin and Podrevsky had written a large number of songs together, many of which are performed on stage to this day. However, the most popular remains “Dorogoy Dlinnoyu”, and its greatest Russian performer was Aleksandr Vertinsky, who made a pop adaptation and turned it into a hit, famous today around the world.

The song was first heard in the US back in the 1950's, performed by a duet called “Gene and Francesca”. Eventually, American singer and songwriter Gene Raskin adapted the text to the English language for popular US folk-group “The Limeliters” (at the same time assigning authorship to himself).

In 1968, The Beatles’ independent record label “Apple” signed a contract with a new discovery of Paul McCartney’s named Mary Hopkin. McCartney produced Hopkin’s debut single, “Those Were the Days”, which he had heard a few years back in a club called the "Blue Lamp" in London.

The single was the first and most successful for The Beatles’ label. It topped the UK charts for six weeks straight, and had the whole world singing its tune. Little did they all know it was composed by the legendary Boris Fomin.

“Those Were the Days” also reached the # 2 spot in the US. Paul McCartney recorded Mary singing "Those Were the Days" in four other languages for release in their respective countries: Germany, Spain, Italy and France. By the end of the first year of its release, it had sold over 5 million copies. The song has been adapted by many artists since: Sandie Shaw, the Three Tenors and Dolly Parton to name a few. US rapper “50 Cent” used an electric guitar version of the melody in his “When It Rains, It Pours”.