On this day (October 25) in 1948, the Russian composer of “Those Were The Days”, Boris Fomin passed away at the age of 48 from tuberculosis. The popular recorded version of the song was credited to American Gene Raskin, who put a new English lyric to Fomin’s Russian romance song which he had grown up hearing. It deals with reminiscence upon youth and romantic idealism.
Mary Hopkin’s 1968 debut single of “Those Were the Days”, which was produced by Paul McCartney, became a number one hit on the UK Singles Chart. It was one of the first songs released on the Beatles’ Apple label.
McCartney heard Raskin’s version in a London club and later said “I thought it was very catchy, it had something, it was a good treatment of nostalgia… (Hopkin) picked it up very easily, as if she’d known it for years.” Paul played acoustic guitar and possibly percussion on Hopkin’s version.
McCartney also recorded Hopkin singing “Those Were The Days” in other languages for release in their respective countries:
In Spain, Qué tiempo tan feliz
In West Germany, An jenem Tag
In Italy, Quelli erano giorni
In France, Le temps des fleurs
Boris Fomin didn’t do quite as well as Raskin, who made millions off the royalties. Fomin, a musical prodigy, wrote all kinds of music, including ballets, and was quite popular in his early career. However, all this abruptly ended in June 1929, when Russian romance was pronounced a ‘counter-revolutionary’ genre. In 1937 Fomin was arrested, apparently as a result of violations in the Russian province of the ban imposed on his songs.
Although his songs were popularized as ‘folk songs’ his name was hidden from the public and he died forgotten, never suspecting the song that he wrote would be so universally known and loved.