313. T. Rex – Metal Guru (1972)

With a triumphant ‘Aaaaawh yeah!’ to kick things off, Metal Guru was a return to form after the lacklustre Telegram Sam. It was their fourth number 1 single, but it was to be their last chart-topper, and Bolan would be dead only five years later.

March 1972 was a busy time for the band, with two nights headlining at the Empire Pool, Wembley, filmed by Ringo Starr, who was to direct a T. Rex film, Born to Boogie. That same month the group began recording their third album The Slider. It was made at Château d’Hérouville near Paris, France, after Elton John suggested it as a way to avoid paying tax. Produced once more by Visconti, it captured T. Rextasy at its peak, but the fall was to be steep.

Metal Guru was rightly picked to be the opening track and gets the LP off to a blistering start. Bolan had been inspired to write about religion, and when explaining the message behind the song, proclaimed to believe in a god but wasn’t religious. Metal Guru was to represent all gods. Its mentions of the guru sitting in an ‘armour plated chair’, ‘all alone without a telephone’ create a vague image of a godhead who can communicate without the aid of BT, but as usual it’s an excuse for Bolan to conjure up some brilliant lines, and some terrible ones, even within the same verse. Consider;

‘Metal Guru has it been, just like a silver-studded sabre-tooth dream
I’II be clean you know pollution machine, oh yeah’

First line, brilliant, second, not great.

Fortunately the music behind Metal Guru is better. No great change to what had come before, but the similarities aren’t as obvious as Telegram Sam, and the sound is bigger and more muscular without sounding bloated, which it often became once Visconti stopped working with Bolan. The ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ chant brings to mind the end of Hot Love, but rather than comparing it to past glories, you’re likely to notice how much Panic by The Smiths sounds like it, which Morrissey and Marr did deliberately, both being huge T. Rex fans.

Metal Guru enjoyed a month at number 1, and with a new album set for release later that summer and the film to follow, it seemed T. Rex would be around for a long time to come. The Slider is very much Electric Warrior Part Two, but that’s no bad thing, and with tracks like Baby Strange, it’s a great glam time capsul. But Born to Boogie, released in December, was a surreal mess of a movie, blasted by critics but loved by fans. It was Bolan’s very own Magical Mystery Tour.

Children of the Revolution was released inbetween the two projects, and although it was another excellent single, but it missed the top spot. They also recorded fourth album Tanx. Finally moving on from the sound of the last two LPs, Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman were ditched as backing vocalists and replaced with a gospel sound. It’s patchy at best.

Much better was the standalone single 20th Century Boy, released two months after Tanx in March 73. Muscular and sparky, it’s the first T. Rex song I ever heard, and still my favourite, thanks to its use in a Levi’s advert starring Brad Pitt in 1991, having been re-released at the time.

Although Bolan shouldn’t be criticised for finally trying to develop his sound, it came too late. His friend/rival David Bowie was now racing ahead thanks to his Ziggy Stardust creation, and Slade were the most popular glam outfit. Bolan was also putting on weight, no longer that attractive, elfin glam god. 1974 album Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow – A Creamed Cage in August was credited to ‘Marc Bolan & T. Rex’. The line-up was expanded to feature second guitarist Jack Green and pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole, and Bolan’s lover Gloria Jones featured in backing singers The Cosmic Choir. It’s an interesting listen, but the magic was getting harder to find. They were dropped in the US before the album could be released, and drummer Bill Legend quit.

Soon after Bolan’s already huge ego became out of control. He sacked Visconti and Mickey Finn left the group. The single Zip Gun Boogie was released as a solo single but performed so badly he took on the T. Rex mantle again.

He produced the next album Bolan’s Zip Gun (1975) himself, and it was savaged. The music press mocked him for his weight gain and he became a tax exile in Monte Carlo. The production became even more far-out on Futuristic Dragon, featuring disco backings and even a sitar. It also performed badly, but it’s a pretty interesting listen.

Single I Love to Boogie, also released in 1976, was a return to a simplistic sound, and with punk on the rise, suddenly a comeback was on the cards. Bolan slimmed down and toured with punk pioneers The Damned. He set to work on Dandy in the Underworld, released in March 1977 to critical acclaim.

Six months later, he was even fronting his own TV show. Marc, broadcast over six weeks on ITV, saw Bolan introducing some of his favourite new punk bands including The Jam and Generation X, as well as T. Rex performing old and new songs, albeit miming. The final episode featured none other than Bowie, then producing some of the most adventurous music of his life, produced by, ironically, Visconti. Both singers were glad to see each other and wrote a song together, Madman, before recording the show. In an eerie symbolic premonition of what was to come, during their duet, Bolan tripped on a microphone cable and fell off the stage. This final episode of Marc was broadcast on 20 September, four days after Bolan’s fatal accident.

According to Vicky Aram, a former nightclub singer who had been invited to discuss recording with Bolan after a party, she was driving behind Bolan’s Mini, being driven by his girlfriend Jones and with Bolan beside her, when the Mini hit a steel-reinforced fence post after failing to negotiate a small humpback bridge near Barnes, south-west London. She found the car near a sycamore tree (now a rock shrine). Bolan had died from a horrific head injury due to an eye bolt in the fence, and Jones was severely injured.

Of the classic T. Rex line-up, only Legend remains. Guitarist Steve Currie played with Chris Spedding before moving to the Algarve in Portugal, where he too died in a car crash in 1981 in Portugal. Finn played as a session musician for The Soup Dragons and The Blow Monkeys before his death in 2003 of possible liver or kidney failure.

Bolan’s star shone relatively briefly compared to some musical legends, but it also shone brighter than many. Were it not for him, who knows if glam rock would ever have happened. He took a potentially moribund decade and made it fun, sexy and cool. Pop had been declining ever since The Beatles had split, and Bolan brought it back to life. It’s likely that his 1977 comeback would have been short-lived, as his musical range was limited, but we’ll never know. What we do know is that T. Rex at their best – Hot Love, Get It On, Metal Guru, 20th Century Boy – have not only aged extremely well, they sound better than ever, all these years later. For as long as there is the teenage dream, there is Marc Bolan, and there is T. Rex.

Written by: Marc Bolan

Producer: Tony Visconti

Weeks at number 1: 4 (20 May-16 June)

Births:

Cricketer Martin Saggers – 23 May
Footballer Steve Crane – 3 June
Actress Debra Stephenson – 4 June
Athlete Curtis Robb – 7 June

Deaths:

Poet Cecil Day-Lewis – 22 May
Actress Margaret Rutherford – 22 May
Edward, Duke of Windsor – 28 May (see Meanwhile…)

Meanwhile…

22 May: The Dominion of Ceylon became the Republic of Sri Lanka.

24 May: The final stretch of the M6 motorway opened between junctions 6 (Spaghetti Junction) and 7 north of Birmingham.
Also that day, Glasgow-based Rangers FC won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, beating FC Dynamo Moscow 3-2 in the final at Camp Nou in Barcelona. Celebrations were marred by a pitch invasion from their supporters, which led to the team being banned from defending the trophy next season.

26 May: State-owned travel company Thomas Cook & Son was privatised.

28 May: 35 years after he abdicated the throne, the controversial royal Edward, Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII, died of cancer at his home in France.

30 May: The Official Irish Republican Army declared a ceasefire in Northern Ireland.

1 June: Hotels and boarding houses became required to obtain certification when the Fire Precautions Act 1971 came into force.

3 June: A Protestant demonstration in Derry turned into a battle.

5 June: The funeral of The Duke of Windsor was held at Windsor Castle.

309. T. Rex – Telegram Sam (1972)

After the success of their second number 1, Get It On in the summer of 1971, T. Rex released possibly the first glam rock album, Electric Warrior, in September. It featured some of Bolan’s best material, including Jeepster and Cosmic Dancer. T. Rextasy was peaking.

After their contract with independent Fly Records ended, they signed with EMI. It didn’t stop Fly from releasing Jeepster as a single though, and it would have been Christmas number 1 that year, were it not for Benny Hill’s Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West). Despite this probably being rather embarrassing for the sensitive Bolan, he’ll have been buoyed by the success of the renamed Bang a Gong (Get It On) in the US as 1972 began. And the band were back in their studio to work on next album, The Slider.

Telegram Sam was the first fruits of that LP to be made public. Showcasing their new beefed-up sound, it featured Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman on backing vocals once more, along with producer Tony Visconti. It was inspired by Bolan’s manager (and drug dealer) Tony Secunda, Bolan’s ‘main man’.

It may have enjoyed a two-week run at number 1, but Telegram Sam is the first sign of Bolan’s well beginning to run dry. Yes, the sound is heavier, but it’s really just Get It On all over again, only not as good. And the lyrics, where they used to sound inspired and were never less than interesting, are Bolan-by-numbers. He reels off a list of bizarre characters – in addition to Sam, there’s Bobby, Golden Nose Slim and Purple Pie Pete, who are all excuses to come up with increasingly bizarre rhymes. Take Pete:


‘Purple Pie Pete Purple Pie Pete
Your lips are like lightning
Girls melt in the heat’.

Not great. The self-referencing line in the last verse, ‘Me I funk but I don’t care/I ain’t no square with my corkscrew hair’ is better, though.

There’s still great stuff to come from T. Rex at this point, their fourth and final number 1 Metal Guru among them, but here was a sign that Bolan was happy enough to stick to a limited formula and while that was fine for now, he’d soon be behind his contemporaries.

Written by: Marc Bolan

Producer: Tony Visconti

Weeks at number 1: 2 (5-18 February)

Births:

Footballer Darren Ferguson – 9 February
Footballer Steve McManaman – 11 February

Meanwhile…

9 February: Prime Minister Edward Heath declared a state of emergency as a result of the miners’ strike. A three-day week had already been imposed, and power supplies were turned off for many for nine hours from this day.

302. T. Rex – Get It On (1971)

Moving fast to make the most of his long-awaited stardom, Marc Bolan returned to the studio to make a new T. Rex LP while Hot Love peaked at number 1 in March 1971. The result, Electric Warrior, is considered the first glam rock album.

Drummer Bill Fifield, who had made his debut on the last single, became a full-time band member and was renamed ‘Bill Legend’. This may have affected Bolan’s relationship with percussionist Mickey Finn, who apparently was hired more for his looks than musical ability in the first place. Although he contributed to Electric Warrior, he is absent from Get It On.

While in New York, Bolan asked Legend to work with him on drum patterns for a new song inspired by Chuck Berry’s Little Queenie. Returning to Trident Studios, Tony Visconti was back on production, and Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan returned for backing vocal duty.

Two progressive rock musicians were also involved, with King Crimson’s Ian MacDonald providing baritone and alto saxophones, and Rick Wakeman on the piano. In 2010 he recalled on BBC Radio 2’s The Glory of Glam that he was desperate for work to pay his rent when he bumped into Bolan on Oxford Street, who offered him the session. When he turned up, Wakeman pointed out to Visconti the track didn’t need piano, and the producer suggested he did some glissandos. Wakeman noted Visconti could do that, and he replied ‘You want your rent, don’t you?’. Wakeman earned £9 for those little touches of sparkle.

Built around that formidable Berry riff, steeped in sexuality and with some brilliant lyrics, Get It On is the sound of an artist at the top of his game. Coming after the last two number 1s, it’s a blessed relief, and it might well be the ‘coolest’ chart-topper up to this point.

It’s less polished and not as weird as Hot Love, and not as raucous as a lot of the glam rock to come, including 20th Century Boy (my favourite T. Rex single), but it’s such a groove. Yes, the riff is stolen (and would be ripped off again by Oasis with Cigarettes & Alcohol), but Bolan makes it totally his own, albeit with a cheeky ad-lib of ‘And meanwhile, I’m still thinking’ from Little Queenie itself during the fade-out. He comes on to his ‘dirty and sweet’ girl with some startling comparisons, the best of which are ‘You’ve got the teeth/Of the Hydra upon you’ and ‘Well you’re built like a car/You’ve got a hubcap/Diamond star halo’ (Bolan was a big fan of cars).

For the hardcore Tyrannosaurus Rex fans who remained faithful, there’s also a ‘cloak full of eagles’. Not that there were many of those left – the more the teenagers flocked to T. Rex, the more they accused him of being a sell-out, and it was Get It On that finally turned John Peel off. He dared to criticise it on air, which finished their friendship. They only spoke once more before Bolan died.

Released on 2 July as a taster for Electric Warrior, it only took three weeks for Get It On to become the second of four T. Rex number 1s. It also became their only US hit, climbing to number 10, retitled as Bang a Gong (Get It On) to avoid confusion with a recent hit by jazz-rock band Chase in the States.

Get It On would be covered by 80s supergroup The Power Station (featuring Robert Palmer and members of Duran Duran and Chic) in 1985. It was a hit, but the beefed-up sound robbed it of its charm.

Written by: Marc Bolan

Producer: Tony Visconti

Weeks at number 1: 4 (24 July-20 August)

Births:

Northern Irish footballer Michael Hughes – 2 August
Newsreader Kate Sanderson – 9 August
Electronic artist Richard D James, aka Aphex Twin – 18 August

Deaths:

Northern Irish footballer Charlie Tully – 27 July

Meanwhile…

29 July: The UK officially opted out of the Space Race when its Black Arrow launch vehicle was cancelled.

6 August: Chay Blyth became the first person to sail around the world east to west against the prevailing winds.

9 August: British security forces in Northern Ireland detained hundreds of guerrilla suspects and put them into Long Kesh prison – the beginning of their internment without trial policy. In the subsequent riots, 20 died, including 11 in the Ballymurphy Massacre.

11 August: Prime Minister Edward Heath took part in the Admiral’s Cup yacht race, which Britain won.

15 August: Controversial showjumper Harvey Smith was stripped of his victory in the British Show Jumping Derby by judges for making a V sign.

298. T. Rex – Hot Love (1971)

In March 1971, singer-songwriter Marc Bolan appeared on Top of the Pops to promote T. Rex’s second single Hot Love, as shown below. His stylist, Chelita Secunda, had suggested he wear glitter under his eyes, and it was this appearance that spearheaded the glam rock movement and gave Bolan the stardom he had strived for. Forget ‘Mungo-mania’ – ‘T. Rextasy’ was the first true pop phenomenon in the UK since ‘Beatlemania’. Pop was rejuvenated.

Bolan was born Mark Feld on 30 September 1947. He was raised in Stoke Newington, East London until the Felds moved to Wimbledon in southwest London when he was a young boy. Around this time he, like so many of his contemporaries, fell in love with rock’n’roll, particularly stars like Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran. He was only nine when he was given his first guitar and he formed a skiffle band, and soon after he was playing guitar for Susie and the Hula Hoops, whose singer was 12-year-old Helen Shapiro, who would have two number 1s in 1961 with You Don’t Know and Walkin’ Back to Happiness.

Feld was expelled from school at 15 and around this time became known as ‘The Face’ due to his good looks. He joined a modelling agency and appeared in catalogues for Littlewoods and John Temple wearing Mod getup just as The Beatles were first making waves.

In 1964 Feld made his first known recording, All at Once, in which he aped Cliff Richard. Next, he changed his name to Toby Tyler when he became interested in the music of Bob Dylan, and he began to dress like him too. His first acetate was a cover of Blowin’ in the Wind.

The following year, he signed with Decca Records and changed his name to Marc Bowland, before his label suggested Marc Bolan. First single, The Wizard, featured Jimmy Page and backing vocalists The Ladybirds, who later collaborated with Benny Hill. None of his solo singles, in which he adopted a US folk sound, made any impact.

Simon Napier-Bell, manager of The Yardbirds and John’s Children, a struggling psychedelic rock act, first met Bolan in 1966 when he showed up at his house with a guitar, proclaiming that he was going to be a big star and wanted Napier-Bell to work with him. Bolan was nearly placed in The Yardbirds but was placed in John’s Children as guitarist and songwriter in March 1967 instead. The group were outrageous, and Bolan proved to be a good fit, writing the single Desdemona, which was banned by the BBC for the lyric ‘lift up your skirt and fly’. Only a month later, they toured as support for The Who but were soon given their marching orders for upstaging the headliners (Bolan would whip his guitar with a chain). John’s Children also performed at The 14-Hour Technicolour Dream at Alexander Palace that month. Yet by June Bolan had left the group after falling out with his manager over their unreleased single A Midsummer Night’s Scene.

Bolan formed his own group, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and after one rushed, disastrous gig, he pared the band down to just himself and their drummer, Steve Peregrin Took, who would play percussion and occasional bass alongside Bolan and his acoustic guitar. For the next few years, Tyrannosaurus Rex amassed a cult following, with Radio 1 DJ John Peel among their biggest fans. Bolan’s fey, whimsical warbling could get a bit much at times, and I speak as a lover of 60s psychedelia, but the signs of a very talented singer-songwriter are there right from their debut single Debora and first album, the brilliantly titled My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair… But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows (1968), produced by Tony Visconti. Peel even read short stories by Bolan on their albums.

This was the last album to feature Took, who had been growing apart from Bolan, who was working on a book of poetry called The Warlock of Love. Bolan’s ego didn’t take kindly to the thought of Took contributing to songwriting, so he replaced him with Mickey Finn for fourth album Beard of Stars, released in March 1970. David Bowie’s follow-up to Space Oddity, The Prettiest Star also came out that month, with Bolan on guitar. The single tanked.

As the new decade dawned, Bolan was outgrowing Tyrannosaurus Rex, and was simplifying his songwriting while reintroducing an electric band setup to the mix. Visconti had been abbreviating the band’s name to T. Rex for a while on recording tapes, and while Bolan didn’t appreciate it at first, he decided to adopt the name to represent the next stage of development.

While preparing to release their first material in their new incarnation, Bolan replaced The Kinks as headlining act at the Pilton Festival at Worthy Farm, the day after Jimi Hendrix died on 19 September. 50 years on, it’s known as Glastonbury Festival, the king of the UK festival scene.

T. Rex released their first single, Ride a White Swan in October. This, simple, catchy layered guitar track caught on, and finally Bolan had a hit on his hands, narrowly missing out on the number 1 spot due to Clive Dunn’s Grandad in January 1971. T. Rex’s eponymous debut also went top 10 in the album charts. Bolan was now famous, but he needed to capitalise and go one better to avoid being a one-hit wonder.

Hot Love was recorded on 21 and 22 January at Trident Studios – the week Ride a White Swan peaked at number two. Seizing the moment, Bolan decided to flesh out T. Rex’s sound and adopt a classic four-piece line-up. With new bassist Steve Currie making his recording debut, Bolan and Visconti hired Bill Fifield as drummer, leaving Finn relegated to just handclaps. After helping out on T. Rex, this single saw the return of Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman on backing vocals. The duo had been founding members of The Turtles, and as Flo & Eddie had recently been part of Frank Zappa’s group The Mothers of Invention. Kaylan and Volman’s slightly unhinged harmonies became an integral part of the classic T. Rex sound.

Although Ride a White Swan served notice that Bolan was moving on from his old self-limited sonic boundaries, the lyrics were still very much the Tolkien whimsy of your average Tyrannosaurus Rex track. Hot Love featured a more simplistic, direct lyrical approach. Bolan is merely telling you about his lover.

Taken as read, much of T. Rex’s lyrical output can seem childish, sometimes even ridiculous, yet most of the time Bolan pulls it off, and he does so here. I’ve always admired the chutzpah of the lines ‘Well she ain’t no witch and I love the way she twitch – a ha ha’ and the charming camp of ‘I don’t mean to be bold, a-but a-may I hold your hand?’ but I’d never noticed the ludicrous ‘I’m a labourer of love in my persian gloves – a ha ha’ before. My favourite lyric of recent memory, right there.

There’s no point spending too much time dissecting Bolan’s words though, it’s more about the feel they add to his songs, and Hot Love feels sexy, which isn’t a label you could ever give his Tyrannosaurus Rex material. It’s fascinating to me how a voice that’s so fey, singing such daft words, can at the same time be so sensual.

The tune displays a key ingredient of glam rock – 50s rock’n’roll. Bolan has updated a simple bluesy riff and, thanks to the input of Visconti’s glossy studio sheen and string arrangement, updated it for 70s audiences. Kaylan and Volman’s backing vocals keep a certain strangeness in place and stop things getting too smooth, but this is a high definition Bolan that hadn’t been heard before, and Hot Love is just one reason why Visconti is rightly one of the most famous producers of all time.

The second half of Hot Love shifts into a ‘La-la-la-la-la-la-la’ Bolan, Kaylan and Volman singalong, akin to Hey Jude, but faster and weirder. It’s a real earworm, and no doubt helped it to number 1, but I find it goes on a bit too long, and I prefer the first half personally. Having said that, it really does show up the previous number 1, Baby Jump, as lumpen and turgid by comparison. A much-needed breath of fresh air in the charts, to put it mildly.

Released on 12 February on Fly Records, Hot Love rocketed up the charts, in part thanks to those famous Top of the Pops appearances. Bolan displayed star material in spades, and was perhaps the first musician since Elvis Presley to prove that image could be a vital ingredient in pop. Looking every inch the rock star with his glitter and guitar, he made glam rock about appearance as well as the sound, and other acts like Slade and friend/rival Bowie were watching and taking notes.

The 70s were often a drab, moribund decade. Glam rock may have been a peculiarly British phenomenon that didn’t catch on elsewhere in the way Beatlemania did, but in the UK it was sorely needed, and brought about some of the best number 1s of the next four years. Bolan was integral in this.

T. Rex would prove to have a formula that Bolan couldn’t advance much from, and his star burnt out quick, but in the early 70s he gave pop the kick up the arse it needed. There are better T. Rex songs. However, Hot Love is one of the most important number 1s of the decade.

Written by: Marc Bolan

Producer: Tony Visconti

Weeks at number 1: 6 (20 March-30 April)

Births:

Scottish actress Kate Dickie – 23 March
TV presenter Gail Porter – 23 March
Scottish racing driver David Coulthard – 27 March
Cricketer Paul Grayson – 31 March
Scottish actor Ewan McGregor – 31 March
Cricketer Jason Lewry – 2 April
Conservative MP Douglas Carswell – 3 April
Liberal Democrat MP John Leech – 11 April
Actress Belinda Stewart-Wilson – 16 April
Scottish actor David Tennant – 18 April

Deaths:

Actor Cecil Parker – 20 April

Meanwhile…

1 April: All restrictions on gold ownership were lifted in the UK. Since 1966 Britons had been banned from holding more than four gold coins or from buying any new ones, unless they held a licence.

11 April: 10 British Army soldiers were injured in rioting in Derry, Northern Ireland.

15 April: The planned Barbican Centre in London was given the go-ahead.

18 April: A serious fire at Kentish Town West railway station meant that the station remained closed until 5 October 1981.

19 April: Unemployment reached a post-World War Two high of nearly 815,000.

27 April: Eight members of the Welsh Language Society went on trial for destroying English language road signs in Wales.
Also on this day, British Leyland launched the Morris Marina, which succeeded the Minor.

259. Mary Hopkin – Those Were the Days (1968)

Mary Hopkin enjoyed a six-week run (the lengthiest that year) at number 1. The pretty young Welsh folk singer with a powerful voice was the first solo female artist to top the charts since Sandie Shaw in April 1967 with Puppet on a String.

It’s interesting to note that with the exception of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, no number 1 artist for the rest of the decade was able to repeat the feat.

Born in Pontardawe on 3 May 1950, Hopkin took singing lessons as a child and joined a local folk-rock group that became The Selby Set and Mary, who released a Welsh-language EP on their local label Cambrian. They split up after six months and Hopkin decided to go it alone.

She was initially horrified to learn her agent had booked her an audition for the ITV talent show Opportunity Knocks, as she wasn’t interested in becoming a light entertainment star. The 17-year-old was picked for the show and her reluctant appearance on 5 May 1968 was noticed by the model Twiggy. The following weekend she told Paul McCartney about Hopkin after he had mentioned the Beatles were scouting for talent for their new label Apple Records.

A telegram went to the family home, with a number to ring. Hopkin didn’t realise she was speaking to McCartney when he invited her to London to sign a contract. Her mother nearly dropped the phone when he revealed who they were speaking to. Understandably in awe, she recorded a few nervous demos for him, and a few days later became one of the first signings to the fledgling label.

Meeting with McCartney, he told her he knew just the song for her debut single, and that Donovan and The Moody Blues had been offered it but it hadn’t worked out. Paul then strummed Those Were the Days.

This nostalgic, bittersweet tune was originally a Russian song called Dorogoi dlinnoyu, meaning ‘By the road’. It had been written by Boris Fomin, with lyrics by Konstantin Podrevsky. The earliest recording is believed to date back to 1925, performed by Georgian singer Tamara Tsereteli. However, the Hopkin version featured a different set of lyrics. American musician Gene Raskin, who had loved the song when growing up, wrote new words with his wife Francesca in the early 60s and copyrighted them in his name only. The Raskins played in London once a year, and would always close their sets with Those Were the Days. McCartney saw a performance and fell in love with the track.

He produced Hopkin’s version that July, with an arrangement by Richard Hewson that adopted a Russian feel, featuring a balalaika, cimbalom and tenor banjo. The singer and Beatles star both featured on acoustic guitar, and it’s also highly likely that Macca is on the banjo. After recording was completed, they recorded several foreign language versions, including Spanish, Italian, German and French.

It’s an unusual idea, getting an 18-year-old to sing a song that deals in the loss of youth, but not when you hear Hopkin’s performance. Her impressive, weathered vocal sounds like it belongs to someone entirely different. It’s a great production, sounding very distinct from any other number 1 really, and it’s surprising to find out it stayed at number 1 for so long. But then again, the chorus is catchy as hell, and it’s because of it that I feel I’ve known the song all my life. I’ve never taken notice of the verses before though, and I was impressed.

We can all relate to that feeling of the best days being behind us, of mourning that feeling of invincibility that disspates as youth dies over the years. I particularly liked the last verse, where the singer returns to the tavern she used to frequent: ‘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 woman really me?’

However, it’s a little on the long side, and could probably have done with losing a minute or two. There was obviously an appetite for lengthier singles though, with Those Were the Days toppling the seven-minute-plus Hey Jude, by her own producer.

Those Were the Days was promoted as one of Apple’s ‘First Four’ and is officially the first proper single on the label, as ‘APPLE 1’ was a one-off for Ringo Starr’s wife, and Hey Jude was given a Parlophone Records catalogue number.

Around the same time, Sandie Shaw also recorded a version, but her star was on the wane, and without the backing of The Beatles, it failed to match the success of the Hopkin version.

Hopkin released her debut album, Postcard, in February 1969. Also produced by McCartney, it featured covers of songs by Donovan and Harry Nilsson. Her next single, Goodbye, credited to Lennon/McCartney but written by the latter, reached number two – ironically, it couldn’t repeat Hopkin’s earlier success, and she failed to knock Get Back from the top spot.

In 1970 she took part in the Eurovision Song Contest, and very nearly won with Knock. Knock Who’s There? But despite being the pre-contest favourite, she came second to Irish singer Dana’s All Kinds of Everything. It also reached number two in the singles chart. Hopkin was now working with Mickie Most, but her fame began to recede soon afterwards.

1971 saw her marry her new producer, Tony Visconti, and release her second album, Earth Song, Ocean Song. She was unhappy with showbusiness, and felt she achieved all she had wanted with this album, so she withdrew from the pop scene to start a family. She did however release a few songs here and there (there was another version of her number 1 among them), and would guest on her husband’s productions – most famously, it’s her you can hear singing at the start of David Bowie’s Sound and Vision from 1976.

The early 80s saw Hopkin briefly sing lead with the group Sundance. In 1981 she and Visconti divorced, and a year later she provided vocals on Vangelis’s soundtrack to sci-fi classic Blade Runner. She then joined Peter Skellern and Julian Lloyd Webber in a group called Oasis, but again, this was short-lived. Hopkin moved into acting, and in 1988 she appeared in Beatles producer George Martin’s production of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood.

In the 90s she occasionally performed with the Chieftains, sang the theme song to Billy Connolly’s TV show World Tour of England, and re-recorded Those Were the Days with Robbie Williams rapping, apparently. I hope I never have to hear that.

Hopkin continued to release new music and archive tracks throughout the 00s, and she appeared on her daughter Jessica Lee Morgan’s album in 2010. She also collaborated with her son Morgan Visconti that year. In August 2018 she released another version of Those Were the Days to celebrate its 50th anniversary, with its lyrics taking on an extra layer of poignancy.

Written by: Boris Fomin & Gene Raskin

Producer: Paul McCartney

Weeks at number 1: 6 (25 September-5 November)

Births:

Actress Naomi Watts – 28 September
Bros singer Matt and drummer Luke Goss – 29 September
TV presenter Mark Durden-Smith – 1 October
Radio presenter Victoria Derbyshire – 2 October
Serial killer Beverley Allitt – 4 October
Radiohead singer Thom Yorke – 7 October
Footballer Matthew Le Tissier – 14 October

Deaths:

Publisher Stanley Unwin – 13 October
Comedian Bud Flanagan – 20 October 

Meanwhile

26 September: The Theatres Act 1968 ended Draconian censorship in theatre, which enabled the famous US hippy musical Hair open in London the following day. Nevertheless, the nude scene still shocked stuffy English critics.

2 October: A woman from Birmingham gave birth to the first recorded instance of live sextuplets in the UK.

5 October: A civil rights march in Derry, Northern Ireland was batoned off the streets by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and a day later Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill and John Surtees took the first three places at the United States Grand Prix.

12-27 October: Great Britain and Northern Ireland won five gold medals in the Olympic Games in Mexico City.

27 October: Police clashed with protestors in an anti-Vietnam War protest outside the Embassy of the United States in London.