This post was inspired by a recent article in the New York Times about the survival of the Welsh language entitled “The Welsh Strive to Keep Their Language“.
How does the Welsh language relate to the history of the Beatles?
Mary Hopkin is the only native speaker of the Welsh language to have had a number one hit on the UK pop charts. She was born into a Welsh-speaking family in Pontardawe, Wales. Her song “Those Were The Days” topped the UK charts in 1969 in addition to reaching number two on The Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. Not only is she the only native Welsh speaker to top the UK charts, but also she is the only native speaker of any of the Celtic languages to have done so.
“Those Were the Days” was a Russian folk song that was given English lyrics by American songwriter Gene Raskin. It was the first single recorded by Hopkin, who was among the very first artists to be signed by the Apple Records label. Paul McCartney produced the song and played acoustic guitar in the recording session. He would soon produce a full album for Hopkin entitled Post Card, on which he would also play both guitar and bass on various tracks. Prior to signing with the Apple label, she had recorded an album of Welsh-language songs.
Mary Hopkin was brought to the attention of Paul McCartney by his friend Twiggy, the famous model, who had seen Hopkin win the television talent show Opportunity Knocks. She knew he was looking for fresh talent for the new label and telephoned him to urge that Apple sign Hopkin. Hopkin was immediately singed.
Having heard Raskin and his wife perform their song at a London nightclub in 1964, McCartney tucked the song away in his mind with the intention of being part of its recording someday.
Hopkin’s next single release was “Goodbye”, one of Paul’s songs credited to the Lennon/McCartney partnership. Ironically, “Goodbye” only reached number two on the British charts as it was blocked from the number one slot by “Get Back”, which meant that Apple Records held the top two songs on the charts.
Mary Hopkin continued to record and chart songs, but never had the same level of success as she did in the beginning. She married famed producer Tony Visconti, who produced a slew of artists in the 1970’s such as David Bowie and Thin Lizzy. He has produced numerous David Bowie albums beginning with Space Oddity in 1969 and more recently Next Day in 2013; in between he produced six Bowie albums among them Diamond Dogs (1974), Young Americans (1975) and Scary Monsters (1980). For the recording of the Wings album Band on the Run, McCartney recruited Visconti to handle the orchestral arrangements.
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