We celebrate Mother’s Day in the U.S. by looking back at the 50th anniversary of Mary Hopkin’s debut single on Apple, “Those Were the Days,” with her daughter Jessica Lee Morgan, and explore old and new music from both performers.
By Warren Kurtz
Since the age of four, Mary Hopkin had been a chapel singer in Wales’ Pontardawe Congregational Tabernacle Choir. Fifty years ago, in 1968, during her senior year of high school, she appeared on the talent show Opportunity Knocks. She was spotted by pop model Twiggy Lawson, who called Paul McCartney, knowing that The Beatles had announced a new record label named Apple. Paul McCartney called Mary Hopkin, and the two began working on her version of an old folk song called “Those Were the Days.” Apple’s first single was “Hey Jude,” which is a featured single on the cover of our new book, Goldmine 45 RPM Record Price Guide 8th Edition by Dave Thompson. “Hey Jude,” with “Revolution” as its flip side, spent nine weeks at number one throughout most of the fall of 1968. Apple’s second single was “Those Were the Days,” which reached No. 1 in England after “Hey Jude” and No. 2 in the U.S. We reached out to Jessica Lee Morgan for a three part interview to cover her mother’s work on Apple, post-Apple recordings which have been released on CD in recent years on her family’s Mary Hopkin Music and Space Records labels, and Jessica’s new album, Around the Block.
PART ONE – THE APPLE YEARS
Album photos taken by Linda Eastman, who became Linda McCartney the following year
GOLDMINE: The first 45 that our editor, Pat Prince, remembers playing is his mother’s copy of “Those Were the Days.” Where were you when you were first introduced to this song?
JESSICA LEE MORGAN: We were shopping at the market and it came over the speakers. I asked my mum, “Isn’t that you?” She replied, “Yes,” and then tried to hide a bit. I performed it, in recent years, at a concert that honored Welsh number one songs, with the Welsh Pops Orchestra. In 1968, initially, she wasn’t pleased with her first take on the song. At the age of 18 she didn’t have much life experience to draw from for the lyric. She was told to try again. She came back the next day and that take is what became the hit version and included on her first album, Post Card.
GM: Both sides of the next single, “Goodbye” / “Sparrow,” had a green label indicating a potential double-A sided hit single. I certainly enjoy both songs. “Sparrow” is a big favorite of my cousin David, who is a huge Beatles fan. This song reminds the listener of what might have happened next, as a sequel to The Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home,” from Sgt. Pepper, plus it includes a Beatles character name as your mother delivers the line, “When Eleanor sings in the choir.”
JM: My mum was touring, singing “Those Were the Days” and other songs in her repertoire. She asked Paul McCartney to write her another hit. Paul said that he had “a nice little ditty” for her. On the record you can hear Paul’s thigh slaps as percussion. My mum felt strongly about “Sparrow,” which was written by Apple staff writers Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle. Benny is an honorary uncle to me. The song dealt with leaving home and a tie to chapel roots. It is a very emotional song. When I hear it, it brings a tear to my eye.
GM: When your mother’s final charting single in the U.S. was released, rather than playing the A side, “Knock Knock Who’s There,” our Cleveland AM radio station WIXY 1260 played its flip side, “International,” and became my favorite Mary Hopkin song.
JM: “Knock Knock Who’s There” was her entry for the Eurovision Song Contest. She agreed to take part on the condition that she got to choose the song. Unfortunately, she didn’t get much of a chance and would have chosen another song. “International” is another Gallagher and Lyle composition, from the beautiful album, Earth Song / Ocean Song, produced by my father, Tony Visconti.
Flip side: International
A side: Knock Knock Who’s There
Top 100 debut: December 9, 1972
Peak position: 92
PART TWO – POST-APPLE YEARS
GM: A great live version of “International” is the finale on the Live at The Royal Festival Hall 1972 album, which also contains “Sparrow,” “Those Were the Days,” “If I Fell,” and more.
JM: In 2005 we started a label to get my mum’s music out from old tapes and new songs. This was the first release. It was wonderful to start selling directly to her fans and see how much they still supported her.
GM: Your mother’s recent Painting by Numbers album includes “Gold and Silver,” reminding me of Stevie Nicks with its imagery and “Die for You,” which is a bit more eerie recalling a range of singers from Joan Baez to Jewel.
JM: My mum says that she is most proud of her recent stuff. “Gold and Silver” is mixed by my brother Morgan Visconti. “Die for You” reminds me of the French singer Edith Piaf. It is dramatic. I love it. It was written from her heart. She also did the cover painting.
GM: A pair of songs from 2009 that are favorites of mine are your mother’s version of “When He Shines,” which I hadn’t heard since 1982 with Sheena Easton’s recording and “Tell Me Now” that reminds me of some of the best Olivia Newton-John records.
JM: My mum recorded “When He Shines,” written by Dominic Bugatti and Florrie Palmer, in either the late ‘70s or very early ‘80s, but definitely before the 1982 Sheena Easton version. My father created a big arrangement for it. He also had a label in the ‘70s called Good Earth records, and “Tell Me Now” was originally released as the flip side of “If You Love Me (Really Love Me)” on that label, originally recorded by Edith Piaf, and it reached the Top 40 in the UK. “Tell Me Now” was my mum’s original composition and my father provided the string arrangement.
GM: Going back a couple of more years, the 2007 releases of “With You or Without You” is tender, sounding more like Joni Mitchell and “Sometimes It’s Not Enough (When You Only Use Words),” with its folk sound and violin, are a couple more favorites.
JM: “With or Without You” came from a batch of songs on tape from the Earth Songs / Ocean Songs sessions, as a demo recording. “Sometimes It’s Not Enough (When You Only Use Words)” was written by John Kongos and includes Laurence Juber on guitar and fiddler Mike Piggott.
GM: The biggest surprise was when I played “Mother Earth.” My mouth dropped when I heard your mom sing, “When she’s on her best behavior, don’t be tempted by her favors. Never turn your back on mother earth.” That is Sparks! Ron and Russell Mael! My wife Donna and I know this one from their ‘70s Propaganda album, and have always thought of it as being beautiful. Here your mother gives it dignity, too. Thank you for this one.
JM: My dad produced some of Sparks’ albums and they recorded it as a surprise to them. At the beginning of the tape there is an introduction that we edited out for the CD, “This is for Ron and Russell.” Ron and Russell are celebrating their 50th year musical anniversary this year.
PART THREE – AROUND THE BLOCK – JESSICA LEE MORGAN
GM: Last year, as part of the group Holy Holy, you performed David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album in its entirety in a variety of U.K. cities with your dad on bass and Woody Woodmansey from David Bowie’s band on drums. You sang, played guitar and saxophone. Please tell me about Paul Cuddeford, the guitarist from Holy Holy, who is also on your new album.
JM: Paul has played with Ian Hunter and Bob Geldolf and you can hear his guitar solo on the album’s opening songs “I Am Not” and “Cut Down, Broken Down.”
GM: That second one reminds me of Rosanne Cash. A few others, I think, also capture a female Americana sound with “Waiting to Leave” reminding me of Mary Chapin Carpenter and “What the Hell Was I Thinking” capturing the edge of Deana Carter.
JM: My brother Morgan provides the guitar solo on “Waiting to Leave.” He also plays on “What the Hell Was I Thinking,” which is about an old relationship, which I wrote in the car on the way back from work, providing healthcare and social service for ailing songwriters. That work also inspired “I Am Not.”
GM: The album’s title song, “Around the Block,” is pretty and peaceful. My favorite song on the album is “Sorry, Not Sorry.” Your saxophone playing reminds me of another of your family’s recordings, your dad’s production of “Bang a Gong (Get it On)” by T. Rex with Ian McDonald on saxophone.
JM: I wrote “Around the Block” in transit, while in New York. “Sorry, Not Sorry” has both alto and soprano saxophone on it and was recorded in a camper van.
GM: Thank you for sharing all of the stories and your family’s music. Congratulations on your new album, and if you ever bring Ziggy Stardust to New York City, I can see our daughter Brianna coordinating a trip for that show.
JM: It has been great talking to you, thank you and thank you and your family for wishing my mum a happy birthday earlier this month. That was sweet. When it comes to music, you are like a human jukebox.
Jessica Lee Morgan, Mary Hopkin and Morgan Visconti, copyright Morgan Visconti, used with permission
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Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with giveaways, interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.