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Oldies but Goodies

Those Were the Days 2 is Shwekey and his team’s interpretation of the original songs

"When Yaakov proposed the first Those Were the Days album, I wasn’t so sure a nostalgia album would take off,” says Yaakov Shwekey’s coproducer, Yitzy Waldner. Waldner admits that they even pushed off the project for a while. “When we finally sat down to talk about it, he wanted to do a double album, paying tribute to the music he grew up with. I shrugged and said, ‘Much too long.’ ”

Once Waldner was finally ready to work on the concept, both he and Shwekey knew they wanted to do medleys of nostalgic songs, but really take the music up a notch. Older listeners can enjoy the memories evoked by these classics, but to many younger ones, the songs are new, so they need to have the appeal of expansive, ambitious arrangements.

Three years after Those Were the Days came out, Waldner looks back with some disbelief at its popularity. “Thousands of people purchased this album — more copies sold than some other artists sell of an all-new album. People have told me it’s one of their all-time favorites.”

Still, selecting the songs, rearranging them as part of a medley, and remixing them had been a lot of work, and deep down, Waldner was hoping that Yaakov Shwekey would not want to release another nostalgia album soon. But then he did.

“I guess it was obvious that we were going to have Those Were the Days 2. There was no selection of Avraham Fried favorites, for example, and no Israeli medley, so those were waiting for another album to shine on.” The new album also features a wide-ranging kumzitz medley, a Chabad medley, and an English medley.

Once they had the concept in place, Shwekey and Waldner met with a group of close musical friends to select all the possible songs that they felt had timeless appeal. As Shwekey’s producer and vocal coach in the studio, Waldner says his job was to go through these hundreds of songs and feel out which would be the best matches for Yaakov’s voice.

“Yaakov is blessed with a very colorful voice,” says Waldner. “Many voices become thin as they go up, while his remains warm throughout the range. I needed to test each song to see if I could hear Yaakov Shwekey singing it.”

Once they had  a short list, they went through them again to choose which parts of the songs would work, and began to mold a medley around the singer’s preferred key. Then, together with several arrangers, Waldner framed the songs in the order they would play, and a musical layout was produced, with all the songs, intros, and interludes.

Those Were the Days 2 is Shwekey and his team’s interpretation of the original songs. They’ve relied on their own memories — there was no collaboration with the original composers or singers. Nevertheless, says Waldner, although the material is all there, producing a nostalgia album of this scale takes exponentially more time and energy than producing an album of ten all-new songs.

“While the songs are all familiar, the transitions have to be seamless, and getting it right is very tricky,” says Waldner. “I wanted the musical ride to be an emotional roller coaster — I wanted to make sure there wasn’t a boring moment.”

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 793)

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