Back in the U.S.S.R.
"Back in the U.S.S.R." is a 1968 song by the Beatles. It is credited to the songwriting partnership Lennon–McCartney, although it was actually written by Paul McCartney. The song opens the double-disc album The Beatles, also known as the White Album, and then segues into the album's next song, "Dear Prudence".
The song opens and closes with the sounds of a jet aircraft flying overhead and refers to a "dreadful" flight back to the U.S.S.R. from Miami Beach in the United States, on board a BOAC aeroplane. Propelled throughout by McCartney's uptempo piano playing and lead guitar riffs, the lyrics tell of the singer's great happiness on returning home, where "the Ukraine girls really knock me out" and the "Moscow girls make me sing and shout" and are invited to "Come and keep your comrade warm". He also looks forward to hearing the sound of "balalaikas ringing out".
Writing and composition
Paul McCartney wrote the song while the Beatles were in Rishikesh, India, studying Transcendental Meditation. The title of the song is a tribute to Chuck Berry's "Back in the U.S.A." while the chorus and background vocals pay homage to the Beach Boys' "California Girls". Mike Love of the Beach Boys also attended the retreat in Rishikesh at the same time and he has stated in interviews that, in order to make the song sound more like a Beach Boys number, he encouraged McCartney to "talk about the girls all around Russia, the Ukraine and Georgia" in the lyrics. In 2013, Love noted, "I was at the breakfast table when Paul McCartney came down with his acoustic guitar playing "Back in the U.S.S.R.". I said, "You ought to put something in about all the girls around Russia," and he did."
The song also contains an allusion to Hoagy Carmichael's and Stuart Gorrell's "Georgia on My Mind". McCartney sings about the female population of the Soviet Republic of Georgia ("and Georgia's always on my mi-mi-mi-mi-mi-mi-mi-mi-mind") right after "the Ukraine girls" and "Moscow girls." McCartney thought that when he listened to the Beach Boys, it sounded like California, so he decided to write a song that "sounded" like the U.S.S.R. The title was inspired in part by the I'm Backing Britain campaign that had been endorsed by British Prime Minister Harold Wilson. It has been suggested that McCartney twisted that into "I'm back in (backin') the U.S.S.R."
In his 1984 interview with Playboy, McCartney said:
I wrote that as a kind of Beach Boys parody. And "Back in the USA" was a Chuck Berry song, so it kinda took off from there. I just liked the idea of Georgia girls and talking about places like the Ukraine as if they were California, you know? It was also hands across the water, which I'm still conscious of. 'Cause they like us out there, even though the bosses in the Kremlin may not. The kids from there do. And that to me is very important for the future of the race.
"Back in the U.S.S.R." was released by Parlophone as a single in the UK in 1976. It featured the song "Twist and Shout" on Side B. It has since been released as a single backed with "Don't Pass Me By".
During the 1960s, the Beatles were officially derided in the USSR as the "belch of Western culture" and in the 1980s McCartney was refused permission to play there. According to The Moscow Times, when McCartney finally got to play the song at his concert in Moscow's Red Square in May 2003 at the age of 60 "the crowd went wild". When asked about the song before the concert McCartney said he had known little about the Soviet Union when he wrote it. "It was a mystical land then," he said. "It's nice to see the reality. I always suspected that people had big hearts. Now I know that's true." "Finally we got to do that one here," he said after the song.
The White Album sessions allowed the four members to work on separate projects at the same time and, as a result, kept tensions to a minimum. However, tempers flared during the recording session on 22 August 1968, and Ringo Starr walked out and announced that he had quit.
"Back in the U.S.S.R." and "Dear Prudence," the first two tracks of the album, were recorded without Starr, with McCartney primarily responsible for the drum parts. McCartney's drums are most prominent in the mix, but both John Lennon and George Harrison also recorded drum parts for "Back in the U.S.S.R." The Beach Boys played the song when Ringo Starr joined them for a live show. It is the only time he is known to have performed the song; however, Starr appeared in the animated song clip shown on The Beatles: Rock Band.
After the other Beatles urged him to return, Starr rejoined the group almost two weeks later on 4 September 1968 when he participated in the filming of a promotional video for "Hey Jude." The other Beatles covered his drum kit in flowers to welcome him back. During a break in the filming of the "Hey Jude" video, Marc Sinden (who appears in the film) recalls Lennon playing a song on his acoustic guitar. "Everyone went 'Wow'... Filming started before we could ask what it was. When it was later released, we realised it was Back in the USSR."
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Five takes were recorded of the backing track, featuring McCartney on drums, Harrison on electric guitar, and Lennon on Fender Bass VI. Take 5 was chosen as "best". The exact order of overdubs is not clear. McCartney recorded a full drum performance on Track 2, with no other instrumental contributions by Lennon or Harrison. On Track 3, McCartney played bass while Harrison played the Bass VI, sometimes doubling McCartney's bass line and sometimes playing full chords. (This capability was one of the benefits of the Bass VI; it could be played as a bass or as a regular 6-string guitar.) While they were playing their parts, Lennon overdubbed snare on the off-beats for the entire duration of the song without a single deviation or fill. This performance was basically duplicated on Track 1, possibly wiping the original backing track in the process. On Track 4, McCartney contributed a piano performance, while Lennon and Harrison provided more bass and electric guitar. With all four tracks, a reduction was made into Take 6, combining Tracks 1 and 3 into a single track and tracks 3 and 4 into another. On the remaining two tracks, McCartney recorded his lead vocal – double tracked in places – while Lennon and Harrison contributed handclaps and Beach Boys-styled backing vocals.
Like "Revolution" and "Piggies", "Back in the U.S.S.R." prompted immediate responses from the New Left and Far Right, who claimed the group were "pro-Soviet". As further evidence of the Beatles' supposed "pro-Soviet" sentiments, the John Birch Society magazine cited the song. "Back in the U.S.S.R." shocked many far right conservatives in America, because the song appeared to be praising America's enemy, the North Vietnamese. The line "You don't know how lucky you are, boys" left many anti-communist groups speechless.
- Paul McCartney – double-tracked vocal, backing vocal, bass, lead guitar, piano, handclaps, drums, percussion
- John Lennon – backing vocal, lead guitar, six-string bass, handclaps, drums, percussion
- George Harrison – backing vocal, lead guitar, bass, handclaps, drums, percussion
- George Martin – piano
- In 1968, Ramsey Lewis covered "Back in the U.S.S.R." on his album Mother Nature's Son along with other songs from The Beatles.
- In 1969, Chubby Checker's cover version charted on the Billboard Hot 100.
- Also in 1969, John Fred & His Playboy Band released it as a single and on their 1970 album Love My Soul.
- In 1979, the punk group Dead Kennedys recorded a live version of the song that was released in 2004 on Live at the Deaf Club.
- In 1982, the song was recorded and released by Jan & Dean on their album One Summer Night/Live.
- In 1984, actress Su Pollard performed the song on the BBC series The Laughter Show.
- In 1986, the King's Singers on their album Beatles' Collection.
- In 1987, Billy Joel covered the song on his live-in-the-Soviet Union album KOHЦEPT.
- In 1992, the Russian band Baba Yaga released a cover of the song on their album Baba Yaga.
- In 1993 Finnish band Leningrad Cowboys performed a live version on their album Live in Prowinzz.
- In the 2001 film Heartbreakers, Sigourney Weaver performed the song.
- In 2006, Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead recorded a version for the Butchering the Beatles compilation.
- Parody band Beatallica recorded a mashup of the song and Metallica's "Blackened" entitled "Blackened the U.S.S.R.", on their 2007 album Sgt. Hetfield's Motorbreath Pub Band.
- Tomoyasu Hotei covered it on his 2009 cover album Modern Times Rock'N'Roll.
- Amanda Overmyer performed the song on American Idol and released a studio version.
- The Rutles' song "We've Arrived (and to Prove It, We're Here)" is a pastiche of this song.
- Type O Negative have performed the song live, numerous times, throughout their 20 year career.
- Campbell 2008, p. 175.
- Bohannon, John (21 December 1968). "An in-depth Look at the Songs on Side-One". Rolling Stone. The White Album Project. Retrieved 28 October 2013.
- Miles 1997, pp. 422–423.
- "23 August 1968: Recording, mixing: Back In The USSR". The Beatles Bible. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
- Aldridge 1990, p. 49.
- The Beatles Bible 2009.
- Simpson, Dave. "The Beach Boys' Mike Love: 'There are a lot of fallacies about me'". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 July 2012.
- MacDonald 2005, pp. 309–310.
- Goodman 1984.
- "Back In The U.S.S.R. b/w Twist And Shout". Graham Calkin's Beatles Pages. Graham Calkin. Retrieved 16 August 2010.
- "Back in the U.S.S.R. / Don't Pass Me By". rateyourmusic.com. Retrieved 16 August 2010.
- O'Flynn, Kevin (26 May 2003). "Paul McCartney Finally Back in the U.S.S.R.". The Moscow Times. Retrieved 16 August 2010.
- Lewisohn 1988, p. 151.
- Lewisohn 1988, pp. 151–153.
- "85 – 'Back in the USSR'". 100 Greatest Beatles Songs. Rolling Stone. Retrieved 16 June 2012.
- Pinch 2009.
- Turner 2009, p. 86.
- Wiener 1991, p. 63.
- Turner 2009, p. 68.
- Campbell, Micheal (2008). Rock and Roll: An Introduction: An Introduction. Cengage Learning. ISBN 0534642950.
- Aldridge, Alan, ed. (1990). The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics. Boston: Houghton Mifflin / Seymour Lawrence. ISBN 0-395-59426-X.
- "Back in the U.S.S.R". The Beatles Bible. 2009. Archived from the original on 21 December 2009. Retrieved 28 November 2009.
- Goodman, Joan (December 1984). "Playboy Interview with Paul McCartney". Playboy (Playboy Press).
- Lewisohn, Mark (1988). The Beatles Recording Sessions. New York: Harmony Books. ISBN 0-517-57066-1.
- MacDonald, Ian (2005). Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties (Second Revised ed.). London: Pimlico (Rand). ISBN 1-84413-828-3.
- Miles, Barry (1997). Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0-8050-5249-6.
- Pinch, Emma (6 March 2009). "Marc Sinden on John Lennon: We were in the presence of God". Liverpool Daily Post. Archived from the original on 10 March 2009. Retrieved 7 March 2009.
- Wiener, Jon (1991). Come Together: John Lennon in His Time. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-06131-8.
- Turner, Steve (2009). The Beatles: The Stories Behind The Songs 1967–1970. Carlton Books Limited 2009. ISBN 978-1-84732-268-5.
- Allmusic review[dead link]
- Alan W. Pollack's Notes on "Back in the U.S.S.R"
- Full lyrics of this song at MetroLyrics