Back in the U.S.S.R.
|"Back in the U.S.S.R."|
|Song by the Beatles|
|from the album The Beatles|
|Released||22 November 1968|
|Recorded||22–23 August 1968, EMI Studios, London|
|Genre||Rock and roll, hard rock|
|"Back in the U.S.S.R."|
Cover to 1969 Swedish single
|Single by the Beatles|
|B-side||"Don't Pass Me By"|
|The Beatles Sweden and Denmark singles chronology|
|The Beatles Norway singles chronology|
|"Back in the U.S.S.R."|
Cover to 1976 UK single
|Single by the Beatles|
|B-side||"Twist and Shout"|
|Released||25 June 1976 (UK)|
|The Beatles singles chronology|
"Back in the U.S.S.R." is a song by the Beatles, written by Paul McCartney, and credited to the songwriting partnership Lennon–McCartney. It is a parody of Chuck Berry's "Back in the U.S.A." and the Beach Boys' "California Girls". Within the lyrics, the narrator expresses great happiness on returning home, where "the Ukraine girls really knock me out" and the "Moscow girls make me sing and shout". The song opens the 1968 double-disc album The Beatles (also known as the "White Album") and crossfades into "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 USSR from Miami Beach in the United States, on board a BOAC aeroplane. Propelled throughout by McCartney's uptempo piano playing and Harrison's 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 parodied Chuck Berry's "Back in the U.S.A.", while the chorus and background vocals were a humorous take on the Beach Boys' "California Girls". Mike Love of the Beach Boys, who attended the retreat in Rishikesh at the same time, recalled: "I remember Paul McCartney coming to breakfast one morning with his acoustic guitar. He was playing what turned out to be "Back In The U.S.S.R." I told him it was cool, but I said, You gotta talk about the girls in Russia … A tape still exists of he and I playing around with the song."
"Back in the U.S.S.R." 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 right after mentioning "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 USSR. The title was partly inspired by the "I'm Backing Britain" campaign that had been endorsed by Britain's prime minister, Harold Wilson. Author Ian MacDonald writes that McCartney twisted this slogan into "I'm back in the U.S.S.R."
In his 1984 interview with Playboy magazine, McCartney said:
I wrote that as a kind of Beach Boys parody. And "Back in the U.S.A." 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.
The sessions for The Beatles were fraught with disharmony among the band members. While rehearsing "Back in the U.S.S.R.", on 22 August 1968, Ringo Starr became tired of McCartney's criticism of his drumming on the song, and of the bad atmosphere generally, and walked out, intent on quitting the group. The other Beatles continued with the session, which took place at EMI Studios (now Abbey Road Studios) in London. Ken Scott, the band's recording engineer, later recalled that they created a "composite drum track of bits and pieces" in Starr's absence.
Five takes were recorded of the basic track, featuring McCartney on drums, George Harrison on electric guitar, and John Lennon on Fender Bass VI. Take 5 was chosen as "best". During the overdubbing on the song, on 23 August, McCartney and Harrison also contributed bass parts, and both also added lead guitar parts. According to author John Winn, the first overdubs were piano, played by McCartney; drums by Harrison, replacing Lennon's bass part from the previous day; and another electric guitar part. After these additions were mixed down to a single track, McCartney sang his lead vocal, Lennon and Harrison added backing vocals in the style of the Beach Boys, and all three added handclaps. Other overdubs included McCartney's bass, Harrison on six-string bass, and Lennon playing a snare drum. MacDonald describes the musical arrangement as a "thunderous wall of sound". The sounds of the aircraft that appear on the track, a Viscount jet, were taken from a recording stored in EMI's library.
After the other Beatles urged him to return, Starr rejoined the group on 4 September, when he participated in the filming of a promotional video for "Hey Jude". Harrison 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 U.S.S.R.""
The Beach Boys played the song when 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.
"Back in the U.S.S.R." was released as the opening track of The Beatles (also known as the "White Album") on 22 November 1968. It was also issued by Apple Records as a 1969 single in Scandinavia, backed with "Don't Pass Me By". In 1976, the song was issued as a single by Parlophone in the UK to promote the newly released compilation album Rock 'n' Roll Music. The B-side was "Twist and Shout". The single was included in the Beatles Singles Collection box set, released by EMI's World Division in December 1982, making it the 24th single in the series.
On the White Album, the end of "Back in the U.S.S.R" is cross-faded with the start of the next track "Dear Prudence". On The Beatles 1967–1970, "Back in the U.S.S.R" fades out before the cross fade of "Dear Prudence" starts. This is also the case on the remixed version of the song from Love.
Like "Revolution" and "Piggies", "Back in the U.S.S.R." prompted immediate responses from the New Left and the Far Right, with the latter claiming that the group were "pro-Soviet". As further evidence of the Beatles' supposed "pro-Soviet" sentiments, the John Birch Society magazine cited the song. The line "You don't know how lucky you are, boys" left many anti-communist groups stunned. MacDonald says that the song was "a rather tactless jest", given that the Soviet army had recently invaded what was then Czechoslovakia and thwarted the country's attempt to introduce democratic reforms.
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 perform there. According to The Moscow Times, when McCartney finally got to play the song on his Back in the World tour in Moscow's Red Square in May 2003, "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 and added: "It was a mystical land then. It's nice to see the reality. I always suspected that people had big hearts. Now I know that's true."
- Paul McCartney – double-tracked vocal, backing vocal, piano, bass guitar, drums, lead guitar, handclaps, percussion
- John Lennon – backing vocal, rhythm guitar, six-string bass, handclaps, drums, percussion
- George Harrison – backing vocal, rhythm and lead guitars, bass, drums, handclaps, percussion
- 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 U.S. Billboard Hot 100, the only version to do so. He reached #82.
- 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 1979, Elton John sang the song in the opening credits of To Russia with Elton, a film about a concert given in Moscow, Russia, by the rock singer.
- 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. His version reached #44 in New Zealand.
- In 1987, Dutch producers Jochem Fluitsma and Eric van Tijn released a reworked cover version as B-Mania.
- In 1992, the Russian band Baba Yaga (band) 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 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 performed the song live, numerous times, throughout their 20-year career.
- In 2012, Molly Hatchet recorded the song for the tribute album Top Musicians Play The Beatles
- 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.
- "Back In The USSR". The Beatles Bible. Retrieved 24 December 2016.
- Aldridge 1990, p. 49.
- Paytress, Mark (2003). "A Passage to India". Mojo Special Limited Edition: 1000 Days of Revolution (The Beatles' Final Years – Jan 1, 1968 to Sept 27, 1970). London: Emap. p. 15.
- MacDonald 2005, pp. 309–10.
- Goodman 1984.
- Hertsgaard 1996, pp. 250–51.
- Clayson 2003, pp. 183–84.
- Winn 2009, p. 205.
- Lewisohn 2005, p. 151.
- MacDonald 2005, p. 310.
- "85 – 'Back in the USSR'". 100 Greatest Beatles Songs. Rolling Stone. Retrieved 16 June 2012.
- Pinch 2009.
- "Back in the U.S.S.R. / Don't Pass Me By". rateyourmusic.com. Archived from the original on 23 July 2012. Retrieved 16 August 2010.
- Womack 2014, p. 123.
- Turner 2009, p. 86.
- Wiener 1991, p. 63.
- Turner 2009, p. 68.
- MacDonald 2005, p. 309.
- O'Flynn, Kevin (26 May 2003). "Paul McCartney Finally Back in the U.S.S.R." The Moscow Times. Retrieved 16 August 2010.
- Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955-2002
- "NZ Top 40 Singles Chart | The Official New Zealand Music Chart". Nztop40.co.nz. 1987-12-06. Retrieved 2016-10-01.
- Campbell, Michael (2008). Rock and Roll: An Introduction. Cengage Learning. ISBN 0-534-64295-0.
- Aldridge, Alan, ed. (1990). The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics. Boston: Houghton Mifflin / Seymour Lawrence. ISBN 0-395-59426-X.
- Clayson, Alan (2003). Ringo Starr. London: Sanctuary. ISBN 1-86074-488-5.
- Goodman, Joan (December 1984). "Playboy Interview with Paul McCartney". Playboy. Playboy Press.
- Hertsgaard, Mark (1996). A Day in the Life: The Music and Artistry of the Beatles. London: Pan Books. ISBN 0-330-33891-9.
- Lewisohn, Mark (2005) . The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years 1962–1970. London: Bounty Books. ISBN 978-0-7537-2545-0.
- MacDonald, Ian (2005). Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties (2nd rev. edn). Chicago, IL: Chicago Review Press. ISBN 978-1-55652-733-3.
- 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.
- Winn, John C. (2009). That Magic Feeling: The Beatles' Recorded Legacy, Volume Two, 1966–1970. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press. ISBN 978-0-3074-5239-9.
- Womack, Kenneth (2014). The Beatles Encyclopedia: Everything Fab Four. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-0-313-39171-2.
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