Back in the U.S.S.R.

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"Back in the U.S.S.R."
Song by the Beatles
from the album The Beatles
Published Northern Songs
Released 22 November 1968 (1968-11-22)
Recorded 22–23 August 1968, EMI Studios, London
Genre Rock and roll,[1] hard rock[2]
Length 2:43
Label Apple
Songwriter(s) Lennon–McCartney
Producer(s) George Martin
"Back in the U.S.S.R."
Back in the USSR Swedish cover.jpg
Cover to 1969 Swedish single
Single by the Beatles
B-side "Don't Pass Me By"
Released March 1969
Label Apple
Songwriter(s) Lennon–McCartney
The Beatles Sweden and Denmark singles chronology
"Hey Jude"
(1968)
"Back in the U.S.S.R."
(1969)
"Get Back"
(1969)

"Hey Jude"
(1968)
"Back in the U.S.S.R."
(1969)
"Get Back"
(1969)
The Beatles Norway singles chronology
"Get Back"
(1969) Get Back1969
"Back in the U.S.S.R."
(1969) Back in the U.S.S.R.1969
"The Ballad of John and Yoko"
(1969) The Ballad of John and Yoko1969
"Back in the U.S.S.R."
Back in the USSR cover.jpg
Cover to 1976 UK single
Single by the Beatles
B-side "Twist and Shout"
Released 25 June 1976 (UK)
Length 2:44
Label Parlophone
Songwriter(s) Lennon–McCartney
The Beatles singles chronology
"Yesterday"
(1976)
"Back in the U.S.S.R."
(1976)
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" / "With a Little Help from My Friends"
(1978)

"Yesterday"
(1976)
"Back in the U.S.S.R."
(1976)
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" /
"With a Little Help from My Friends"
(1978)

"Back in the U.S.S.R." is a song by the Beatles. It is credited to the songwriting partnership Lennon–McCartney, but written by Paul McCartney.[3] The song opens the 1968 double-disc album The Beatles (also known as the "White Album"), and then segues into "Dear Prudence".

Overview[edit]

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 Harrison's lead guitar riffs,[4][5] 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".[3][6]

Writing and composition[edit]

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 be Back In The USSR. 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."[7]

"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 U.S.S.R. 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."[8]

In his 1984 interview with Playboy magazine, 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.[9]

Recording[edit]

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,[10][11][12] and walked out, intent on quitting the group.[13] 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.[13]

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".[13] During the overdubbing on the song, on 23 August, McCartney and Harrison also contributed bass parts, and both also added lead guitar parts.[13] 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.[12] 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,[14] and all three added handclaps. Other overdubs included McCartney's bass, Harrison on six-string bass, and Lennon playing a snare drum.[12] MacDonald describes the musical arrangement as a "thunderous wall of sound".[14] The sounds of the aircraft that appear on the track, a Viscount jet,[12] were taken from a recording stored in EMI's library.[13]

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.[15] 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."[16]

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.

Release[edit]

"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".[17] 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.[18]

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.

Political controversy[edit]

Like "Revolution" and "Piggies",[19] "Back in the U.S.S.R." prompted immediate responses from the New Left and the Far Right, the last of which claimed the group were "pro-Soviet". As further evidence of the Beatles' supposed "pro-Soviet" sentiments, the John Birch Society magazine cited the song.[20] The line "You don't know how lucky you are, boys" left many anti-communist groups stunned.[21] 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.[22]

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.[23] 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".[23] 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."[23]

Personnel[edit]

According to Ian MacDonald[22] and Mark Lewisohn:[13]

Cover versions[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Campbell 2008, p. 175.
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ a b Miles 1997, pp. 422–423.
  4. ^ "23 August 1968: Recording, mixing: Back In The USSR". The Beatles Bible. Retrieved 21 January 2014. 
  5. ^ "Back In The USSR". The Beatles Bible. Retrieved 24 December 2016. 
  6. ^ Aldridge 1990, p. 49.
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ MacDonald 2005, pp. 309–10.
  9. ^ Goodman 1984.
  10. ^ Hertsgaard 1996, pp. 250–51.
  11. ^ Clayson 2003, pp. 183–84.
  12. ^ a b c d Winn 2009, p. 205.
  13. ^ a b c d e f Lewisohn 2005, p. 151.
  14. ^ a b MacDonald 2005, p. 310.
  15. ^ "85 – 'Back in the USSR'". 100 Greatest Beatles Songs. Rolling Stone. Retrieved 16 June 2012. 
  16. ^ Pinch 2009.
  17. ^ "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. 
  18. ^ Womack 2014, p. 123.
  19. ^ Turner 2009, p. 86.
  20. ^ Wiener 1991, p. 63.
  21. ^ Turner 2009, p. 68.
  22. ^ a b MacDonald 2005, p. 309.
  23. ^ a b c O'Flynn, Kevin (26 May 2003). "Paul McCartney Finally Back in the U.S.S.R." The Moscow Times. Retrieved 16 August 2010. 
  24. ^ Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955-2002
  25. ^ "NZ Top 40 Singles Chart | The Official New Zealand Music Chart". Nztop40.co.nz. 1987-12-06. Retrieved 2016-10-01. 

Sources[edit]

External links[edit]