Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Back in the U.S.S.R."

"Back in the U.S.S.R." is a 1968 song by The Beatles (credited to the song writing partnership Lennon/McCartney but mainly written by Paul McCartney) which opens the double-disc album The Beatles, commonly referred to as The White Album. It segues into the next song on the album, "Dear Prudence."


The song, which opens and closes with the sounds of a jet aircraft landing, refers to a "dreadful" flight back to the U.S.S.R. from Miami Beach in the United States, on board a British B.O.A.C. 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."

The title of the song is a tribute to Chuck Berry's "Back in the U.S.A." while the chorus pays homage to the Beach Boys' "California Girls." The song also contains a pun on Hoagy Carmichael's and Stuart Gorrell's "Georgia on My Mind." McCartney is singing about the Soviet Republic of Georgia, whereas "Georgia on My Mind" after "Moscow Girls" has been described as being about either or both of the state of Georgia in the U.S. or a woman named Georgia. 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.

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. 'Cuz they like us out there, even though the bosses in the Kremlin may not. The kids 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.

Problems in the band

"The Beatles" 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 recorded drum tracks for the song; these are audible in the left channel of the stereo mix.

Starr returned to the group almost two weeks later on 4 September 1968 when he participated in the filming of a promotional video for "Hey Jude." 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 realized it was 'Back in the USSR'."


* Paul McCartney – vocals, piano, lead guitar, drums, bass, hand claps, percussion
* John Lennon – backing vocals, guitar, bass, drums, hand claps, percussion
* George Harrison – backing vocals, lead guitar, bass, drums, hand claps, percussion

Cover versions

* 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 1987, Billy Joel covered the song on his live-in-the-Soviet Union album Концерт. Since then, Joel continues to perform the song during his concerts.
* Season 7 American Idol finalist Amanda Overmyer performed the song on the show March 18, 2008, and likewise recorded a studio version.
* McCartney included a special version of the song when he and his band played in Liverpool in June 2008. It featured Foo Fighters lead singer Dave Grohl on drums.
* In 2008, The Hush Sound covered the song on July 7, during the first show of their Dance Across the Country Tour at the Diesel Club Lounge in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and on the ensuing tour dates.
* Motörhead bassist and lead singer, Lemmy Kilmister, recorded a version for the Butchering The Beatles compilation in 2006.
* In 2009, Elton John and Billy Joel used this in a medley (along with Birthday) for their Face to Face Tour.

Album: The Beatles
Released: 22 November 1968
Recorded: 22, 23 August 1968
Genre: Rock and roll, Surf rock
Length: 2:43
Label: Apple Records
Writer: Lennon/McCartney
Producer: George Martin


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