Back In The U.S.S.R. by The Beatles

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Let me hear your balalaika's ringing out
Come and keep your comrade warm Read full Lyrics
The Beatles were at their best when they were being complete, utter smart-asses. Consider "Back in the U.S.S.R.," which could have made a good Seinfeld episode.

In the first place, it was a parody of Chuck Berry's "Back in the U.S.A." In the second place, it's a musical parody of the Beach Boys, with their surfer-style doo-wop chorus. Now, note how masterfully the verses blend into the chorus and back again, all set to Paul McCartney's pedal-to-the-metal piano, which almost threatens to run you over if you can't keep up.

Moscow, Russia<br>Photo: Bette KestinMoscow, Russia
Photo: Bette Kestin
In the third place, there are puns in the words as well. The title is a punt at British Prime Minister Harold Wilson's 1968 campaign to boost the British economy, which ran by the slogan "I'm backing Britain," in an attempt to convince the British to work an additional half hour each day without pay. So he's backin' the USSR (in all its Communist glory). And then there's Georgia, which is always on your your your your your your mind. Georgia is a republic of the former Soviet Union, but this is also a play on Hoagy Carmichael's and Stuart Gorrell's song "Georgia on My Mind." John and Paul managed to sass everybody popular that year with one quick song.

A notable piece of trivia: Surprise! that's not Ringo Starr on the drums - it's Paul McCartney! Ringo and McCartney had an argument that day (August 22, 1968), and Ringo stormed out of the studio in a huff, saying he'd quit. So rather than going after Ringo, Paul just recorded a drum track and added it to the song, making his full credits on the song read "vocals, piano, lead guitar, drums, bass, handclaps, percussion." Do you detect a note of extra sass in Paul's playing in this song? That's him saying to Ringo, "Fine, be a baby and throw your little tantrum. We don't need you." Ringo came crawling back two weeks later, in time for "Hey, Jude."

Note the point in time, as well. 1968 was smack in the middle of the Cold War, the epic period of struggle between the Soviet Union and its satellite nations and the Western world. It was also during the Vietnam War and during a time of tension in places like North Korea. The Cuban Missile Crisis had only happened six years prior. So the song is politically thumbing its nose at several national targets, as well. The worldwide protests of 1968 - a symptom of the post-WWII Baby Boomers reaching the age of temper tantrums - were a great time to release a protest song.

St. Sofia, Kiev, Ukrane<br>Photo: Bette KestinSt. Sofia, Kiev, Ukrane
Photo: Bette Kestin
As a part of the famous White Album, this is the first song on side one that you hear, and it segues into the song melodies of "Dear Prudence." As a single, it was released with "Don't Pass Me By" on the B-side. The single's cover photo of all four is especially telling of the Ringo incident. Paul is dressed like Saturday Night Fever, with a provocative stance and an impatient scowl, taking center stage. Ringo is in front, but turning his head back towards his shoulder to return Paul's glare. John is barely visible, but he's sticking his face in between the two, as if to say "break it up!" And George is off to Paul's flank, hands behind back, pulling an innocent poker face - "I'm not in this!"

Ah, those crazy Beatles of 1968! What will they do next?

Pete Trbovich
May 3, 2011
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Comments: 2

  • Bab The King Of Sugarcubes from North DakotaWhat the idiot means to ask is "Did the Beatles ever play in Russia more often in the beginning of their career?"
  • Yon from Michigangreat article, question, did the beatles ever play in russia mostly in there infincey
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