Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Back in the U.S.S.R.

Inspired by the song-list-released-so-far by our friends at Harmonix, I'm tackling one today that we now KNOW FOR SURE will be included in our Beatles Rock Band game. Hurrah! Huzzah! "Back in the U.S.S.R." is a killer choice-- just a tremendous rocker, perfect for the Rock Band milieu, perfect for a day in which I'm returning home for the foreseeable future, and also fun as hell to listen to. So, let's.

In early 1968, the Beatles attended transcendental meditation training in India with the Maharishi, along with a host of other celebrities, and in this relatively quiet, creative period wrote a bunch of songs. One of Paul's, interestingly, was this homage to both the Beach Boys and Chuck Berry, whose "Back in the U.S.A." is parodied in the title. And you'll excuse me if I include a video of Chuck performing that song on "Shindig," because it's too awesome not to include even if it is taking us a little off-topic.

Anyway, "Back in the U.S.S.R." doesn't sound a ton like "Back in the U.S.A.," but there are certainly moments that sound a lot like the Beach Boys. Paul liked the idea of writing a Beach Boys parody-- singing about places in the U.S.S.R. as if they were as glamorous as places in California struck him as hilarious. He worked in as many references to Russian culture as he could, including yearning for the ringing out of the balalaikas, and a nifty pun on "Georgia's on my mind." And there's also the influence of Mike Love at work here. Love was actually at the Maharishi's retreat with the Beatles, and apparently it was his idea for Paul to start singing about the girls in different parts of the Soviet Union, as he does on the bridge.

Unfortunately, "Back in the U.S.S.R." was a casualty of the time during the White Album sessions when Ringo briefly quit the band. Paul, who was beginning to show the bossy streak that would so irritate the other Beatles in the years to come, kept giving Ringo a hard time for his drumming not being up to par, and eventually Ringo stormed out for a while, leaving Paul himself to handle drums on this song (and also on "Dear Prudence", which they recorded shortly afterwards). And the drumming is totally solid here-- though certainly nothing Ringo couldn't have handled, so I'm not sure what the actual problem is. Elsewhere, George is beyond awesome, particularly on his solo, and Paul belts the song in his most rocking rock-star voice. I love, in this song, how sexy Paul is being, what with the "honey disconnect the phone" and stuff-- am I the only one who pictures Paul crashing in a hotel room with several Russian babes strewn all over his bed? His "character" here is just such a charismatic asshole. Maybe it was getting into character that helped bring out his asshole streak in the studio, and poor Ringo suffered-- but I admit to loving it nevertheless.

Anyway, though this has been brief, I need to sing and dance my way out of here and into New York again to play tourist with my folks. (Both of whom, by the way, have been bemused to have listened to Beatles songs over and over again in the hotel room these couple days. My husband is already used to it. I'd say that they were being good sports, except, who DOESN'T want to listen to a Beatles song several times each day? No one, is the answer.)

"Back in the U.S.S.R.," released in the U.K. side A track 1 of The Beatles, a.k.a. the White Album, November 22, 1968; in the U.S. November 25, 1968.


  1. And now I will reveal myself to be the biggest dink in the history of dinks:

    I always thought he was saying that that JoJo's always on his ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ind.

  2. Hell, Troy, that's what i thought, too! And i live in Georgia. I'm not sure i like this revelation. But, whatever the lyric, i love the song, and remember quite well sitting in some friends' dorm room hearing it for the first time. It was terrific fun and still rocks.

  3. No worries-- it's what I used to think too. I remember feeling really smart when I figured out what he was actually saying at some point in high school. :)

  4. Oh, good; I'm 38, and I needed it literally spelled out for me, but you figured it out in high school. Thanks a ton. I feel much better now.