Back in the USSR: because everything old becomes new again, right…?

“It’s tongue in cheek…. I remember trying to sing it in my Jerry Lee Lewis voice, to get my mind set on a particular feeling. We added Beach Boys style harmonies.” – Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney White Album period (image courtesy The Beatles Bible)

The song that opens The Beatles, “Back in the USSR,” is a Paul McCartney tour de force. Written, as were many of the songs on what commonly known as “The White Album,” in Rishikesh, India, while the Beatles were learning transcendental meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, “Back in the USSR” resonated when released in 1968 and is enjoying a deliciously ironic renaissance in 2017 .

Recorded while Ringo was on his famous “holiday” (he’d quit the band briefly in frustration and gone on holiday to Sardinia where he got the song idea that became “Octopus’s Garden”), McCartney played drums, both anticipating his “played all the instruments” solo debut, McCartney,  and reflecting his guilt in having caused the fight that made Ringo quit by criticizing his drumming.

McCartney wanted the song to be a takeoff on Chuck Berry’s “Back in the USA” and enjoyed the irony of a Russian, likely a KGB operative, on his way back to Mother Russia. Besides the Beach Boys section, McCartney also slips a reference to Hoagy Carmichael’s classic “Georgia on my Mind”into the song.

Here are the lyrics:

       Back In The U.S.S.R.

Oh, flew in from Miami Beach B.O.A.C.
Didn’t get to bed last night
On the way the paper bag was on my knee
Man I had a dreadful flight
I’m back in the U.S.S.R.
You don’t know how lucky you are boy
Back in the U.S.S.R. (Yeah)Been away so long I hardly knew the place
Gee it’s good to be back home
Leave it till tomorrow to unpack my case
Honey disconnect the phone
I’m back in the U.S.S.R.
You don’t know how lucky you are boy
Back in the U.S.
Back in the U.S.
Back in the U.S.S.R.

Well the Ukraine girls really knock me out
They leave the West behind
And Moscow girls make me sing and shout
That Georgia’s always on my mind

Aw come on!
Ho yeah!
Ho yeah!
Ho ho yeah!
Yeah yeah!

Yeah I’m back in the U.S.S.R.
You don’t know how lucky you are boys
Back in the U.S.S.R.

Well the Ukraine girls really knock me out
They leave the West behind
And Moscow girls make me sing and shout
That Georgia’s always on my mind

Oh, show me around your snow-peaked mountains way down south
Take me to your daddy’s farm
Let me hear your balalaika’s ringing out
Come and keep your comrade warm
I’m back in the U.S.S.R.
Hey you don’t know how lucky you are boys
Back in the U.S.S.R.

Oh let me tell you, honey
Hey, I’m back!
I’m back in the U.S.S.R.
Yes, I’m free!
Yeah, back in the U.S.S.R.

Ha ha

The song’s release in late 1968 elicited a storm of protest and condemnation from conservative groups such as the John Birch Society who accused the Beatles of promoting communism.

Oh how times change. The current conservative Republican administration finds itself in the midst of a scandal involving possible collusion with the Russians to affect the 2016 election.

“Back in the USSR,” once the target of self-righteous conservative anger, has come back to mock conservatives nearly 50 years later.

Listen to “Back in the USSR” on Spotify:

 

 

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About Jim Booth

Novelist, college professor, rock musician - are we getting the band back together? Maybe....
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