Beatles – Back In The U.S.S.R.

I always liked this rocking song by the Beatles. They threw a little Beach Boy feel in it also.

The song was written during the band’s visit to Rishikesh, India is early 1968, the intention being to study and practice Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi.

In early 1968, the British government launched the “I’m Backing Britain” campaign to rally enthusiasm and boost their economy. McCartney was inspired by this and Chuck Berry’s Back In The U.S.A. The working title was I’m Backing the UK.

This song was on the double White Album released in 1968. The album peaked at #1 in the Billboard Album Chart, Canada, and the UK. There was tension between the members on this album.

Following an argument with McCartney over the drum part for this song, Ringo walked out on The Beatles. He flew to Sardinia for a holiday to consider his future. While there he received a telegram from his bandmates saying, ‘You’re the best rock ‘n’ roll drummer in the world. Come on home, we love you.’ On his return, he found his drum kit covered with flowers. A banner above read, ‘Welcome Back.’

Paul did end up playing drums on the track. It is credited to Lennon/McCartney but it is a McCartney written song.

This song caused some controversy with conservative America, because it came out during Vietnam and the Cold War and it appeared to be celebrating the enemy. The John Birch Society accused The Beatles with promoting communism.

Paul McCartney: “Chuck Berry once did a song called ‘Back In The U.S.A,’ which is very American, very Chuck Berry, you know. He was ‘serving in the army and, when I get back home, I’m gonna kiss the ground,’ you know, ‘can’t wait to get back to the States.’ It’s very much an American thing, I always thought. So, this one, ‘Back In The U.S.S.R.’ was about, in my mind, a spy who has been in America for a long, long time. Some fellow who’s been in America for a long time and he’s picked up and he’s very American, but he gets back to the U.S.S.R., and he’s, sort of, saying ‘Leave it till tomorrow, honey to disconnect the phone,’ and ‘come here, honey,’ with Russian women, and all that.”

From Songfacts

The story of this song begins in Hrishikesh, India, where The Beatles were on a retreat learning Transcendental Meditation from their guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Also on the retreat was Mike Love of The Beach Boys, who told us: “Paul (McCartney) came down to the breakfast table one morning saying, ‘Hey, Mike, listen to this.’ And he starts strumming and singing, ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.,’ the verses. And I said, ‘Well, Paul, what you ought to do is talk about the girls around Russia, Ukraine girls and then Georgia on my mind, and that kind of thing.’ Which he did.

So I think it was the fact I was there, which caused Paul to think in terms of Beach Boys, and then my suggestion for what to do on the bridge, he took that suggestion and crafted, like only Sir Paul can, a really great song.”

McCartney was impressed with the idea and used some Beach Boys’ elements in this song: Instead of “California Girls” it was “Moscow Girls.” Plus, the definitive Beach Boy “Oooeeeeoooo” in the background harmonies.

The title was inspired by Chuck Berry’s “Back In The U.S.A.” The Beach Boys had been influenced by that song and also “Sweet Little Sixteen” to come up with “California Girls” and “Surfin’ U.S.A.”

Things were tense when they were working on this album, and Ringo walked out during recording, briefly quitting the band. Paul McCartney played drums in his place.

The line “Georgia’s always on my mind” in a play on the Ray Charles song “Georgia On My Mind.” It has a double meaning, since Georgia was part of the U.S.S.R.

Elton John performed this song when he toured Russia in 1979, and he got a huge response. This was the year before Moscow hosted the Summer Olympics, which the United States boycotted. Elton told Q magazine: “The first night as an encore I did ‘Back In The U.S.S.R.’ And they went apes–t. It was like playing ‘Philadelphia Freedom’ in Philadelphia. You just noticed that the people there were as ordinary and as good as the people you’d notice anywhere else.”

Billy Joel got a similar reaction when he played the song in Moscow in 1987.

This opens with the sound of an airplane flying from left to right across the speakers. Stereo was relatively new, so this was very innovative for the time.

Paul McCartney told Mojo magazine October 2008 that the song’s middle-eight was a spoof of the Beach Boys leading up to Pet Sounds. He added: “The rest is (sings first bars of the melody line of the opening verse) more Jerry Lee (Lewis). And the title is Chuck Berry, Back In The U.S.A., and the song itself is more a take on Chuck. You’d get these soldiers back from Korea or Vietnam, wherever the hell, and Chuck was picking up on that. I thought it was a funny idea to spoof that with the most unlikely thing of way back in Siberia.”

There was a rumor in the Soviet Union that The Beatles had secretly visited the U.S.S.R. and given a private concert for the children of top Communist party members. They believed the song was written because of the concert. Actually, some fans still believe so. 

The wafer-thin actress and model Twiggy claimed that this song was written for her to sing on a tour of Russia that didn’t materialize. She and McCartney had met to discuss a film project, but it’s unlikely this song was written for her.

Paul McCartney used this as the title to an album he released only in Russia in 1989. In 2002, McCartney called his US tour the “Back In The US” tour.

In Stephen King’s 1979 novel The Dead Zone, a serial killer hums this tune as he contemplates his first murder.

Back In The U.S.S.R

Flew in from Miami Beach BOAC
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 USSR
You don’t know how lucky you are, boy
Back in the USSR, yeah

Been away so long I early 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 USSR
You don’t know how lucky you are, boy
Back in the US
Back in the US
Back in the USSR

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 my my my my my my my my mind
Oh, come on
Hu hey hu, hey, ah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah
I’m back in the USSR
You don’t know how lucky you are, boys
Back in the USSR

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 my my my my my my my my mind

Oh, show me round your snow peaked
Mountain 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 USSR
Hey, you don’t know how lucky you are, boy
Back in the USSR
Oh, let me tell you, honey

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

50 thoughts on “Beatles – Back In The U.S.S.R.”

    1. They didn’t release many of their great songs as singles…it’s crazy. They usually would make songs for singles and make songs for albums…two completely different things. Hey Jude and Revolution were not on an album…until the greatest hits….sorry dude you got me on a tangent! lol
      Here Comes The Sun was not a single….the list is long.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. It’s just a great tune. Good old fashioned rock and roll with great production…about the Ringo thing, I always heard that McCartney and, really, the whole band basically said he (Paul) was a better drummer than Ringo…I don’t care what McCartney, Lennon or anyone said…Ringo was a great drummer. Period. He was a better drummer than Paul was a bassist, that’s for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ringo is one of the best drummers in rock. Paul had a well known habit as a control freak. That quote attributed to Lennon about not being the best drummer in the Beatles…I’ve read where that is false. Heck Lennon used him on many of his recordings.

      Ringo probably influenced more drummers than anyone else. Drummers such as Dave Grohl and others sited him as a major influences…his tom work on Sgt Peppers still blows me away.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. They called him the human metronome in Liverpool. People don’t get it…put John Bonham, Keith Moon, or anyone else in the Beatles…it doesn’t work. He played for the song…not for himself.
        Ok…I’ll step off of my soapbox.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Not a bad song by any means, but not one of their greats (to me). But it shows the depth of talent they had when it wasn’t a single, everyone knows it though, and I can write it off as not one of their best… Never thought of a Beach boys kind of influence, but maybe so now that I listen again.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Agree, Max, one of the best Beatles rockers. And, yes, now that you mentioned it, there’s definitely a bit of a Beach Boys vibe in that tune. It had never occurred to me.

    Coincidentally, Music Enthusiast and I just discussed how both bands apparently influenced each other, with “Rubber Soul”, “Pet Sounds” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ll join you on that! I totally agree. Yea I like the Beach Boys…Brian Wilson is great…Mike Love I could do without but yes they were great until Brian’s mental problems overtook him.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. First cut on The White Album. Talk about setting a tone! It’s a brilliant piece of songwriting, sound effects, etc. Didn’t know this was the song that had Ringo walking out. I like how Mike Love tries to say he had a hand in the writing of the song (yeah right!) So cool they synthesized (Frankensteined) all those components from other songs, etc. into a monster of a good tune.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mike Love…yuck! The mention of that man makes my skin crawl.
      And it wasn’t released as a single! You know you are doing well if that happens.

      How is your weekend Lisa?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. What about it would I not like? That is awesome. He mentioned Hank Marvin…I believe I saw a clip of him playing one with the Shadows.
        I like the song also.

        Like

      2. I figured you would appreciate that thing, given that it is probably older than we are.

        And, I meant to type “think” not “thing.” LOL! Can you thing? LOL!

        Weeeee, it’s past my bedtime. “Well, it’s 3am, I must be lonely…”

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Fab track from the Fab Four, and of the few late-Beatles tracks you can dance to in a club – Twist & Shout & others from the early days work a treat, but virtually nothing else after 1966. It was a UK single in 1976 and went top 20, as a follow-up to Yesterday which wasnt a UK single until 1976 (!!!Most-recorded song of the 20th century wasn’t a single!) when it went top 10. The entire Beatles singles catalogue (UK only) was re-issued in 1976 with identikit sleeves and Hey Jude went top 20, Get Back, Paperback Writer top 30, Help! & Strawberry Fields top 50, the rest peaked lower than that but official charts cut off at 50 in those days so we don’t know which sold best beyond those ones…

    Liked by 1 person

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