“Back In The USSR” is from the 1968 album, “The Beatles”, aka the “White Album”. However, this track was also a single release in the UK in 1976 too.
Publisher: Northern Songs
Release Date: 22nd November, 1968 (White Album), 25th June 1976 (single) (UK)
Format: 7-inch single (A-side) (B-side is Twist and Shout), also an album track
Recorded: 22nd-23rd August, 1968
Studio: EMI Studios, London
Genre: Rock and roll, hard rock
Track Duration: 2:43
Record Label: Apple
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Ken Scott
Paul McCartney: double-tracked vocal, backing vocal, piano, bass guitar, drums, lead guitar, handclaps, percussion
John Lennon: backing vocal, rhythm guitar, six-string bass, handclaps, drums, percussion
George Harrison: backing vocal, rhythm and lead guitars, bass, drums, handclaps, percussion
Back In The USSR
Written by Paul McCartney but credited to the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership, “Back In The USSR” is a parody of Chuck Berry’s “Back in the USA” as well as the Beach Boys’ “California Girls”.
While Berry shows patriotism towards United States, The Beatles sentiment is towards Communist Russia. The singer, in this case, Paul McCartney, expresses his relief about returning to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) aka the Soviet Union. In other words, a he is singing as Russian spy returning home.
“It’s tongue in cheek. This is a travelling Russkie who has just flown in from Miami Beach; he’s come the other way. He can’t wait to get back to the Georgian mountains: ‘Georgia’s always on my mind’; there’s all sorts of little jokes in it… 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.”
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
The song is the first track on the 1968 “White Album”, so the opening sound that we hear on the album is that of a jet aircraft landing on a runway. The band emulates The Beach Boys’ singing style on the bridge’s backing vocals. Meanwhile, the lyrics go on to admire girls from various regions in the USSR. Thus, the inspiration for the song becomes clear.
Paul McCartney’s inspiration for “Back In The USSR” also came from the “I’m Backing Britain” campaign. This idea behind that campaign was to support British industry and came from Prime Minister Harold Wilson. In fact, the original title for McCartney’s song was “I’m Backing the UK”.
That campaign was from January 1968, a few weeks before The Beatles went to Rishikesh, India, to study Transcendental Meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. McCartney wrote the song while at the training camp. Indeed, he would often sing the song at the ashram. There was also another inspiration that came from Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia On My Mind”.
The Beatles began recording “Back In The USSR” on the 22nd August 1968 in Studio Two at the EMI Studios, London, during the 7.00pm-4.45am session. The band recorded 5 takes with the last one suitable for the master rhythm track.
Ringo Starr doesn’t feature on the song because he briefly left the group. He walked out on them because the “While Album” sessions came at a time when the band members were not seeing eye to eye. Paul McCartney became the drummer on this track as well as, “Dear Prudence”.
The next day, the overdubbing session saw further instrument additions as well as the vocals to complete the song. It is the opening song on the album and comes before “Dear Prudence“. The song also features on the band’s 2006 album, “Love”.
“Back In The USSR” became a single in the UK during 1976 and it reached 19. The B-Side to that single was “Twist and Shout“.
In America, its release in 1968 caused a stir with the John Birch Society claiming The Beatles were encouraging communism. However, the Russians loved it. Of course, in those days, they got hold of the Beatles’ music behind the Iron Curtain through smuggled in tapes.