How did the Beatles come up with the song ‘Back in the USSR’?

Written by on January 26, 2021

John Howard Sr. – Answered:

Back in the U.S.S.R. was originally released in 1968 by the Beatles as the opening track from their classic album The Beatles (a/k/a The White Album). Although it’s the first song on the album, the Beatles had been working in the studio three months before they began working on it.

The inside story behind how it came together comes from the excellent book All the Songs by Jean-Michel Guesdon & Philippe Margotin:

“Back in the U.S.S.R. was a parody of Chuck Berry’s Back in the U.S.A. Paul McCartney pictured a Russian traveler coming home and joyfully finding his native land, the mountains of Georgia, and the charm of his country’s women.

“Mike Love, the singer for the Beach Boys (who stayed in Rishikesh, India, with the Beatles), remembered, ‘I was sitting at the breakfast table and McCartney came down with his acoustic guitar. He was playing Back in the U.S.S.R. I told him that what you ought to do is talk about all the girls all around Russia, the Ukraine, and Georgia.’

“Paul took this into account and finished writing the song upon returning from India. Ken Mansfield, the CEO of Apple in the United States, also claimed he made a few suggestions to Paul about this song.

“In this song, which includes many inside jokes, the Beach Boys were honored: the Beatles imitated their irresistible harmonies in the bridge; likewise for Ray Charles — whose 1960 number 1 hit Georgia On My Mind was referenced in the song.

“Proposing a song in 1968 celebrating the joy of returning to the Soviet Union was pretty risky — this was the during the Cold War and getting chummy with the U.S.S.R. was frowned upon. Some people called the Beatles anti-American, to which John Lennon replied with his usual irony: ‘That is very accurate, except we are not Americans …’

“The atmosphere in the recording studio was extremely tense, at the expense of Ringo. Paul was constantly explaining to him how to do a fill on the toms. After many attempts and one last scolding, Ringo got fed up and left the group to join his friend Peter Sellers on his yacht in Sardinia. The three others were lost, but still carried on by redistributing the roles played by Ringo — with Paul replacing him on drums for this track. After the other Beatles urged him to return, Ringo rejoined the band 13 days later.”

Although the Beatles never got to perform this song in the Soviet Union, Paul McCartney did finally get to play Back in the U.S.S.R. in Moscow’s Red Square in May of 2003 during his Back in the World tour.

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