Back in the U.S.S.R.
- Paul McCartney – double-tracked vocal, backing vocal, bass, lead guitar, piano, drums, handclaps, percussion
- John Lennon – backing vocal, lead guitar, six-string bass, drums, handclaps, percussion
- George Harrison – backing vocal, lead guitar, bass, drums, handclaps, percussion
I wrote that as a kind of Beach Boys parody. And 'Back in the USA' was a Chuck Berry song, so it kinda took off from there.
- Paul McCartney, 1984
Chuck Berry once did a song called 'Back In The USA,' which is very American, very Chuck Berry. Very sort of, uhh... you know, you're serving in the army, and when I get back home I'm gonna kiss the ground. And you know-- Can't wait to get back to the States. And it's a very American sort of thing...
- Paul McCartney, 1968
Back in the U.S.S.R. was written mainly by Paul McCartney in 1968. It's the opener to The Beatles (known almost universally as The White Album).
On the album, this song transitions right into track 2, Dear Prudence much the same way Sgt. Pepper gave way to With a Little Help from My Friends on the Sgt. Pepper album of the previous year.
The title itself is an ironic, playful allusion to Chuck Berry's Back in the USA. The Beatles were, of course, big fans of Berry and had covered numerous Chuck Berry tunes in the past.
The chorus is overtly done in the style of the Beach Boys. This was no accident. Mike Love of the Beach Boys was in India with Paul at the time he wrote the song. Love suggested the sound and feel of the Beach Boys
[l]ike we did in California Girls. McCartney liked the idea and the idea and changed California girls to Moscow girls to add something of a twist to the concept.
The production starts with the sounds of a jet airplane taking off and moving from left to right which was a new sort of studio trick as the technology to do this was brand new. The tongue-in-cheek lyrics tell of going from Miami back home to the USSR, where girls in the Ukraine "knock me out" and girls in Moscow "make me sing and shout." Or as Paul explained it in a 1984 interview
I just liked the idea of Georgia girls and talking about places like the Ukraine as if they were California, you know?
Georgia's always on my mind is a bit of wordplay referencing the song Georgia On My Mind made popular by Ray Charles yet also the, then, Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic.
It has also been suggested that the song began as a mischievous twist on the nationalistic I'm Backing Britain campaign raging at the time. McCartney reportedly felt, as many did, that the campaign was an absurd, hollow, and self-serving ploy and wrote a song called
I'm Backing the UK in mockery of it that eventually metamorphosed into "I'm Backin' the U.S.S.R."
Naturally, the song caused consternation among some conservatives who felt it was a not-so-subtle piece of pro-Soviet propaganda. Some have even gone so far to suggest that it was inspired by a secret trip made by the band to the Soviet Union where they performed for Soviet elites.
Despite the seeming sense of fun the number exudes, the White Album was a trying period for the band and it got off to a difficult start. They had just returned from an experience in India that was as at times as sobering and disillusioning as it was productive.
During the recording sessions for Back in the USSR the group struggled to just get along with each other.
I'm sure it pissed Ringo off when he couldn't quite get the drums to 'Back In The USSR,' and I sat in. It's very weird to know that you can do a thing someone else is having trouble with. If you go down and do it, just bluff right through it, you think, 'What the hell, at least I'm helping.' Then the paranoia comes in...
- Paul McCartney, 1986
On August 22, 1968, Ringo stormed out of the session and quit, temporarily as it turned out, for two weeks.
In a reshuffling of roles that foreshadowed The Beatles going their growing independence as musicians, McCartney played the main drum parts on this track, while John and George added percussion tracks as well. Lennon also contributed a six-string bass. Paul plays an energetic piano to accompany some virtuosic lead guitar riffs.
In a rather odd pairing, in 1976 Parlophone released Back in the U.S.S.R. as a single with Twist and Shout on the b-side.
The backing track for Back in the U.S.S.R. was recorded in five takes with take 5 wining the day. McCartney was on drums, Harrison on electric guitar, and Lennon on bass. An unknown number of overdubs were made, but participants recalled that Track 2 was dedicated solely to McCartney on drums. Track 3 featured both McCartney and Harrison on bass. Harrison played the Bass VI which could be played like a bass or a 6 string guitar. Harrison's bass at times matched McCartney's bass line note per note and at other times hit full chords. Lennon contributed a snare drum on the off-beats. McCartney played piano while Lennon and Harrison provided added more guitar and bass on Track 4. The recorded tracks were bounced down and McCartney's, at times double tracked, lead vocal. Lennon and Harrison add backing vocals a la Beach Boys and handclaps were added.