Saturday, July 30, 2016

Back In The U.S.S.R. -- Beatles Just Having Fun Causes a Stir

One of the things I've always enjoyed is looking at the titles of books on peoples' bookshelves. Many years ago I came across a book on someone's shelf that proposed the notion that the Beatles were agents of the KGB, or something to that effect. I forget the title, but it made me pull the book from the shelf and page through it. In retrospect it may have been something from the John Birch Society, but wherever it came from the author was in a very paranoid place.

I only skimmed the contents, but still recall three of the authors arguments. The first, of course, was this song relishing a return to the U.S.S.R. The second was the ridiculous assertion that the song Revolution was actually calling for revolution. Lennon-McCartney lay it out fairly plain when they say, "But when you talk about destruction, well you know that you can count me out." And "If you want money for people with minds that hate, well all I can tell you brother you have to wait."

But the part of the book that intrigued me most was this third argument. The author asserted that by studying the music of the Beatles it was self-evident that the KGB was behind it because look how sophisticated their sounds became in such a very short time.

Yes, this maturing of the Beatles and sophistication of their sound in such a short time was astonishing. But so was the entire Sixties. Look at the technological advances that occurred in that decade. It blows your mind. The early Beatles had guitars, amplifiers and microphones. It wasn't until after their first album that they had access to four-track recording, which enabled them to add virtually limitless numbers of tracks, though this too had limitations. Multi-track recording, synthesizers, backward masking and all manner of audio pyrotechnics soon came along. Songs were no longer created by having the group sing into a microphone. Add to this the genius of George Martin behind the scenes, who was himself brilliant at enabling their creativity to flourish, and it's no wonder their music was magical.

The book's premise was laughably absurd.

So why did the Beatles write a song like Back in the U.S.S.R.? Here's the backstory. The song was written while the Beatles were doing their India thing with the Maharishi. Mike Love of the Beach Boys was visiting at the same time, so the story can be told from Paul's viewpoint and Mike Love's recollections.

"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." ~Paul McCartney

"I was sitting at the breakfast table and McCartney came down with his acoustic guitar and he was playing Back In The USSR, and I told him that what you ought to do is talk about the girls all around Russia, the Ukraine and Georgia. He was plenty creative not to need any lyrical help from me but I gave him the idea for that little section... I think it was light-hearted and humorous of them to do a take on the Beach Boys." ~Mike Love

Well, the paranoid Birchers evidently didn't think it very funny. You can read a more detailed account here.

The song is purportedly a cross between Chuck Berry's Back in the USA and the Beach Boys' California Girls. You can compare them here.





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


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Never been to the U.S.S.R., Russia, Ukraine, Georgia or the Urals, but we did entertain some guests from Duluth's Sister City in the Soviet Union way back in time, and I still have an unopened bottle of the vodka they brought to us as a gift. I wrote this blog post in part because a growing number of readers of this blog are from that part of the world. If you're one of them, do you remember this song? Is it still popular? Thanks for checking in. You may also follow on Twitter @ennyman3.

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Meantime, life goes on... Enjoy the weekend.

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