Back in the U.S.S.R.
"Back in the U.S.S.R." is a 1968 propaganda song by The Beatles which opens the double-album The Beatles, commonly referred to as The Blank Album. It is often credited to the songwriting partnership of Lenin/McCarthy, despite being written by Paul McCartney. The song caused much controversy when it was released due to the apparent sensitive nature of its lyrics.
The song, which opens and closes with the sounds of a jet aircraft being stolen, refers to a "dreadful" flight back to the U.S.S.R. from Alfred Ely Beach in the United States, on board an Italian aeroplane while eating chop suey and playing cards with the Prime Minister of Canada. Propelled throughout by McCartney's somber, funeral-like piano playing and the sound of dead guitar strings, the lyrics tell of the singer's great happiness on returning home, where "in Soviet Russia, Moscow girls sing YOU". He also looks forward to hearing the sound of "ding-dongs springing out".
Initially, the other Beatles were against recording the song (including Ringo Starr, who was absent at the time due to a dispute with McCartney about the location of his favorite pair of trousers), due to the nonsensical lyrics and the depressing melody. The controversial theme of the song was also a subject of debate; reportedly, John Lennon threw a stapler at McCartney shouting "Only I am allowed to write controversial songs! You go back to your granny-style and forget about this song!" George Harrison was also upset by the song, claiming in an interview that "[McCartney] wrote it specifically to steal the spotlight from [Harrison's] only four songs on the album, at least one of which would've been paid great attention to." Eventually, the matter was settled when McCartney, out of spite, recorded virtually the entire song by himself, with Lennon and Harrison begrudgingly recording backing vocals later on. After returning from his self-imposed isolation, Starr bluntly commented on the song by calling it "junk." McCartney soon wrote a song inspired by that comment called "Junk (In the Trunk)". It was considered for the album, but it was instead released on his debut solo album McCartney: Pissed Off.
The title of the song, which was actually written in 1965, was originally "Back in the U.S. of A", a title that was stolen from a Chuck Berry song. However, according to McCartney, "some wanker decided to cross out the original title and rewrite it as that for some sick joke. I bet it was Ringo, that damn merry prankster." He then let out a spew of Russian curse words. However, when in the recording studio, McCartney decided that the changed title sounded better, and he decided to change some of the lyrics to fit the theme. Another speculated reason for the title was McCartney's recent motorcycle injury, which caused him not only to die but to forget why certain things are taboo. Others speculate that the title was changed due to a threatened lawsuit by Berry's music publisher, Morrie "Lawsuit" Levy.
"Back in the U.S.S.R." has been widely regarded as one of the worst and most depressing recordings in the history of mankind, despite also being the best-selling single in the U.K. in 1968. Rod Ling Stonesson of Rolling Stone gave it negative sixty-four out of fourteen stars, stating that "you would have to be dumb, deaf, and most of all a Communist to even think this song has the least bit of appeal. Even if it were a banana it wouldn't have appeal." Hilary Goldstein of IGN called it "an absolute abomination; I'd rather clean all the bathrooms in Grand Central Station with my tongue than listen to one more minute of it." Jeanette McCurdy of iCarly called it "a booger."
However, this song has notably had influence on later artists. For example, Guns N' Roses leader Axl Rose was influenced by this song to name the band's most hyped up album after a controversial country. According to Rose, "At first, I was like, 'Dude! I can't think of a title for this f**king album!!' Then, I heard that song, and it hit me--I'll just make the title controversial and nonsensical." In addition, McCarthy's impostor stole the rightful title for his 2002 tour entitled BACK IN THE USSR, and the song served as a transitional piece into his pro-American speech intending to excite each and every Little old lady in the audience until they [[asplodes]d].
Allegations of Communist undertones
This song has been described by some as containing hidden messages that promote the practice of Communism. For example, many cite the lyric "And Marx is always on my my my my my my my my my mind" as being supportive of Karl Marx's ideas. Other controversial lines include supposed anarchist statments, and one line which refers to Joseph Stalin as being "my homeboy". Critics, concerned parents, and tanookis frequently lambasted McCartney for these types of lyrics, as they were concerned that they would corrupt the youth. McCartney frequently defended his song as being harmless, and challenged his critics to write their own song about a controversial nation without having to throw in some potentially controversial material.
In his 1984 interview with Playboy, McCartney was famously asked if he supported Communism. He responded, "It's easy to accuse a person of this when the accusations are being made by those on the listening end. I assure you that I am in no way a Communist, nor do I ever intend to become one." He went on to explain how this song was partly based on him once going to the Communist party and being vaguely disturbed by it. "They ran out of beer by the time I got there and the entertainment was a man playing Tetris on a rather large GameBoy. I'm not sure what kind of sick people they are to hold such a suckish party, but I'll get back to you when I find out."
The song's title has been widely regarded as inspiration for the 1969 protest against the U.S.S.R. in which millions of European hippie teenagers stepped halfway across the nation's borders, stripped the backs of their clothing, and literally turned their back to the nation. However, military officials in the U.S.S.R. ordered open fire on these backs, killing a total of 17 goats and injuring nearly 50,000 people. McCartney was subsequently sued by the National British Parents' Society for reckless endangerment to their children brought about by his song. When McCartney explained about the original title, people were ever more enraged, and McCartney was accused of being anti-British.
- Paul McCartney – vocals, backing vocals, piano, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, drums, bass guitar, handclaps, percussion, organ
- John Lennon – backing vocals
- George Harrison – backing vocals, Triangle
- Ringo Starr – tomfoolery, but also notable for his accomplishement in doing absolutely nothing for the song.