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Back in the USSR - the Beatles

Many people were influenced by the Beach Boys, copied their vocal harmony style, even hired them to do backing vocals for them. But no-one satirised them so subtly or so brilliantly as the Beatles did in "Back in the USSR" off their "White Album".

In this Paul McCartney affectionately pastiches two of the Beach Boys' most famous songs, Surfing USA and California Girls, cleverly switching the home country eulogy from USA to USSR. He could have easily chosen the UK, but it was much more telling to use America's ideological opposite and Cold War opponent. So he is making a simple point that ordinary people are much the same everywhere and home is home wherever it is. Maybe, too, the Russians aren't so bad after all. He is also poking fun at the dour view the world had (and still has) of life in Russia generally.

So after referencing both their genuine geographical reference points in the first line:

"Flew in from Miami Beach, BOAC," and forcefully introducing the parody with the refrain:

"...Back in the US, back in the US, back in the USSR!"

Harrison and Lennon then supply Beach Boy style harmonies for the middle 8 with the typical Wilson style bass duh, duh duh's and high pitched "wooh wooh wooh's", and there is the great fun to be had comparing the lyrics with those of California Girls:

"well the Ukraine Girls really knock me out

and leave the West behinmd

and Moscow girls make me sing and shout

and Georgia's always on my mi-mi-mi-mi-mi-mi-mi-mi-mi mind"

and the Beach Boys:

"well east coast girls are hip I really dig those styles they ware

and the southern girls with the way they talk they knock me out when I'm down there

the mid west farmers' daughters really make you feel alright

and the northern girls with the way they kiss they keep their boyfriends warm at night"

but the Beatles do it better: intermittent airplane noises, colourful casual details (always one of McCartney's strong points

"all the way a paperback was on my knee, man I had a dreadful flight"


"honey disconnect the 'phone" and so on),

a Ray Charles reference (Georgia on my Mind), snappy handclapping and a scorching late Chuck Berry style guitar solo from Harrison.

It's also great because it rocks as well as the best of the Beach Boys tracks, yet pastiches them while still being a modern and identifiably Beatles number. And it's subtle. You wouldn't believe how many people I've met over the decades who loved this song and yet had no idea what they're up to. When told, they all go "of course, why didn't I notice it before?" How many bands could have done that?

Apparently, Ringo Starr walked out in a strop just before the Beatles final take because McCartney didn't like his drumming on it and it's McCartney you can hear on drums on the recording. However, in 1984 Starr made a guest appearance at a Beach Boys' concert in Washington for a performance of "Back in the USSR", which you can hear on Youtube. So the only time that Ringo was recorded drumming on this Beatles track was guesting for the Beach Boys! It's one of those instances where parody turns full circle and becomes reality, but if you do look it out, you'll hear that, in this instance, maybe McCartney was right about the drumming!

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