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Monday, November 7, 2016

Back in the USSR

Paul McCartney was never shy about telling the other members of the Beatles how he wanted something to be played.  While this perfectionist streak often yielded great results, it also tended to rankle his bandmates more and more as the years went by.  Surprisingly, the first one to decide that enough was enough was the normally unflappable Ringo.  Things came to a head on August 22nd, 1968, and the usually easygoing drummer announced that he was quitting the Beatles.  Though John, Paul and George were initially taken aback by Ringo's departure, they nonetheless carried on, making two complete recordings in his absence.

Back in the USSR was the song that prompted Ringo's walkout.  It's a pretty straightforward rocker, so it's hard to imagine exactly what Paul wanted that Ringo couldn't get.  Paul wound up playing the drums on the basic track, as George played guitar and John picked up the bass part.  Only five takes were required to achieve the master.  The next day, August 23rd, the recording was completed with numerous overdubs including drum fills by John and George, additional bass lines by Paul and George, more guitar from Paul, piano, handclaps, backing vocals and, of course, the jet engine sound which flies in and out of the soundscape.

McCartney had composed the song in the spring of '68 in Rishikesh, India during the group's time there to study Transcendental Meditation.  Mike Love of the Beach Boys was also there and it was he who suggested the idea of referring to Russian women as if they were California Girls.  Those lyrics inspired the wonderful backing vocals in the style of the Beach Boys during the bridge.

When John and Paul laid out the running order for the double album The Beatles in a marathon 24-hour session on October 16th and 17th, they chose this number to open side one.  It immediately signals the listener that this album is a return to basic rock and roll after the group's psychedelic excursions of 1967.

Paul added the song to his live set list years ago and it has generally remained there as one of his mainstays.  And Ringo finally got to play on the song in concert on July 4th, 1984 in Washington, DC with - of all people - Mike Love and the Beach Boys.

As for Paul's drumming on the original recording, most critics rate it average at best.

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