The Beatles' Revelatory White Album Demos: A Complete Guide

We delve deep into the 1968 home recordings that planted the seeds for the band's classic self-titled double LP

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"Back in the U.S.S.R."

A tongue-in-cheek sendup of Chuck Berry's barnstorming "Back in the U.S.A.," the future White Album opener took root in McCartney's mind after he heard the slogan for Prime Minster Harold Wilson's pro-English industry campaign "I'm Backing Britain" in early 1968. Initially taking the title "I'm Backing the U.K.," it morphed into the espionage-tinged "I'm Backing the U.S.S.R.," before taking its final form. "It's a typical American thing to say when they're away: 'I miss my doughnuts and my Howard Johnson's and my launderettes and I miss the convenience of the Hyatt Hilton and it's just so much better back home and the TV's got more channels,'" McCartney later explained. "So I thought, 'Great, I'll do a spoof on that. This'll be someone who hasn't got a lot but they'll still be every bit as proud as an American would be.'" It's likely the homesickness wasn't purely fiction – McCartney composed the song in the midst of the Indian TM course, which he departed prematurely, nearly a month early. Prior to leaving, he played the song for a fellow pupil, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, who encouraged him to include a sort of Russian-style "California Girls" section on the bridge. McCartney went along with the idea, incorporating some Beach Boys–esque harmonies to boot.

The White Album's raucous kickoff is electrifying even as an acoustic vamp on the Esher tape. Slower than the final version and performed in a lower key, the early version chugs along in a bluesy groove as a chorus of McCartney vocal overdubs attack the lyrics with panache, overemphasizing the "R" sounds on "U.S.S.R." in nasal American tones. The flight from Miami Beach is just "awful" at this stage (rather than "dreadful") but overall the words are largely the same. The "Show me around your snow-peaked mountains ..." stanza has yet to be written, so McCartney repeats the first and second verses before leading into a sung guitar break. The full-throated doo-wop on the bridges makes this quite possibly the most fun of all the Kinfauns demos.

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