Engineer Ken Scott relates: “They did 'Back In The USSR' with what I seem to recall was a composite drum track of bits and pieces, possibly with all of the other three playing drums. ” This has to be the case since the two drum parts played on this day were performed simultaneous to Paul playing other instruments. The first time “Back In The USSR” was committed to tape was on either May 28th or 29th, 1968, this being in demo form on an Ampex four-track machine at George Harrison's ' Kinfauns' house in Esher, Surrey.
The Beatles met there on these two days to demo and/or introduce the songs they had written in India to each other, them planning on going into EMI Studios the following day (May 30th) to start recording their next album, what would affectionately be known as “ The White Album. ” Another element John and Paul wanted in the new album was crossfades between some of the songs. During what became the first and only 24-hour-session The Beatles ever had, John and Paul worked to construct the complete running order of the two-disc “ White Album” on October 16th/17th, 1968 in Rooms 41 and 42 of Abbey Road as well as the control rooms of EMI Studios One, Two and Three.
This session lasted from 5 pm on October 16th to 5 pm on October 17th. The final airplane sound of “Back In The USSR” was to be crossfaded with the guitar introduction of “ Dear Prudence. ” Both a mono and a stereo crossfade were created during this marathon session, the stereo version taking a few seconds longer to crossfade between the two songs than the mono.
These were created by the same engineering team of Martin, Scott and Smith, under the supervision of John and Paul. As to their performance, author David Quantick in his book “ Revolution: The Making Of The Beatles' White Album” explains: “It thunders along like the jet airliner it mimics, takes corners at incredible speed, and is stuffed full of musical puns. It is one of The Beatles' greatest songs, and is widely regarded as the best rock song they ever wrote. They were always more at ease rocking out on their versions of Chuck Berry and Little Richard songs.
” For an album that has been maligned by some as the disintegration of The Beatles as a band, they appeared to be in full cooperation with each other on this opening track, a “potboiler” as George Martin would always call his choice for an album's opening number. All instruments were played with the enthusiasm and cohesiveness as their earlier albums contained. Except, unfortunately, Ringo wasn't there! Instead, it appears that Paul played drums on the rhythm track and both John and George took turns adding drum fills as overdubs where they felt they were needed. The group didn't get around to begin officially recording the song until nearly three months later, August 22nd, 1968, in EMI Studio Two.
The session was scheduled to begin at 7 pm but, as was usual during the sessions for this album, they probably arrived much later than that. One of The Beatles, however, was more punctual than the rest. Engineer Ron Richards explains: “Ringo was always sitting in the reception area waiting, just sitting there or reading a newspaper.
He used to sit there for hours waiting for the others to turn up. ” Engineer Peter Vince relates how other tensions were apparent during these days as well: “Things were getting very strained on Beatles sessions by this time. The engineers would be asked to leave.
They'd say, 'Go off for a meal' or 'Go off for a drink' and you'd know they were having heavy discussions and didn't want anyone around. ” After all the overdubs were complete, the first and only mono mix was immediately made by producer George Martin and engineers Ken Scott and John Smith. During this mix, however, one final touch was added; the sound of a Viscount turboprop airliner taking off and landing, eight seconds of which appear at the beginning of the song, the sound then reappearing here and there throughout and then reprising at the conclusion.
Tape loops were made of these sounds, these being held by engineer John Smith on a pencil and run on a separate tape machine and faded up and down while this mix was being created. Stuart Eltham, curator of the sound effects library at EMI, explains: “Someone managed to get that tape for me at London Airport. There's one of it revving up and taking off and one of it landing.
It's a Viscount airplane filed in the library as 'Volume 17: Jet and Piston Engine Aeroplane. '” A newer, more vibrant stereo mix was made of “Back In The USSR” sometime between 2004 and 2006 by George Martin and his son Giles Martin for the album “Love. ” It's clarity is superior from the original release, the vocal track being raised up to hear much more of the extraneous vocalizing throughout the song, most noticeable in the introduction and conclusion of the song.
Additional guitar work is heard at the beginning of the song as well. The released compact disc contains a truncated version of this song which omits the solo and second bridge, while the DVD and iTunes version includes the entire version as we're used to hearing it. The demo is interesting in that it consists mostly of Paul on acoustic guitar and double-tracked lead vocals, at least one other acoustic guitar being heard as well as backing vocals, handclaps and a tambourine.
While no one can say for sure who contributed these other elements, Paul definitely played the biggest role, undoubtedly layering most (if not all) of these himself. In place of where the guitar solo eventually would appear, Paul repeats the first verse, the flight being described as “ awful” instead of “ dreadful” as in the finished version. Also, the third verse as we've come to know it (“ Show me around your snow-peaked mountains. ”) did not appear on this demo, this verse probably not in existence as of yet.
In place of this, Paul repeats the second verse and then follows that up with another verse, mouthing what a guitar solo would be as the song fades away. This demo is in a lower key and is substantially slower, thereby lacking the excitement of what we hear as the finished product, yet it did express the flavor of what Paul intended. The second verse is pretty much identical to the first instrumentally except for it being sixteen measures long instead of fourteen.
By the fourth measure of this verse, the 'plane landing' effect finally disappears; however it reappears in the sixth measure and is heard until the twelfth measure. A slight tom tom fill is heard at the end of the fourth measure and then a simple eighth-note snare fill is heard in the eighth measure, both of these presumably performed by Paul during the rhythm track. The twelfth and thirteenth measures are in 4/4 time as the rest of the song is, while the fourteenth measure is in 2/4, these three measures encompassing an extended version of the 'Beatles break' heard in the first verse, allowing the tricky vocal repetition “ Back in the US, back in the US, back in the USSR” to be sung.
Paul's double-tracked vocals are joined with John on a lower harmony (the first time his voice is heard on the song) along with syncopated staccato guitar chords in the background. The final two measures, the fifteenth and sixteenth, show the full instrumentation coming back in along with the 'plane taking off' effect. These final two measures also feature an eighth-note snare drum fill and the first emergence of low Beach Boys-like background vocals.
A seven-measure conclusion comes next which features the building lead guitar passage from the verses, although they stay on the same chord this time around. The high Beach Boys harmonies are also present as are the rollicking piano chords which are accentuated at the end of the second and fourth measures. Paul's ad lib vocalizing is heard saying “ Hey, I'm back. Hey, hey, hey, hey, back in the USSR. Aha, ha!” John's bass from the rhythm track accidentally continues past the downbeat on the seventh measure, although this is obscured very well by the 'plane landing' effect which raises in volume at the end of the song.
This then crossfades nicely into John's opening guitar work on the next track of the “ White Album,” namely, “ Dear Prudence” or, on other compilation albums, faded out quickly before one can detect the beginning of “ Dear Prudence. ” Sometime in 2018, Giles Martin, with engineer Sam Okell, returned to the master tapes of the song to create an incredible new stereo mix for inclusion on the 50th Anniversary releases of the " White Album. " He also thought to create a stereo mix of the overdubbed 'take 5," as mentioned above, as well as the 'Kinfauns' Esher demo that the group made in late May of 1968.
Since the song is patterned after classic rock 'n roll gems like "Back In The USA" and "California Girls," the structure for "Back In The USSR" is quite standard, consisting of a 'verse/ verse/ bridge/ verse (instrumental)/ bridge/ verse' pattern (or aababa) with a predictable introduction and conclusion thrown in for good measure. That is not to say there isn't a trick or two hidden within, as we'll see. It appears that Paul had a particular drum pattern in mind and was attempting to explain it to Ringo (as he had done at various times during their career – see “ Ticket To Ride” for example).
Barry Miles, in Paul's biography "Many Years From Now," explains it as Paul ticking off Ringo "over a fluffled tom-tom fill. " Possibly while Paul got behind the drum kit and was in the process of demonstrating to Ringo what he wanted, Ringo actually decided to quit the band. "Paul is the greatest bass guitarist in the world," Ringo explained in 1968, "but he is also very determined.
He goes on and on to see if he can get his own way. " Ken Scott, who was the engineer on this session, recalls: “I remember Ringo being uptight about something, I don't remember what, and the next thing I was told was that he'd quit the band. ” “I felt two things,” Ringo explains in the Beatles Anthology specia.
“I felt I wasn't playing great, and the other three were really happy and I was an outsider. And so, you know, I came to this decision, ''F*ck it, I'm leaving. '" The drummer decided to take a well-deserved vacation to Sardinia on Peter Seller's yacht.
A partial instrumental verse comes next, which is fourteen measures in length as the first verse was, with a searing guitar solo playing a slight variation of the melody line taking up the first eight measures. Assorted vocalizations are heard during these measures, highlighted by Paul's “ oooh” and John's “ yet” in the fifth measure. Two slightly uncomfortable drum fills are heard here in the sixth and eighth measures while the 'plane taking off' effect starts out loudly in the opening measures and fades almost out of the picture (but not totally) as this verse continues on.
The final six measures of the song are almost identical to the first verse, except for a guitar part which this time plays along with the lower Beach Boys harmonies that appear as a transition to the repeat of the bridge that follows. Some heavy discussions ensued during their rehearsal for “Back In The USSR” on this day. Paul, in a 1986 interview, gives us a good idea of how things went down with an already uptight Ringo on this day.
“I'm sure it pissed Ringo off when he couldn't quite get the drums to 'Back In The USSR' and I sat in. It's very weird to know that you can do a thing someone else is having trouble with. If you go down and do it, just bluff right through it, you think, 'What the hell, at least I'm helping.
' Then the paranoia comes in – 'But I'm going to show him up!' I was very sensitive to that. " In his book "Postcards From The Boys," Ringo relates: "Every time I went for a cup of tea he was on the drums!” The first live released recording of “Back In The USSR” by Paul McCartney was done on March 5th, 1990 in Tokyo, Japan, the recording being released on both “Tripping The Live Fantastic” and “Tripping The Live Fantastic: Highlights!” Sometime between April 1st and May 18th, 2002, another live recording of the song was made which was released on both “Back In The US” in the states and “Back In The World” worldwide. Between July 17th and 21st, 2009, another live version of the song was recorded at Citi Field for release on the album “Good Evening New York City.
” Paul's performance of the song at Amoeba Music in Hollywood, California was also recorded and released on the album “ Paul McCartney Live In Los Angeles,” which was made available only in Britain and Ireland exclusively for 'The Mail On Sunday' newspaper. At this point, the four-track tape was full. A reduction mix needed to be made to clear up more space for the remaining overdubs, this reduction mix becoming 'take 6.
' All of the instrumental elements were recorded onto tracks one and two, leaving tracks three and four of the four-track tape open for vocals. With the tape speed raised to a faster tempo and higher pitch, Paul performed his lead vocals, double-tracked at times, while John, Paul and George performed Beach Boys-like harmonies, John singing the ' da-da-da-da' bass parts as Paul and George hit the high notes. They even threw in some handclaps during these vocal overdubs.
Recording History We start off with a few seconds of the sound of a plane taking off which is faded in and then continues in the mix during the actual band introduction. The first instrument heard is a rather startling lead guitar flub which appears to have been caught on an open track of the tape by accident. (This guitar flub is mixed out of the newer mix created for the “Love” album, the producers opting instead to artificially insert some highly distorted guitar noise from the previous track “Revolution.
”) The proper introduction then begins, which is four measures in length and builds musically in layers not unlike the trademark “ aah” harmonies in “ Twist And Shout. ” Multiple guitars, basses and drums thump out this standard rock 'n roll introduction which ends in an overdubbed tom tom fill from either John or George and an anticipated “ ohhhhh” from Paul. The 'plane taking off' effect finally fades from view during the fourth and final measure of this introduction.
There were a few other differences between the stereo and mono mixes of the song. The piano is somewhat quieter in the stereo mix, the sharp guitar sound at the very beginning of the song, which was a cut off guitar note from the original rhythm track, is louder in the mono mix, drum beats heard during the closing airplane sounds in the mono mix are missing in the stereo, and extra guitar chords are heard at the beginning of the guitar solo in the stereo mix, as well as additional shouts and piano during the solo. A tape copy of the completed mono mix was made at the end of the session, along with four other recently completed songs, and given to roadie Mal Evans.
This highly productive session was complete by 3 am the following morning. After a virtual repeat of the bridge, which this time features an excited “ awwwwwww” from Paul in the final two measures, the final verse, fourteen measures in length, appears next. The elements of this verse are also nearly identical to previous verses except for an alarm-like high pitched guitar note that is heard throughout the chord changes of the first eight measures.
Also prominent throughout the verse is the overdubbed handclaps from the three Beatles. Paul also gives way with a piano thumb ride during the 'Beatles Break' in the twelfth measure. And if you were missing it, both the 'plane taking off' and 'plane landing' effects are heard throughout this final verse as well, in that order.
The last measure begins Paul's ad lib yells that finish off the song, the first being “ Awww, Let me tell you, honey!” Even as late as 1968, mono appears to have been the most important medium for popular music, stereo mixes being created later. The released stereo mix of “Back In The USSR” as well as various other " White Album" tracks, was created on October 13th, 1968 in the control room of EMI Studio Two sometime in the later hours of this 7 pm to 6 am session by the same engineering team of Martin, Scott and Smith. The first order of business on this day, however, was the recording of the final " White Album" track, John's beautiful song " Julia.
R," engineer John Smith recalls, as recounted in the 50th Anniversary " White Album" book: "For the mono mix, everything came out OK, but the stereo mix took a long, long time and I was holding the pencil to keep the effects tape taut. I guess I must have been leaning back on it and started to stretch it, because the mono has this clear, clean lovely jet sound while the stereo is an abomination of a jet sound. " This would account for the somewhat unidentifiable screaching sound heard at the end of the more popular stereo mix of the song.
On January 3rd, 1969, during their rehearsal sessions at Twickenham Film Studios for what became the "Let It Be" movie, The Beatles briefly ran through a rough version of "Back In The USSR" which was committed to tape. This version, of course, has never seen any official release. With The Beatles now drummer-less (Ringo being coerced back into the group two weeks later), they still took advantage of the studio time on this day to record the basic backing track to “Back In The USSR.
” Engineer Ken Scott, as quoted in the "' White Album' 50th Anniversary" book, relates that the drummer's absence was "not spoken about too much.
And the whole thing was treated just as a 'Ringo's not here today' kind of thing, so we just carried on as usual. " Since Paul knew what he wanted the drums to sound like, he played them himself with George playing a chopping pattern on electric guitar to accentuate the snare beats of the drums. “I played the six-string bass on that,” John recalled in 1980 about this rhythm track, the above mentioned " White Album" book stipulating that he played it "strumming chords rather than picking individual notes.
" Five attempts were made of this rhythm track, 'take five' being deemed the best. They left the song in this state for the night to “ leave it till tomorrow” for overdubs. After a tape copy of “ Baby You're A Rich Man” was made for George Martin, the session was complete at 4:45 am the following morning.
The first bridge is heard next, which is ten measures long and features Paul on double-tracked lead vocals once again. The 'plane taking off' effect is heard throughout the entire bridge, lessening in volume in the middle measures and swelling in volume at the conclusion. Two sets of background vocals are heard throughout the entire bridge as well, one lower and one higher, similar in style to The Beach Boys' hit “Fun, Fun, Fun.
” A descending chord pattern is heard in the fifth and sixth measures, which adds an interesting change to the expected dynamic of the song. A slight tom tom fill is heard in the fourth measure and an eighth-note snare drum fill occupies the seventh and eighth measures accenting Paul's lyric “ Georgia's always on my my my my my my my my my mind. ” An eighth-note snare fill appears in the ninth measure while an eighth-note tom tom fill takes up the tenth measure along with Paul's growling “ Oh, come on” which ushers in the guitar solo that comes next.
The first verse then begins, which is fourteen measures in length. Paul's piano kicks in immediately at this point, as do his single-tracked lead vocals. The 'plane landing' effect is heard throughout the verse in the background at various volumes.
In the eighth measure, Paul performs a perfunctory tom tom fill while the title of the song is sung for the first time. For the remainder of the verse, Paul sings double-tracked. An interesting building lead guitar passage appears in the ninth through eleventh measures while Paul misses the snare drum once in the ninth and tenth measures, redeeming himself in the eleventh measure with a quick snare drum fill to signal a 'Beatles break' where all instruments suddenly stop in the twelfth measure.
This measure is filled with Paul repeating the song's title, followed by the full instrumentation coming back in on the thirteenth and fourteenth measure, the final measure including a simple transitional lead guitar passage and a eigthth-note snare drum fill. The overdubs that were performed onto 'take five' can be heard on the "' White Album' Super Deluxe Edition" box set, this beginning with George practicing a snare drum / tambourine part he was about to add to the previous day's rhythm track. "I've been wonderful on the last two takes," he exclaims as he's waiting for the rhythm track to begin, this indicating that they made various attempts as performing this particular overdub.
After a later take in the session, George asked 'How was that?" George Martin then replied, "George, I think you're giving me less bass drum. " Also overdubed at this time was Paul on lead guitar, bass and piano, John on rhythm guitar and yet another drum part, and George on lead guitar and bass. Mark Lewisohn sums up the procedings, saying: “The song was also a composite recording in other ways, with three bass guitar parts, played by John, Paul and George respectively, and both Paul and George playing lead guitar.