Monday, 5 January 2015

10:38 Back In The USSR (pt 1) Weird Al McCartney

Back In The USSR was the reason Ringo quit the Beatles, the only track to feature all three remaining members on bass AND drums and a sort of multilayered parody, channeling both on Chuck Berry and the band that plagiarised him – the Beach Boys.

Parody In Arrangement

Taking his initial inspiration from the UK government ad campaign “I'm Backing Britain” McCartney developed a fictional 1st person narrative (Ticket 70) - a Russian singing about how cool life is in an oppressive communist regime set to a rip-roaring US-style track. An uncharacteristically edgy, but unique angle (see Ticket 42).

I wrote that as a kind of Beach Boys parody. And 'Back in the USA' was a Chuck Berry song, so it kinda took off from there

It's tongue in cheek...'Georgia's always on my mind', there's all sorts of little jokes in it...We added Beach Boys style harmonies

The Beach Boys elements (which Mike Love claims credit for) manifest in the bridge and the all-American vocab like “gee”. There is a nod to “Beach Boys style harmonies” but it's caricature rather than careful pastiche – a Mike Love approved bass part, a single high wordless descant and the main melody. No dense Wilson richness, though the Beatles were certainly capable of that).

Parody In Lyrical Structure

Flew in from Miami Beach B.O.A.C.
Didn't get to bed last night
On the way the paper bag was on my knee
Man, I had a dreadful flight
I'm back in the USSR

Verse one is a really strong opening and sets the scene wonderfully with the positive feelings towards Russia being developed in the second verse (Gee it's good to be back home). But it's instructive to look at how McCartney developed the song in direct relation to the template Back In The USA. Because a great parody is not merely 'one song to the tune of another' poking fun at something, but in the hands of a true artist (like Weird Al) uses the lyrical shape and development to inform the lampoon (Ticket 71).

Back In The USA

Oh well, oh well, I feel so good today
We touched ground on an international runway
Jet propelled back home
From over the seas to the U.S.A.

Back In The USSR

Flew in from Miami Beach B.O.A.C.
Didn't get to bed last night
On the way the paper bag was on my knee
Man, I had a dreadful flight
I'm back in the USSR

Notice how Paul copies the first verse by opening with the plane landing

We touched ground on an international runway/Flew in from Miami Beach

expressing his emotional state

I feel so good today/Man, I had a dreadful flight

and naming his home in the last line.

From over the seas to the U.S.A./I'm back in the USSR.

The bridge meanwhile emulates Berry's (place) name-checking

Well the Ukraine girls really knock me out
They leave the west behind
And Moscow girls make me sing and shout
That Georgia's always on my mind

New York, Los Angeles, oh, how I yearned for you
Detroit, Chicago, Chattanooga, Baton Rouge...
From the coast of California to the shores of Delaware Bay

This was something of a Berry trope as he also did it on Sweet Little Sixteen

They're really rockin' in Boston, in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Deep in the heart of Texas and round the 'Frisco Bay
All over St. Louis and down in New Orleans
All the cats wanna dance with Sweet Little Sixteen

which is the track which Brian Wilson 'rewrote' as Surfin' U.S.A.

You'd catch 'em surfin' at Del Mar, Ventura County line
Santa Cruz and Trestle, Australia's Narrabeen
All over Manhattan and down Doheny Way
Everybody's gone surfin' - Surfin' U.S.A.

Which brings us full circle!


Ringo never played Back In The USSR with the Beatles, but he did perform it with these guys...

More on Weird Al's songwriting here and here
Lennon With Chuck Berry
McCartney quotes are mostly from Many Years From Now via Beatles Bible and Beatles Songwriting And Recording Database For more on the Berry/Beach Boys plagiarism see Wikipedia

No comments:

Post a comment