The Beatles’ ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’ Only Became a Hit Years After the Band Broke Up

TL;DR:

  • Paul McCartney wrote The Beatles’ “Back in the U.S.S.R.” but John Lennon played on the track.
  • The tune was partly a parody of a Chuck Berry song.
  • The song became a hit single six years after The Beatles’ breakup.
The Beatles in suits
The Beatles | Hulton Archive / Stringer

The Beatles‘ “Back in the U.S.S.R.” was mostly Paul McCartney’s song. He said the song was inspired by American attitudes. Despite this, the track was a single in the United Kingdom but not in the United States.

John Lennon jokingly asked a journalist if he had the ability to write The Beatles’ ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’

The book All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono features an interview from 1980. In it, John discussed his feelings about albums. “I’m not satisfied with any individual or Beatles album,” he said. “There’s too many fill-ins and padding. I like the inspired stuff, not the created, clever stuff. 

“But I do like Pepper for what it is. I like The White Album for what that is, and I like Revolver and I like Rubber Soul,” he added. “So there aren’t many others, are there? I also like our first album because we made it in twelve hours.”

John discussed the first song from The White Album: “Back in the U.S.S.R.” “Paul completely,” he said. “I play the six-string bass on that. ‘Da da da da da.’ Try writing that on your typewriter.”

Paul McCartney said ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’ was inspired by what Americans do when they leave America

In the 1997 book Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now, Paul discussed the inspiration behind “Back in the U.S.S.R.” “‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’ was my take-off of Chuck Berry’s ‘Back in the U.S.A.,'” he said. 

“It’s a typical American thing to say when they’re away: I miss my doughnuts and 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,'” he added. “So I thought, ‘Great, I’ll do a spoof on that.'” He tried to sound like Jerry Lee Lewis when he sang it. While “Back in the U.S.S.R” spoofed Americans, it was a single in the U.K. but not in the U.S.

The song was on ‘The White Album’ but it didn’t become a hit single until it appeared on 1 of The Beatles’ compilation albums

“Back in the U.S.S.R.” originally appeared on The White Album. According to The Official Charts Company, that album reached No. 1 in the U.K. for eight weeks, staying on the chart for 37 weeks in total.

In 1976, six years after The Beatles’ breakup, “Back in the U.S.S.R.” was released as a single from the compilation Rock ‘n’ Roll Music in the U.K. The song peaked at No. 19 and stayed on the chart for six weeks. On the other hand, Rock ‘n’ Roll Music reached No. 11 and stayed on the chart for 15 weeks.

“Back in the U.S.S.R.” was a spoof of Americans but it caught on the most in the U.K.