Thursday, May 5, 2011

Back In The USSR

Richard Furnstein: What an opener! As the curtain rises on the Beatles, we are left with a band of satirical British long-hairs completely skewering American pop history. Where the Beatles of old were quick to pay tribute to the American rock and roll 45s making their way into their disgusting port town, this band of drugged out weirdos seem at once to be paying tribute to and lampooning the music of Chuck Berry and the Beach Boys. Even weirder, Paul wrote this one in India; so while his moaning about a dreadful flight makes sense, the tribute to U.S. boogie is a touch unexpected.

Robert Bunter: It's strange for the Beatles to be parodying Chuck Berry and the Beach Boys (which, as you have accurately noted, is what they were doing here, Rich). At this point, the Beatles were pretty close to godlike, while Chuck Berry was playing sweaty toilet rock in dank blues clubs and the Beach Boys were drifting headlong into mental illness, drug abuse, legal battles and creative irrelevance. For Paul to come along and goof on them with a mocking chorus of falsetto "oohs" and crypto-communist lyrics was a case of rubbing it in.

Richard Furnstein: Speaking of "rubbing it": what was in that paper bag? My money is on some exotic erotica that old Pauly couldn't find in Mother Russia. Paper bags usually suggest something illicit should be hidden. Booze seems unlikely, as the whiskey flowed liked water on international flights during that time period. Pornography seems slightly more likely. Remember that Lennon's flaccid uncircumsized member on the Two Virgins album cover was concealed by an anonymous paper wrapper. Perhaps the paper cover is a good metaphor for this song; the band is wrapping the madness, misdirection, and wild obscurities of the White Album in a gooey boogie opener. It seems to be too gentle of an introduction into a world dominated by warm guns, blocked kicks, and a Ringo fiddle-infused original.

For Paul to come along and goof on them with a mocking chorus of falsetto "oohs" and crypto-communist lyrics was a case of rubbing it in.

Robert Bunter: You're 100 percent correct, as usual. The fabs' darkest and most unsettling album opens with a taste of the old pep rallies, drive-ins and sock hops. The question is why? I'll tell you why: if they'd opened the record with the melancholy, elegaic luminescence of track number two ("Dear Prudence"), our souls would have been so overstuffed with bliss that they'd explode and we'd never make it to side two. The Beatles knew what they were doing when they sequenced their album sides, and that was never more evident than it is on the White Album. Here's how I look at it: side one is a series of juxtapositions of happiness and sadness, side two is all about animals, side three is heavy rock (plus more animals: "Me and My Monkey," eagles and worms on "Yer Blues" plus the ape-like George Harrison's vaguely simian "Long Long Long"), and side four is about social problems. That's what we're dealing with here.

Richard Furnstein: Much has been made (by Mike Love) of Mike Love's "contributions" to the creation of this one. Allegedly, Love suggested the bridge's tribute to the lovely ladies of Russia (like California girls, but with grotesque Communist monsters). Good one, Mike. I'm sure Paul couldn't get there on his own, he was only a super genius who could write perfect pop songs about complex human emotions. Thanks for holding his hand and suggesting a reference to surfing or classic cars, you balding one trick pony.

Anyway, wanna know my favorite part of this one? Listen to George's scorcher of a bended one note lead coming out of the bridge. This is rock power and exhibit 2674 in why you need the mono version of The Beatles.

Robert Bunter: Yeah, "back to mono" as Phil Spector said! Hahaha. I love it. Let me say another thing about Mike Love: he was surely a malevolent, poisonous influence on the mellow vibes of the Beatles India trip, just like he was back home as he was destroying the Beach Boys. I wouldn't be surprised if Stink Love (as I call him) was the real reason George and John finally got fed up and caught a taxi home. Spending a minute with that guy is like enduring an eternity, let me tell you from personal experience.


  1. I always thought the paper bag was an airplane barf bag . . .

  2. I think you're right! We stand corrected.
    -Robert Bunter