Notes on "Back In The USSR (BITU)

KEY	A Major

METER	4/4

FORM	Intro -> Verse -> Refrain
		Verse -> Refrain -> Bridge ->
			Verse (Guitar solo) -> Refrain -> Bridge ->
				Verse -> Refrain -> Outro

GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST


Style and Form

- Coming on the heels of what the Beatles had been putting out for the two years previous (i.e. _Revolver_ through _Magical Mystery Tour_ albums plus all the contemporaneous singles), this track has the fresh impact of a palate-cleansing, eye-catching, and ear-opening album opener, if ever there was one: bute, rhythmically tricky, full of not-so-vague tribute-cum-parodistic references, and still, not least of all:

Right-on, Hard-edged Rock-n-Roll Music, just the same; thank you.

- You'd have to have been born on another planet, or at least in a different century, to miss the several Beach Boys references. I dare say the Ray Charles' "Georgia On My Mind" reference is a tad more subtle (note Paul's Quarrymen cover of "Halleleujah I Love Her So"). But you need be a real Oldies maven to catch the ultimate allusion here, to Chuck Berry's "Back in the USA;" see our .sig file du jour's quotatation for confirmation; and don't tell me that Paul didn't know about this.

- And if you admit the flat-III chord into the otherwise insular Blues family of I-IV-V, you've got to admit how much this particular song goes to reinforce (speaking of the Q-men) the Beatles' long-term, essential longing to be a (Rhythm'n) Blues group in spite of whatever novel fusion of disparate musical elements brought them their epochal success and notoriety.

- Phrasing-wise, this song is intruigingly neither 12-bar nor four- square in its stucture.


Melody and Harmony

- The tune is very bluesy, with the heavy emphasis on the flattened melodic 3rd making for a frequent dissonant cross relation with the underlying A Major chord structure.

- By the same token, the melodic 7th is entirely avoided in the tune, though it IS given some prominence to the saw-tooth-patterned guitar riff which recurs throughout the song:

             1  &  2  &  3  &  4  &   1
            |A  A'    G     F# B# C# |A

- The harmonic budget consists primarily of the blues triumverate of I-IV-V, though flat-III plays a conspicuous supporting role, and there's even a brief cameo for V-of-V.

- We've seen flat-III used by the Beatles a long time ago, way back in "Please Please Me," where it appears as part of a fast moving chord stream on its way to the V chord. In this song, flat-III appears in contexts where the harmonic rhythm is much slower, so that you get a chance to see it play two kinds of character roles:

In the verse, it sits between two vacillating appearances of the IV chord, connoting a gesture of approach-avoidance.

In the refrain, it is used as a kind of sub-sub-dominant chord which, goose-like (read: fondling, not fowl species), sneaks up on IV from behind.

- The bassline recurrently incorporates chromatic scale fills as a leitmotif.


Arrangement

- The finished version is a thick patchwork of many elements and overdubs; piano, guitars, multiple drum tracks, hand clapping, and, of course, the ubiquitous jet plane. And, while perhaps more freely thrown together than the typical Beatles track, you still find some underlying choreography:

    - Intro features jet plane, drums and guitars

    - Verse 1, add pounding piano in relentness eighthnote chords

    - Refrain 1, add hand claps and guitar hook

    - Verse 2 and Refrain 2 repeat their pattern

    - Bridge 1 is a "tutti;" and adds the backing vocals

    - Guitar solo verse has studio chat in the background

    - The final Verse/Refrain pair feature the handclapping mixed more foreward. The final Verse also has that sustained high note in the guitar.

    - The outro uses just the guitar hook, studio chat, and jet plane to cross-fade into the next track.

- In the vocal department, Paul's lead is single tracked for the verses and (automatically?) doubled for the refrains and bridges. The backing vocals appear in the bridges as both a doubling of the chromatic bassline and to provide a falsetto counterpoint to the lead.

SECTION-BY-SECTION WALKTHROUGH


Intro

- The track leads in with a few seconds of jet plane noise and a stray lead guitar lick. We then have four measures of pounding on the V chord with increasing insistence that it be resolved. Contrast this to the laid-back Esher demo of this song whose first four measures are on the I chord with an oscillating 5-6-5 in the upper voice! - The first two measures have a syncopated whack on the fourth beat. *Not* repeating this in the final two measures is a nice example of foolish consistency avoided. - And that vocal exclamation at the very end of the section: yes, it's Paul, but it obviously exists on a different layer of the mix than does lead vocal which kicks off in the next measure.


Verse

- The verse is a four-square eight measures long with two identical phrases, the second of which always leads into a refrain:

	------------------------------ 2X -------------------------------
	|A		|D		|C		|D		|
A:	 I       	 IV      	 flat III 	 IV

Refrain

- The refain is an unnusual six measures long, built out of three short phrases; the last of which appears in two variants depending on whether the following section is a verse of bridge:


	|A		|C		|
	 I	 	 flat-III



	|D		|-		|
	 IV


#ifdef VERSE_TO_FOLLLOW

                         1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
	|A		|- D D#E -	|
	 I		   IV  V

#endif /* VERSE_TO_FOLLOW
#ifdef REFRAIN_TO_FOLLOW


bass   	|A		|A  B  C   C#	|
chords:	|A		|-		|
	 I		 (V-of-IV)
#endif /* REFRAIN_TO_FOLLOW

- The harmonic rhythm of the final measure is heavily syncopated in all cases with the bassline sliding from D up to E via D#.

- The second phrase of Refrain #2 is curiously extended by an unusual measure and a half, creating an effect not unlike a "broken record."


Break

- The break is metrically the most elastic section; four phrases in an ABAC poetry pattern, with the last one followed by a two measure extension in all cases:

	|D		|-		|
	 IV


	          bass	|A   B   C  C#  |
	|A		|-		|
	 I



bass	|D	C#	|C-nat.	 B	|
	|D		|		|
	 IV                     (V-of-V)


	|E		|D		|
	 V		 IV


			 1 & 2 & 3  4
	|A		|- D D#E -	|

	 I                 IV  V

- To the extent that both bridges are followed by a verse, it makes perfect sense that the last measure of this section be very similar to the last measure of the VERSE_TO_FOLLOW refrain.


Outro

- The outro settles for a whooping, four-fold repeat of the guitar hook over an unchanging I chord. The actual ending is both abrupt and ricocheting. The latter effect bears comparison with the ending of "Birthday;" also in the key of A, and also the lead-off track on its respective disk.

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS

- The White Album provides a perspective from which to consider how the Beatles opened their albums over the course of time. For the first 6 albums, it might be on a downbeat or it might be coming off an anacrustic pickup, but in ALL cases, the scratchy silence of the run-in groove is broken with a clearcut, sometimes startling sound:

  Album                Song               Opening
  ------------------   ---------------    ---------------
  _Please Please Me_   I Saw Her Stan..   count-in pickup
  _With The Beatles_   It Won't Be Lo..   sung pickup
  _Krinkst Die Nacht_  A Hard Day's N..   downbeat
  _Beatles For Sale_   No Reply           sung pickup
  _Ouch!_              Help!              downbeat
  _Rubber Soul_        Baby You Can D..   downbeat

Then, in 3 out of the next four albums you find, while the music itself still has a clearcut beginning, the recorded track leads in with an indeterminate, chaotic background as a foil against which the music emerges:

  _Revolver_           Taxman             studio noise, wrong count-in
  _Sgt Pepper's ..     Sgt Pepper's ..    audience noise
  _Magical Mystery ..  Magical Mystery..  downbeat
  _The Beatles_        Back in the USS..  jet plane noise, ad-lib guitar

Yet, 'in the end,' you find them, again, opting for the clearcut opener:

  _Yellow Submarine_   Yellow Submarine   sung pickup
  _Abbey Road_         Come Together      downbeat
  _Let It Be_          Two of Us          downbeat

Of course, if you want to be a wiseguy about it, you can argue that the final entry on the list should not be LIB, but rather the following, in which case, the last vote falls into the emergence-from-chaos side of the ledger:

  _Get Back_           One After 909      rooftop noise, piano glissando

But, even so, I think it's clearcut and startling aesthetic that predominates, overall. The mid-cycle run of fade-in examples are, if anything, to be interpreted as an experimental, tongue-in-cheek challenge to the norm.


Regards,

Alan (awp@world.std.com)

---
"...We just touched ground on an international runway,
 Jet propelled back home from overseas to the USA."          052797#130
---


                Copyright (c) 1997 by Alan W. Pollack
                          All Rights Reserved
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