So the question du jour is: Who exactly plays bass on “Back in the U.S.S.R.”? (This is one of those trivial little things you end up wondering about when you spend too much time delving into Beatles minutiae.) John was on thunderstick for the five takes recorded yesterday; but according to The Beatles Bible, his parts were erased today, and replaced by McCartney and Harrison overdubs.

If so, John was either unaware or forgot; in 1980 he told author David Sheff, “I play the six-string bass on that.” Well, let’s have a listen:

To my ear the evidence is inconclusive. John was a natural musician, but not really a bass player; his basslines tended toward the simple and propulsive (see also “Helter Skelter”). This one might be him. Or it might not. Another eternal mystery, along with Easter Island and man-buns.

In any case, “Back in the U.S.S.R.” was in fact finished today, with the recording of additional guitar, bass, drum, and piano parts, along with handclaps and lead and backing vocals. It seems that everyone did a little bit of everything, which would appear to indicate an unusually harmonious atmosphere in the studio. Maybe Ringo really was the problem after all?

At the mixing stage, airplane sound effects from the studio library were added. The vessel in question, I am told, was a Vickers Viscount — a turboprop airliner that, when introduced in 1948, had ironically been lauded for being relatively low-noise.

Everyone seems to have known immediately that “Back in the U.S.S.R.” was a keeper, and it was a natural candidate for the opening track of the new album. Upon release it generated some controversy, especially among the likes of the John Birch Society, who needed little prompting to label the Beatles communists.

And it is curious to note that this song was recorded mere days after the U.S.S.R. invaded Czechoslovakia, squelching the pro-democracy movement there. In fact, was it perhaps seeing the news of the invasion that prompted Paul to remember this song and decide to record it? That would be a bit crass, but stranger things have happened.

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