Monday, 19 January 2015

10:40 Back In The USSR (pt 3) Blues Clues

Not only is Back In The USSR blues-influenced, it's a short step away from being a 12 (give or take a few) bar blues. Instead of the original chords


try singing the verse and chorus over a 12 bar pattern


The melody and harmony reinforce the blues style ambiguity. The blusified melody (Ticket 22) created from the minor pentatonic scale (A C D E almost exclusively) implies A dorian when heard over the D major chord. The A major root chord (not A minor) clearly heard in the piano part suggests A mixolydian. The E7 chord (Ticket 65) in the intro and bridge pulls us towards A major. This 'modal' feel (“we're definitely in A but we just can't settle on a scale”) is what the blues is all about.

The melody itself is odd. The verse starts on an unstable 4th (just like Day Tripper) and rocks back and forth between the 4th and the equally unstable b3rd. That's D and C natural repeated over an A major chord which contains C#.

The Chorus itself is the least catchy part of the track, overly syncopated and rushed, perhaps to accent the play on words (is it “I'm backing the USSR”?) but using the same turnaround on the chorus (0:30) and bridge (1:08) and dropping out to accent the key lyric on the last line of the chorus are nice touches (see Tickets 41 and 30).

Next up: Wild Honey Pie

Monday, 12 January 2015

10:39 Back In The USSR (pt 2) Stuttering

One of my favourite bits is the 'scratched record' effect at the end of chorus 2 (0:59). It's similar Revolution 1's time change (at 3:24) created by Geoff Emerick's editing mistake. Here McCartney deliberately uses a 'Lennon Extension' (Ticket 52) probably attempting another 'joke' - “Back in the US? No! -Back in the USSR”. Geddit?

There are numerous ways of analysing it musically.

It could be 4/4 3/4 3/4 4/4. Or perhaps the time signature remains in 4/4 (with a bar of 2/4 to set it right) with McCartney singing a hemiola cross-rhythm over the top (Ticket 29). If so it's cool to note the hemiola is in our heads – no one is actually playing a 4/4 beat.

More than just a cool bit, this tiny idea has a big effect on the whole song structure.

Chorus 1 – is fresh because we hear it for the first time
Chorus 2 – is a surprise. We expect to hear the same chorus but instead we get the hemiola
Chorus 3 – is uncertain because we don't know which variation we're going to get (we get chorus 1 again)
Chorus 4 – is a partial surprise because hearing chorus 1,2,1 we are half expecting 2 again. (we get 1 again)

Just a few seconds freshen up the whole chorus section, because it subtly undermines the predictability of the chorus.

Try that in your songs. Throw one tiny spanner into chorus just to keep people on their toes. (Ticket 72).

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

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Here's Something You Don't See Every Day

(Thank goodness!)

She's still the best one in her row.


(Update - for all those who asked it's from Heartbreakers a 2001 caper-romantic comedy film starring Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt as a mother-daughter con artist team. Roger Ebert gave it 3 stars and Danny Elfman wrote the theme tune. It also features John Lennon's "Oh My Love").

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Merry Christmas From Beatles Songwriting Academy

And so this is... ah skip it... well another year - a few more songs... Merry Christmas Everyone! - hope you had a good year and have an even better year to come. Thanks for the comments and likes, shares and things (especially to everyone on the Forum).

Here's a few Christmas gifts for you all....

Dang I must find out how to make that link work - here it is

And here's more info about Lennon's borrowing on this and other songs

And finally here's a free download of my holiday tune One More Hour With You (A Christmas Song)  more info here