Did Mike Love really contribute to a classic song by The Beatles?

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The Beatles wrote many classic songs across their career, it’s just what they did. The John Lennon and Paul McCartney songwriting partnership is just about the finest in history, and without the plethora of great cuts that they released, popular music and culture would not be the kaleidoscopic environment that it is today.

From ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ to ‘Let It Be’, the list of the iconic tracks that Lennon and McCartney penned is genuinely mind-blowing. It’s a testament to the combined power of their genius, as even after the demise of the Beatles in 1970, individually, they’d continue to release works that assisted the proliferation of popular music, making the world a better place than it was before their advent. Alone they were esteemed, but together they were a different beast entirely.

One of their best-loved tracks with The Beatles came in the form of ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’, the opener of 1968’s White Album. Notably, the song parodies Chuck Berry’s rock ‘n’ roll staple ‘Back in the U.S.A.’ and The Beach Boys‘ hit single ‘California Girls’. However, the sharp lyrics subvert any patriotic beliefs about the United States, with the narrator expressing relief about returning home to the Soviet Union.

Explaining the song’s meaning in Barry Miles’ 1997 biography Many Years From Now, Paul McCartney said: “It’s tongue in cheek. This is a travelling Russkie who has just flown in from Miami Beach; he’s come the other way. He can’t wait to get back to the Georgian mountains: ‘Georgia’s always on my mind’; there’s all sorts of little jokes in it… I remember trying to sing it in my Jerry Lee Lewis voice, to get my mind set on a particular feeling. We added Beach Boys style harmonies.”

The track was written in Rishikesh, India when the ‘Fab Four’ were meditating with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Still, they weren’t the only musical icon at the retreat, the most controversial of the Beach Boys, Mike Love, was also in attendance. Love has made many questionable assertions over the years, and one of the most mystifying comes in the form of the one he made regarding his contributions to ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’.

In Many Years From Now Love is quoted as claiming that he had a defining influence on one of the most famous parts of the song, that which talks about girls from Russia, Ukraine and Georgia.

He said: “I was sitting at the breakfast table and McCartney came down with his acoustic guitar and he was playing ‘Back In The USSR’, and I told him that what you ought to do is talk about the girls all around Russia, the Ukraine and Georgia. He was plenty creative not to need any lyrical help from me but I gave him the idea for that little section… I think it was light-hearted and humorous of them to do a take on the Beach Boys.”

Mike Love’s claim has never been independently verified, but there is enough evidence to suggest that he did make some form of an impact on the song’s creation. Tapes exist of The Beatles singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Mike Love in honour of The Beach Boys member in Rishikesh, suggesting that both parties were close, meaning that it’s not unfeasible. 

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