History: In 1987 after a jam session with other musicians, Paul decided to record an album of old rock and roll songs. His initial idea was to make the album look like a bootleg, with its Russian name on the cover to make it look falsely like an import. When EMI nixed that idea, he decided to actually sell the album in the U.S.S.R. at a time when relations were slowly starting to open up between the Soviet Union and the west. The title translates to Back in the U.S.S.R., like the Beatles song. It would eventually also be released everywhere else in 1991.
My own personal history and initial prediction: I had no idea this one even existed, and until I did some basic research to locate the album I wasn’t even 100% sure what it would be considering the Cyrillic title. Given how much I enjoyed John’s Rock and Roll Music, I have high hopes for this one as well. The only shame of it all is I can’t help but get a tinge of sadness by association given what is happening in the Ukraine right now.
Review: This album has one major issue with it that stops it from being truly great, and that is probably best illustrated with the first track on the album. It’s “Kansas City,” a song that the Beatles would frequently cover in their early days and appeared on Beatles for Sale. When I first listened to this version, I was convinced that the tempo was slowed down. I just went back and listened to both Little Richard’s version and theirs for comparison, and I don’t think that’s quite the issue (it’s maybe a little bit slower, but not by much). But it does just have a sound that makes it feel more mellow. Part of it may be Paul’s vocals, which are missing some of their harshness. Maybe he wanted to sound more like himself this time around rather than emulating Little Richard, which is at least understandable.
But overall I just find these covers uninspired. They are played well, but they all largely pale in comparison to the originals. Some of them come off almost sounding closer to jazz standards than they do rock and roll. I have the feeling that if they had recorded their original jam session, or better yet recorded this as a live album, it might have more excitement to it. But unfortunately as it stands it’s lacking a bit.
That said, Paul does at least have some really great song choices here. Four of these songs I know backwards and forwards thanks to my husband frequently playing them with his 50s and 60s cover band, and maybe that’s why I’m being so harsh on Paul, because I happen to think The 45s do them better. Most of the rest are other songs I knew well growing up. “Twenty Flight Rock” definitely makes me think of that moment in the Beatles Anthology when he talks about playing it for John, which is fun. I like his Sam Cooke and Fats Domino covers the best on here I think. I also have to give huge credit to Mick Gallagher who plays piano and keyboard on the album, because his solos frequently made me take notice and bob my head along with them. There are some solid guitar solos too, though I’m not sure if they belong to Paul or Mick Green.
It’s also very Paul to stick a couple more traditional numbers in there with the rock hits, and even one country blues standard as well. Even if he’s not doing anything too different to these, I think you can at least tell this is a collection of songs that he truly likes and would want to listen to and play any old time.
Next Time: Paul returns for his next album, Flowers in the Dirt.