Russians were not allowed to listen to The Beatles in the Red Square during the 1980s. Vladimir Putin stated that The Beatles were widely listened to in the Soviet Union back in the day, despite the disapproval of officials. In fact, Putin himself is a massive Beatles fan. That is the power of music and its ability to put anyone on the same level playing field. When we think of Putin as a guy who just likes The Beatles, we instantly demystify him; he is no longer the anti-humanist authoritarian leader and ex-KGB agent. This is a testament to the universal language of music.
In 2003, Russian leader Putin was partially responsible for getting Paul McCartney to the country in order to perform in the Red Square – marking the milestone as the first Beatle to do so. Along the lines of the power and universality of music – Russian musician, Sasha Lipnitsky, said that The Beatles were the “first hole in the iron curtain.”
In the Soviet Union, when Western music was banned and music, in general, was heavily regulated, Russians would go to extreme lengths to obtain records that were cleverly copied onto x-ray film.
When Macca played the momentous concert in the Red Square in Moscow, one can imagine what it might have been like to witness the ex-Beatle rocker crash into ‘Back in The U.S.S.R’ to 20 thousand people. Macca wrote the song in 1968, and it was based on Chuck Berry’s ‘Back in the U.S.A’.
As serious as McCartney took his first-ever performance in Moscow in a show of love of all, regardless of race, ethnicity or nationality; ‘Back in the U.S.S.R’ was a bit of a parody of the Chuck Berry song. “I just liked the idea of Georgia girls and talking about places like Ukraine as if they were California, you know? It was also hands across the water, which I’m still conscious of. ‘Cause they like us out there [in Soviet Russia], even though the bosses in the Kremlin may not,” Macca said about the song.
When in Russia, McCartney got to meet with Putin in a televised meeting. Macca asked the feared President, “When you were growing up, did you listen to the Beatles?” To which Putin replied, “The music was very popular like a breath of fresh air, a window into the outside world.” Putin’s answer was sincere, outlining the stark differences between Putin’s Russia and the Soviet Union before the wall came down.
McCartney also asked if The Beatles were banned in the Soviet Union. Putin replied, “It wasn’t banned, but people weren’t allowed to play it in the Red Square as recently as the 1980s. The Beatles had been widely listened to in the Soviet Union despite official’s disapproval.”
Even in 2003, upon processing McCartney’s visit, 100 Russian State deputies had protested Macca’s trip.
McCartney’s song setlist for his performance in the Red Square was mostly made up of Beatles songs, including old tunes such as, ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, ‘We Can Work It Out’, and ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’. He did some later Beatles songs with an added sprinkle of Wings tunes as well.
For now, watch Paul McCartney’s rendition of ‘Back in the U.S.S.R’ in the Red Square, below.