March 29 – Anniversary of “the British Invasion” of Russia

Posted on March 29, 2014

[Sung to the tune of Hey, Jude.]

Hey, guys, don't listen to
The Beatles' music –
It's just so wrong.
Remember our communist principles
Then we can keep our nation-state strong...

Flash forward 26 years...

[Sung to the tune of Back in the USSR.]

Now you can buy our records in a music store,
Buy 'em totally legit.
You can listen to our songs most anywhere,
The KGB will not throw a fit.
We made it to the USSR;
You know how lucky you are, boy,
Back in the USSR!

On this date in 1986, more than a decade after the Beatles had ceased to exist as a band, the Soviet people could finally legally buy their records.

But that doesn't mean that Russians weren't listening to Beatles music before then. The government took a hard line against the Beatles, calling their music “capitalist pollution” and “ideologically alien,” and calling the Beatles themselves “the bugs.” Still, Beatles records were available on the black market.

And when kids heard the music, according to British Cold War spy Leslie Woodhead, they often thought, “The Kremlin told us this is evil music, but it's not true. It's lovely music! Maybe they've been lying to us about other things as well...”

Illegal Beatles records cost a lot of rubles. Some Russians were willing to pay as much as two weeks' salary for a Beatles album.

The bootleggers discovered that music could be etched onto x-rays. The enterprising lawbreakers bought old x-rays from Soviet hospitals, and the music was pressed onto them using a specially-rigged record player...and these disks sold for less than an actual vinyl record.

Can you imagine listening to a floppy, see-through record that has a picture of some stranger's ribcage or femur on it?

Of course, if someone was caught with a bootlegged disk, and turned in to the KGB—that person could be punished. Still, the people's desire to listen to the Beatles' music was greater than their fear of punishment, and bootlegging and smuggling flourished. Apparently even some Soviet diplomats, Communist Party workers, and even KGB members bought and listened to the banned music!

To find out more about Beatles music in Soviet Russia, check out this BBC article or this Daily News article. Or watch “How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin” on video. 

When Paul McCartney wrote Back in the USSR, he had never traveled there, and the Beatles obviously never performed there. Still, Paul said that he'd heard on the down-low that the Beatles had secret fans there. 

Some Russian have said that the Beatles helped overthrow communism! This point isn't ridiculous—the Beatles promoted a cultural revolution that played a part in the ending of the USSR.

Also on this date:

Ecologist Charles Elton's birthday 

Anniversary of the day the Niagara Falls stopped falling

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