Also known as The Russian Album, Choba B CCCP was the seventh solo studio album by Paul McCartney. Initially released just in the Soviet Union, two years later it was issued internationally.
The album was a collection of cover versions, including several from the early years of rock ‘n’ roll. The songs dated from the 1940s to the 1960s, plus ‘Midnight Special’, a traditional folk song dating from the early 20th century.
They were recorded in the wake of the lukewarm reception to Press To Play, McCartney’s 1986 album which attempted to bring a more contemporary sound to his recordings. With sales low and chart success proving elusive, McCartney decided to go back to his roots.
In the studio
In 1987 Paul McCartney held a series of informal Friday night rock ‘n’ roll jam sessions were held in a studio in the East End of London. The various musicians taking part included Johnny Marr, Trevor Horn, Terry Williams, and Elvis Costello, although most were session musicians.
Impressed with the results, McCartney decided to record some of the songs at his Hog Hill Mill studio in East Sussex. Twenty-two titles were reportedly recorded over two days in July 1987, 14 of which found their way onto Choba B CCCP.
The bulk of the recordings were made on 20 July 1987, with McCartney on vocals and bass guitar, Mick Green on guitar, Mick Gallagher on pianos, and Chris Whitten on drums. They recorded 12 known songs: ‘Kansas City’, ‘Twenty Flight Rock’, ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’, ‘I’m In Love Again’, ‘Bring It On Home To Me’, ‘Lucille’, ‘I’m Gonna Be A Wheel Someday’, ‘That’s All Right (Mama)’, ‘Summertime’, ‘Just Because’, ‘Midnight Special’, and ‘It’s Now Or Never’.
Several more were taped on the following day, with McCartney switching from bass to guitar. He was accompanied again by Gallagher on piano, and Nick Garvey on bass, and Henry Spinetti on drums.
At least four songs were recorded on 21 July: ‘Ain’t That A Shame’, ‘Don’t Get Around Much Anymore’, ‘Crackin’ Up’, and ‘I Wanna Cry’. A third studio day, 22 July, was devoted to mixing the songs from the previous two days.
There was no grand plan to release an album of rock oldies, and the recordings were left for almost a year before it was decided what to do with them. ‘Kansas City’, ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’, ‘Don’t Get Around Much Anymore’, and ‘Midnight Special’ eventually appeared on the ‘Once Upon A Long Ago’ 12″ and CD singles, and received positive responses from critics and fans.
Since Western rock music was banned by the Soviet state, music lovers there had for many years been forced to make do with illegal bootlegs, low quality copies or smuggled imports, McCartney wished to give his fans there something that was unavailable elsewhere, and with his manager Richard Ogden discussed the idea of issuing a record.
Ogden had 50 copies of an album pressed, featuring some of the July 1987 recordings, with artwork designed to look like a Russian bootleg. He gave the LPs to McCartney as a Christmas present that year, and they were distributed to friends and family.
Buoyed by the warm reactions, McCartney asked Ogden to contact the Soviet Union’s only record label, Melodiya, to see if the album could be properly released there.
The title is Russian for ‘Back In The USSR’, a 1968 song by The Beatles. Although the title should be written in Cyrillic script, it is commonly converted to Latin letters as Choba B CCCP. It should be pronounced “snova vee ess-ess-ess-er”.
Six songs from the sessions remain unreleased: ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ (The Beatles); ‘Take This Hammer’ (Lonnie Donegan); ‘Cut Across Shorty’ (Eddie Cochran); ‘Poor Boy’ (Elvis Presley); ‘Lend Me Your Comb’ (Carl Perkins); and ‘No Other Baby’ (The Vipers).
Melodiya were granted permission to press 400,000 copies of Choba B CCCP. However, the label initially manufactured just 50,000 copies of the album, which originally contained 11 songs, two fewer than had originally been specified by McCartney’s company MPL.
The first pressings had a yellow rear cover and red Melodiya labels, plus some surprisingly frank sleeve notes by Andrei Gavrilov. The album went straight to the top of the Moskovsky Komsomolets chart.
In 1998 a second version of the album was released in the USSR, and saw the addition of two songs, ‘Summertime’ and ‘I’m Gonna Be A Wheel Someday’. On 26 January that year McCartney appeared on the BBC Russian Service show Granny’s Chest for a phone-in, which was heard by 35 million people.
Approximately 350,000 copies of the second pressing were made. They had white Melodiya labels and MPL logos, as well as a white rear cover with sleeve notes by McCartney and NME journalist Roy Carr.
Choba B CCCP was initially released only in the Soviet Union on 31 October 1988. In a reversal of previous releases, exported and bootleg copies became commonplace in other countries. These often commanded high prices due to their scarcity.
MPL also imported a number of copies which were sold through the official Paul McCartney fan club, the only official outlet in the west.
As he had done before, some of the songs were issued as b-sides for Flowers In The Dirt 12″ and CD singles. ‘I’m Gonna Be A Wheel Someday’ and ‘Ain’t That A Shame’ accompanied ‘My Brave Face’; and ‘I’m In Love Again’ was one of the ‘This One’ b-sides.
Two more songs from the Choba B CCCP sessions were also issued in that period. ‘I Wanna Cry’, a studio jam with lyrics by McCartney, appeared on the CD single ‘This One’, and ‘It’s Now Or Never’, an Elvis Presley cover, was released in the UK in February 1990 on the NME charity album The Last Temptation Of Elvis.
Following the USSR’s collapse in 1991 the 13-track version of Choba B CCCP was released worldwide, on cassette tape and compact disc. It came out on 30 September 1991 in the UK, and on 29 October 1991 in the USA.
The album reached number 63 in the UK and 109 in the USA – its sales were likely hindered by dedicated McCartney fans having already bought imported versions.
The compact disc edition of the international release added a 14th song, ‘I’m In Love Again’, another song which had previously been released on the CD single ‘This One’.