McCartney Plays 'U.S.S.R.' in Red Square

By | May 26, 2003 at 12:00 AM

Paul McCartney’s dream to perform in Red Square came true Saturday with the former Beatle capping off a sold-out concert with a rousing rendition of “Back in the U.S.S.R.”

It was a dream come true for fans, too, who turned out nearly 20,000 strong for the concert near Lenin’s mausoleum and Stalin’s grave.

“I’ve waited my whole life for this,” said Vladimir Snopov, 52, of Samara, about 550 miles south of Moscow, who remembered when the only place to hear McCartney sing was on banned and often-fuzzy broadcasts over Voice of America and the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Back in the 1980s, McCartney had tried to get into Russia but was told a concert was out of the question.

This time, he got the red-carpet treatment, including a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, who confessed that in Soviet times the Beatles were considered “propaganda of an alien ideology.”

Putin, an ex-KGB agent, had no such hang-ups Saturday, giving McCartney and his wife, Heather Mills, a personally guided tour of the Kremlin.

In return, McCartney serenaded Putin with “Let it Be.”

McCartney also pulled off the remarkable coup of commandeering the main portion of Red Square for the evening. Usually rock bands are relegated to lesser space. Even the upscale shopping mall GUM got into the act, hosting a “Strawberry Fields” invitation-only party with strawberries and champagne.

“Good evening, Moskvichi,” McCartney yelled to the fans, some who arrived in chauffeur-driven Mercedes and others wearing old Beatles concert T-shirts.

Tickets ranged from about $30 to $300. With average monthly wages around $140, the concert was a splurge for many.

“I bought the cheapest ticket there was,” said Irina Trifonova of St. Petersburg.

But the music was still audible far outside Red Square, and thousands of Russians took advantage of the warm weather to gather behind police barricades and listen.

McCartney told journalists before the concert that he was thrilled to be in Russia – and performing on the doorstep of the Kremlin.

“When I was a little kid growing up we didn’t know much about Russia. We heard about Siberia and saw the marches pass through this square. We thought it was very military,” he said.

The first-time visitor was clearly in awe of his surroundings. “It’s a long way from Liverpool, isn’t it,” McCartney said during a sound-check ahead of the concert. And when asked where he could perform that would top Red Square, McCartney didn’t hesitate, saying, “Next stop, the moon.”

But the concert did cause some controversy: A few Russian lawmakers complained it was in poor taste to hold a rock concert on Red Square, usually the scene of more sedate events.

Related Content