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Paul McCartney: Back in the Former USSR - 2003-05-25

Former Beatle Paul McCartney rocked Red Square in Moscow on Saturday night in a landmark concert on his first-ever visit to Russia. Mr. McCartney made note of the chance to finally play in a country where the Beatles were wildly popular but where rock and roll music was once banned by Soviet authorities. One of those who admitted having liked the Beatles was President Vladimir Putin.

It was a long time in coming, and when Paul McCartney finally played in Russia he brought the house down with the song he wrote about the Soviet Union back at the height of the Cold War.

"Back in the USSR" is a light-hearted nod which, among other things, speaks of pretty Moscow girls, and as the song played, video graphics on giant screens showed everything from former Soviet leaders to soldiers marching.

The former Beatle noted how he was fascinated but also mystified by the Soviet Union, whose citizens could only listen to his music illicitly on short-wave radio broadcasts.

Communist ideology had little room for what was considered the "decadence" of rock and roll music. But as in the rest of the world, the Beatles broke down barriers and were popular even here.

And Mr. McCartney said he was glad to come and play right in the heart of the old USSR.

"I'm very excited, after all this time of the Beatles being sort of banned, that we can finally come and do the show," he said.

Before the concert, Mr. McCartney had a chance to have a cup of tea with President Putin, and learned that the former KGB officer was a fan back in the old days, calling the hugely-influential band's music "a breath of fresh aid, like a window on the outside world."

Mr. McCartney also played his song "Let it Be" for the Russian president, who said he wouldn't be able to make it to the show.

But later Mr. Putin did come to the concert along with tens of thousands of other Russians.

Not everyone was happy about Mr. McCartney's visit, however. Around 100 Parliament deputies from Communist and nationalist parties protested that the concert would be held on what they still consider hallowed Soviet ground.

Yet none of this mattered out on square itself, where the new Russia was very much in evidence as people of the former Soviet Union got their chance at last to hear some of their favorite Beatle songs.