Su Pollard – ‘Back In The USSR’ (1984)

Actress and television personality Su Pollard has starred in various sitcoms including ‘Hi-de-Hi!’ and ‘Oh, Doctor Beeching!’. Image courtesy of Carolyn Willitts via Flickr.

The great thing about cover versions is the notion of unpredictability: anyone is capable of covering any song at any time.

In fact, the concept of some covers are so implausible, sometimes they just have to work.

Su Pollard’s cover of The Beatles’ ‘Back In The USSR’ (which was performed on BBC One’s ‘The Laughter Show’) definitely ticks that box.

As you may expect, this version of the track is characteristically Su Pollard: it’s loud, garish and camper than a row of tents at Maplin’s.

It has all of the makings of being irredeemably bad, but out of nowhere, the ‘Hi-de-Hi’ star manages to perform a pretty respectable version.

Surprisingly, Pollard’s version is structurally similar to The Beatles’ version – the tempo is kept in time and the piano chords also remain.

While it stays faithful to the original and treats it with enough respect, it has its own style and voice.

There’s a cabaret feel to the backing track, which makes it sound tackier than it should, and Pollard also lacks subtlety; ensuring that the performance is a little too raw.

Although it lacks polish, the actress shows enough self-confidence to carry the song and she comes out with her dignity intact.

It’s not great by any stretch of the imagination, but it achieves what it sets out to do: it’s buoyant and the song’s tongue is firmly in cheek.

Given that Pollard’s version of ‘Back In The USSR’ showed some occasional touches of genuine talent, it wasn’t a surprise when she was commissioned to record ‘Starting Together’ for the BBC’s fly-on-the-wall documentary ‘The Marriage’.

‘Starting Together’ was also released as a single in 1986, peaking at Number 2 in the UK Singles Chart, and a number of singles were released during the 1980s and 1990s.

What remains surprising, though, was that a record label never released her version of ‘Back In The USSR’ as a single; it didn’t even appear as a b-side or album track.

This was despite the fact that her discography was, perhaps predictably, cover-heavy with recordings like ‘Band Of Gold’ and ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’.

But these lifeless versions weren’t the same: they lacked the sense of fun that ‘Back In The USSR’ had.

In fact, the only time Pollard came close to matching those two minutes of controlled spontaneity was when she hopelessly covered ‘Walking On Sunshine’ on BBC One’s ‘Songs Of Praise’.

She may struggle to hold a note, but it’s clear that the small screen gets the most out of Pollard’s affable nature and limited vocal capabilities.

Don’t give a recording contract; let her appear on a televised celebrity karaoke contest, instead.

She’d come out of it well, that’s for sure.

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This review was self-published in January 2012.

Non-web sources

Weller, H. (ed) (1997) The Guinness Book of British Hit Singles. 11th edition. London: Guinness Publishing.

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