Discogs Collectors’ Tales #046: Back In The USSR By Spinmarket

by hazed81

I was in the Soviet Union for a month in 89 as part of a student exchange. Communism was in its death throes and there were serious material shortages. Everything was broken down and even food was in short supply. In Leningrad the tap water contained parasites and the bottled water was about 10% rust. I stood in line at an apple juice vending machine where everyone shared the same glass.  With these kind of shortages the black market was thriving. We knew this would be true ahead of time so we brought items for trade. Cigarettes, t-shirts, and blue jeans were the articles of choice. I don't remember what others were trading for, but I was primarily interested in a Soviet flag, and the Paul McCartney Soviet exclusive release "Choba B CCCP" or "Back In The USSR".  I approached a lot of rough looking traders in 6 different cities from the Baltic to small monastic towns of the interior looking for this McCartney release but it proved elusive. This of course made me want it all the more. After a month of sweaty train rides, cracked boiled eggs, mystery tan sausages, cow tongue dinners, and rusty Kool-Aid, we finally arrived in Moscow. I had already traded my jeans for the Soviet flag and the McCartney record had become legend in my mind. It was so scarce and desirable it would surely be the most valuable record of my life.  After 4 days in Moscow I still did not locate the vinyl dossier and time was running out. On our penultimate day we visited Red Square. We waited in line at Lenin's tomb and explored the winding staircases of St. Basil's swirling onion domed Cathedral. A light rain was falling as I walked across the square with a black umbrella, imitating a picture of Billy Joel from the gatefold of his Russian Concert album.  A Muscovite with a large bag approached me revealing a rabbit fur hat with a military pin, the universal insignia of the black market. He must have sensed the disappointment in my eyes. Before I could say a word he revealed a white record with a red star and cyrillic writing. I could read the Russian alphabet by now but I didn't know what the album was supposed to look like. It could have been a bootleg or the wrong release, but at this point I was willing to take the chance. After an offer of cigarettes and gum the trader was looking for something more himself. I pulled out my used Donald Duck Disneyland t-shirt with stained arm pits and his eyes lit up. This proved to be a suitable offering. We said our dasvidaniyas and walked in opposite directions.  This was the acquisition of a lifetime and I felt completely loose as the adrenaline coursed through my bloodstream. My trip was now complete and I could enjoy the final 24 hours. The next day was the bicentennial of Bastille Day, July 14 1989. We watched the French jets fly over Paris, casting blue, white, and red smoke from our black and white hotel television. As the Parisians celebrated their victory I did the same, admiring the McCartney record in its soft cardboard Melody Records sleeve.  Alas the marketplace is fickle and that record today is worth all of $3, but I still have my original copy and I play it on Bastille Day. It takes me back to that time when Gorbachev reigned, Glasnost and Perestroika were the slogans we repeated, and my summer days in Russia where you can't find a McCartney record, McCartney record finds you.

2 comments about “Discogs Collectors’ Tales #046: Back In The USSR By Spinmarket
  • spinmarket 18 days ago
    Thanks for illustrating my story hazed81!
  • hazed81 17 days ago
    I can't take all the credit here @spinmarket! Your words and an artist helps out with all the illustrations, he's over on Instagram @mikecloseart.