Paul and Linda McCartney – Ram (1971; 2012 reissue)

An overlooked precursor to the current handmade-pop phenomenon, Ram was initially criticized for everything that makes it sound unexpectedly bold, fascinatingly unedited and utterly misjudged today.

The album, set for deluxe reissue on May 22, 2012 by Concord as part of the Paul McCartney Archive Collection, moves with a guileless joy from the country-blues parody of “3 Legs” to the plucky reverie of “Ram On,” from the burping rockabilly riffs of “Smile Away” to the comfy domesticity of “Heart of the Country.” Imperfect but so very interesting, Ram is just as apt to indulge in the convoluted escapism of “Long Haired Lady,” as it is in the jokey doom’s-day howl of “Monkberry Moon Delight,” as it is in the Buddy Holly-inspired sexual innuendo of “Eat at Home.”

That said, for all of McCartney’s furious creativity, the loss of longtime writing partner John Lennon, not to mention Beatles producer George Martin, can be keenly felt at times. “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” for instance, always seemed to miniaturize everything McCartney once strove for with Abbey Road, feeling more calculatedly twee than truly inspired, despite its episodic construction. Ultimately, no matter how many copies it sold as a single, this is Ram’s most obvious indulgence. The principal weakness that McCartney has always had, the one that the Beatles at their best seemed to so deftly obscure, is fully exposed: He’s so well aware of his own charm.

[HANDS ACROSS THE MOUSE!: Click here to stream the remastered version of Paul McCartney's No. 1 hit single "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey," from the Concord Music Group's 2012 reissue of 'Ram.']

Worse still: How Ram is hampered, even now, by the long-forgotten sniping then engulfing McCartney and Lennon — from the haughty sermonizing of the opening track “Too Many People” to the rather silly conceit that his photographer wife was somehow stepping in for Lennon as collaborator, from the unselfconscious contempt of “Dear Boy” to the utterly unsubtle cover image of two beetles copulating.

At the time, for some reason, both of these former bandmates were making a habit of fighting their battles through the medium of music, and the albums were poorer for it. (As delicious as “How Do You Sleep?” might have been, for instance, it really didn’t jibe with the title-track sentiment of Lennon’s concurrent Imagine, you know?) McCartney and Lennon did their art, and their fans, a deep disservice by occasionally turning their songs into lines of fluttering dirty laundry, as if they didn’t understand that the records might actually transcend their era.

But Ram, like Imagine, survives even these missteps by sheer force of musical will. McCartney is, at this point, still bursting with post-Beatles ideas — and it gives this album a dizzying momentum. Even his stand-alone non-album efforts from the period, collected on the new reissue’s second disc, end up as interesting asides. “Another Day” is like a lesser “Penny Lane.” “Oh Woman, Oh Why” has always been blessedly, truly weird, with McCartney staring down the barrel of a pissed-off lady’s gun.

This album’s most intriguing moment remains “The Back Seat of My Car,” the soaringly constructed, yet desperately sad closing track on Ram. In keeping with the rest of this album, the song is a little unfocused — too overstuffed with ideas, too reliant on multi-tracked McCartneys, not as rustic as his solo debut and somehow tossed-off sounding anyway, simply too long — but yet still perfectly encapsulates everything that makes Ram such a wildly inventive gem: It’s gutsy and unprecious at one point and then a testament to Paul’s enduring pop sensibilities at others.

As McCartney bolts from 1950s-era rock to cocktail-lounge crooning to swooning violins, and back again — all inside of this one final track, mind you — there is a sense of limitless possibility. Ram, foreshadowing the quirky allure of today’s homespun singer-songwriter projects, certainly would have benefited from having someone else to bounce ideas off of, but its essential pop magnetism — its compulsively listenability — simply can’t be denied.

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Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Paul McCartney. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

PAUL McCARTNEY – KISSES ON THE BOTTOM (2012): This is not just a love letter to a lost era of songmaking, but one of the most evocative, deeply ardent records that McCartney has ever issued. Working in a higher vocal range that remains largely untouched by age, or his rugged third-act touring schedule, the ex-Beatle stirs up a spectacular range of emotions: The hushed, crepuscular melancholy of Peter van Steeden’s “Home (When Shadows Fall)” is matched only by the stirring resolve found on Haywood Henry’s “Get Yourself Another Fool” from this now thrice-married soon-to-be-70-year-old. McCartney’s trembling rapture throughout Irving Berlin’s “Always” finds a balancing moment in his impish hat-tipping joy during Johnny Mercer’s “Ac-Cent-Thcu-Ate The Positive.”

PAUL McCARTNEY AND WINGS – BAND ON THE RUN (1973; 2010 reissue): A terrific reissue that reveals this anew as the most personal of McCartney recordings — though, even now, the album’s unifying theme of escape is more subtle (and thus more commercial) than the blunt confessional style of his former partner John Lennon. McCartney, instead, uses broader storytelling brushstrokes — skillfully weaving his own desire to break free of the Beatles with the age-old myths of ne’er-do-wells, hitchhikers and outsiders. No McCartney effort yet has taken so many chances, nor so successfully blended his interests in the melodic, the orchestral, the rocking and the episodic. In keeping, of the Beatles solo recordings, Band on the Run always sounded the most to me like something the old band might have put together.

PAUL McCARTNEY – McCARTNEY (1970)/McCARTNEY II (1980; 2011 reissues): Taken together, these albums show a willingness to strip down what had become a varnished sound. After all, Paul was coming off huge productions in the form of 1969’s Abbey Road with the Beatles and 1979’s Back to the Egg with Wings. But there is a broad disparity, more pronounced than ever, in how these recordings have aged. McCartney comes off as more organic, a simpler expression — like someone trying to work out his own sound. McCartney II was, truth be told, fatally hobbled from the first by Paul’s own poor mechanics with the synthesizers he chose to experiment with throughout.

ON SECOND THOUGHT: PAUL McCARTNEY AND WINGS – BACK TO THE EGG (1979): It’s time to go back and reevaluate Paul McCartney and Wings’ unjustly ignored Back to the Egg. Released in May 1979, the album showcased a rebuilt Wings lineup, with lead guitarist Laurence Juber working in sharp counterpoint to Denny Laine. Also on board was co-producer Chris Thomas, a former assistant to George Martin for the Beatles’ White Album who brought an edgier style to much of the project — in keeping with his concurrent work with the Sex Pistols and the Pretenders. McCartney’s stated goal, back then, was to make a raw-boned rock record. And he largely succeeded, putting a bright charge into his sound after the soft-rock fluff of 1978’s London Town.

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • http://www.xdollarx.com Michael K

    Once again, an on-target review that does the simple justice of considering McCartney’s indisputable but often completely ignored versatility alongside his celebrated gifts and lamentable shortcomings. The sheer variety across his solo catalogue, barely two songs with a passing resemblance to one another, is best anthologised on ‘RAM’ whose slow but consistent rise in estimations is but a taste of ripening to come with a great deal of McCartney’s somehow-invisible solo career.

  • Brett

    Who cares that Lennon and McCartney were sniping at the time. Too Many People is one of McCartney’s greatest songs. The fact that it was aimed at John is irrelevant. I’m also sick of the constant suggestion that Paul needed a collaborator to rein him in. No, he didn’t. The burst of creativity and charms of Ram would have been sullied if someone else had messed with it.

    • http://www.somethingelsereviews.com Nick DeRiso

      I care, because it was beneath them.

  • Sara

    John Lennon was always unquestioningly allowed to be angry. And critics praised him for it as honest. So Paul is honest on this album — reveals some of his anger and paranoia — and somehow that’s a flaw? Critics just never seem to know what they want from McCartney: They criticize him for not writing personal confessional songs and then when he does, they criticize him for sniping.

    Still, while I disagree with some of this reviewer’s conclusions, I’m truly grateful for a heartfelt honest appreciation of this album.

    Ram is a flawed masterpiece. Just like Plastic Ono Band was a flawed masterpiece. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Perfection isn’t possible anyway.

    • http://www.somethingelsereviews.com Nick DeRiso

      Actually, I criticized both John and Paul for their sniping. What I didn’t criticize him — or John — for doing was writing personal songs. That the rest of their music of the period was often brilliant doesn’t change the fact that, in 1971, they were simply being petty with one another — and worse still they were using their fanbase as the platform for it. Most of what they were fighting about has long been lost to history, but their songs haven’t.

      • Sam

        The difference of course is that you can listen to Too Many People today and it’s just a great song. As you say, people have forgotten the few jabs in the song that were aimed at Lennon — and they were pretty mild and vague anyway. But the same can’t be said for How Can You Sleep, which was always far more petty and vicious, filled with direct insults of McCartney’s music that are still obvious every time you hear the song. I get what you’re saying about their infighting — but the fact is, McCartney never once insulted John’s songs or song-writing the way John did to Paul.

        In my view, Lennon was (disappointingly) the one who stooped the lowest and was, by far, the most needlessly petty. McCartney’s few pointed remarks about Lennon on Ram mainly weren’t personal attacks on Lennon as a songwriter, they were valid criticisms of the anger Paul felt about Lennon breaking up the group.

        • http://www.somethingelsereviews.com Nick DeRiso

          Fair points, Sam. Though, I don’t think the photograph of two beetles screwing was either mild, or vague. I will note, too, that McCartney’s jabs came first. It’s hard to say if Lennon would have ever written “How Do You Sleep?,” or if it would have been so particularly vitriolic, were it not for McCartney’s initial insults. That said, given what we know about his former writing partner — a peacenik who could turn street fighter at the drop of an insult — Lennon’s response (though just as sadly inappropriate and, as you point out, far more directly personal) couldn’t have come as much of a surprise for McCartney.

  • Sara

    One other thought: Too Many People is a TERRIFIC lyric. Sure, parts of the song were directed at Lennon, but that doesn’t diminish the song’s strong message, which was a very Beatle-ish message: Think for Yourself.

    Just consider these two lines:

    Too Many People Preaching Practices
    Don’t let ‘em tell you what you wanna be.

    That is a message as relevant today as it was in 1971.

  • Arvid

    Actually, George Martin *did* write the score to three ‘Ram’ tracks: ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’, ‘Long Haired Lady’ and ‘The Back Seat of My Car’.

    He wasn’t in New York at the recording session — Paul conducted himself — but, nonetheless, I feel him keenly.

  • Tony

    Although this review of RAM is generally, a positive review, it seems it’s the best review a McCartney fan ever gets. Particularly, “Back Seat Of My Car”. Who is to say this song is over-stuffed with ideas. They are McCartney’s ideas. His concept. Take it or leave it. Or, as you say, too reliant on multi-tracks. These are his. If we’re comparing McCartney to his Beatle efforts, that may be fair. And, in others opinions, his so-called post-Beatle work may fall short. So, possibly do Lennon’s. But, few critics will say so. In McCartney’s solo or Wings work, his standard may be, or seem inferior. But that’s an opinion. Not, necessarily a fact. RAM in my opinion, even with all of it’s could-have-beens, or what-ifs, Is a brilliant album. And, whether or not, it measures up to some imaginable, or unimaginable standards, should only concern devoted fans. After all, no one forced us to buy it.

    • Nick DeRiso

      Tony, I talked some about the disappointments associated with Lennon’s time away from the Beatles here: http://somethingelsereviews.com/2011/12/27/gimme-five-songs-where-the-beatles-well-sucked/#comment-965.

      When you consider the promise it once held, I’d say his solo career was easily the most disappointing of the group’s three principal songwriters. Not all of that, obviously, was Lennon’s fault since his life was cut tragically short. But still, you have to ask the question: After 1971, did Lennon ever put out another great album?