On Second Thought: Ram Jam – Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Ram (1978)

An overnight sensation, Ram Jam scored a nationwide Top 20 hit single in the summer of 1977 with a storming cover of Leadbelly’s “Black Betty.” Possessing power, strength, and an attitude to match, the East Coast band was clearly poised to achieve stadium rock stardom. But the planets were obviously not aligned the way they should be, rendering them to be yet another great band that was here today and gone tomorrow.

Although Ram Jam grabbed the brass ring first time around, the band’s second and final album, Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Ram (Epic Records) stands as the ultimate tour de force. Screaming and shaking with hard rocking splendor, the disc, in terms of intensity and inventiveness, compares favorably with Van Halen’s debut album, which was released the same year — and needless to say received far more attention and accolades.

A new strain of heavy metal music is summoned forth on Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Ram, as the band raises the volume to deathly destructive decibels and peels off chain after chain of flashy riffs captained by speed and purpose. Intimidating vocals, booming with hunger, coupled with a ferocious energy skirting on the edge of punk, further lock the material tight.

Songs such as “Hurricane Ride,” “Pretty Poison,” “Gone Wild,” “Saturday Night,” and “Runway Runaway” illustrate Ram Jam’s fiery flair for flicking on the heat and dispensing bucketloads of sweat. Tucked within these blisteringly mad tracks are slices of stabbing hooks, indicating the band does not sacrifice melody for sheer noise. For a change of tempo, there’s the brooding and majestic “Turnpike,” which includes some deft keyboard work and sounds almost like Bruce Springsteen on a progressive rock trip.

Despite the fact the album slipped quickly from sight, future members of Motley Crue, Ratt, and Britney Fox no doubt owned a copy because there’s a definite hair metal thing happening here. Slick but saucy, primal but grounded, and louder an exploding firecracker, Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Ram is an essential addition to any and all heavy metal collections.

The lead singer of Ram Jam was Myke Scavone, who enjoyed a fair share regional success in the 1960s as the frontman of the New Jersey-based Doughboys. Several years ago, the Doughboys reformed and have cut a string of excellent records showcasing their forte for true blue garage rock in the style of the Rolling Stones, the Shadows of Knight, and Paul Revere and the Raiders.

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Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson was born the day Ben E. King hit No. 4 on the national charts with "Stand By Me" - which is ironically one of her favorite songs, especially the version by John Lennon. She has also contributed to Lance Monthly and Amplifier, and served as associate editor of Rock Beat International. Paterson's own publications have included Inside Out, and Twist And Shake. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.