Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ram On: Paul McCartney's Ram is 40

 Paul McCartney - Ram
Paul McCartney
Rating: **** 1/2

           In 1970, the Beatles had broken up for good. For Paul McCartney, he had stopped making music for quite some time until May 17, 1971: on that day, he and his wife Linda released Paul’s second solo effort entitled Ram (it’s the only album credited as a Paul & Linda McCartney record). The album was critically praised and still is today. For many, Ram just might be Paul McCartney’s best solo album (not including the albums he did with Wings). For me, Ram ranks at #27 on my list of favorite albums (which also makes it my second favorite post Beatles album from any of the Beatles, with Plastic Ono Band beating it at #15). McCartney said in the 2001 Wingspan documentary that he thinks Ram is a very interesting album to look back on.
            When the Beatles broke up in April of 1970, Paul McCartney had released his first solo album entitled McCartney. The album was a success and it indeed put the “solo” in “solo album”: aside from backing vocals from Linda, McCartney plays every instrument on the album. After the release of McCartney, McCartney decided to take a break from the music business. He, his wife Linda, his adopted daughter Heather, and his newborn daughter Mary all left to live on a farm on the Mull of Kintyre, Scotland. During this time, people had thought the McCartney’s had disappeared for good. It turned out they were just on a holiday. However during this holiday, Paul and Linda started writing material for a future album. In the fall of 1970, the McCartney’s moved to New York and decided to record Ram there. Paul tried to form a little bit of a solo band during the making of Ram: he had guitarists Dave Spinoza and Hugh McCracken and drummer Denny Seiwell. Ram was also recorded in Los Angeles in February and March 1971.
            “Too Many People” is a great way to start a great album. As many die-hard Beatles fans know, the song is supposedly directed towards McCartney’s old pal John Lennon. In a 1984 interview with Playboy, McCartney admitted that the lyrics did take a dig at Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono. The lyric of “Too many people preaching practices” was directed at Lennon and Ono’s involvement in protests. There’s also the lyric of “That was your last mistake/You took your lucky break and broke it in two”.  At the time of its release, Lennon thought a lot of the songs on Ram were about him. Lennon would reply later in the year to McCartney with “How Do You Sleep” on Imagine. Still musically, “Too Many People” is one of Paul’s best. Just check out the instrumental break towards the end. Amazing! “3 Legs” is a bit of an oddball song and a reoccurring theme on the album. “My dog, he’s got three legs” sings McCartney. “But he can’t run”. The lyrics seem to be about betrayal and perhaps bullying (“You can knock me down with a feather, yes you could/But you know it’s not allowed”). “Ram On” appears twice on the album, both of which are short and simple. “Dear Boy” sounds like something Paul would’ve done on The White Album easily. Paul might’ve written it about how lucky he was to have Linda. However, John Lennon thought the song was another jab at him. No matter what the song is really about, “Dear Boy” is a wonderfully arranged musically and has some nice backing vocals from Linda. “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” is, of course, the hit single off the album. The first half of the song is slow and moody. The song gets more upbeat during the “Admiral Halsey” part, where Linda sings “Hands across the water/Heads across the sky”. According to Paul years later that “Uncle Albert” was based on his own uncle, saying that he was someone Paul recalled fondly and that the song came as a “nostalgia thing”. As for “Admiral Halsey”, McCartney cites he refers to William Halsey. The end of the song then leads into the energetic rocker, “Smile Away”. The song is more of a slow rocker and has some really nice harmonies.
            Side two kicks off with the harmonious “Heart of the Country”. The song is about a man looking for a home in the middle of the country. “Heart of the country/Where the holy people grow” sings Paul. “Heart of the country/Smell the grass in the meadow” One might think that the song could be loosely based on the McCartney’s trip to Scotland. “Monkberry Moon Delight” just might be one of the weirdest songs Paul ever wrote. The song is simply about nothing and could easily Paul’s “I Am the Walrus” in some way. One would assume that Paul and Linda were stoned when they wrote this one. How weird does this get: “When I leave my pajamas to Billy Budapest/And I don’t get the gist of your letter”. For me, “Monkberry Moon Delight” is certainly my cup of tea and is my personal favorite song off the album. I like how raw the song sounds and the drunken sound of Paul’s vocals, which sound very much like “Oh! Darling”. “Eat At Home” is a great song from the album. Paul and Linda sing this innocent little song together. Now listening to the song, there’s something raunchy about this song. In other words:  if you seriously think this song is about eating, think again. The bridge part of “And in the morning you bring to me/Love”. I really like how “love” is exaggerated. Things are taken down a notch with the wonderful, “Long Haired Lady”. Again, Paul and Linda do it again with the harmonies: “Sing your song/Love is long/Love is long”. After a reprise of “Ram On”, we arrive at the last song on the album “The Back Seat of My Car”. Believe it or not, the song started out as a Beatles song during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions. A majority of Paul’s songs that didn’t become Beatles songs ended up on McCartney. “The Back Seat of My Car” fits perfectly on Ram. The lyrics are wonderful and in some way, it’s almost like a mini-epic. My personal favorite part of the song: the coda/ending of “We believe that we can’t be wrong”. It just sounds so beautiful and makes Ram a very warm-sounding album.
            Ram did very well in sales. It reached #1 in the UK and #2 in the US. Reviews for the album were mostly positive but there were those that were mixed, such as Rolling Stone. In June 1971, Paul asked Richard Hewson to orchestrate an instrumental version of Ram. The project was completed but remained shelved until 1977 (the album, Thrillington, was released under Paul’s pseudonym name Percy “Thrills” Thrillington). This was because in late 1971, Paul and Linda formed a new band called Wings. On Ram, Paul had tried forming a band but guitarists Hugh McCracken and Dave Spinoza did not want any part in this new band. Drummer Denny Seiwell agreed to join Wings, along with former Moody Blues guitarist Denny Laine. In December 1971, Wild Life was released. Now at 40 years old, Ram has certainly become a classic album. 

1 comment:

  1. Love your review - right on the money. I was in high school when Ram was released and all my pals were really impressed with Paul's (and Linda's) new work. They must have been very inspired to write these fun songs while at their new country farm. Heart of the Country no doubt came directly from their wholesome lifestyle. Ram remains my favorite post-Macca album to this day. Thank you for the thoughtful comments and introspective review. I'm sure Paul would be pleased.