I’ve written about Ram before, here
but I find I must return to the subject again because it is at the forefront of my mind on account of the fact that today is the 50th anniversary of its release.
How could I let such a moment pass without comment?
If you’ve read the above piece you’ll know that Ram is one of my favourite albums and definitely my go-to for a McCartney fix.
Released in 1971, it was the follow-up to his first full solo project, the eponymous debut album, if you will.
1970’s McCartney was, by-and-large, a lo-fi affair, crammed full of oddities and possessed of a homespun feel, with only one real stand-out (not to suggest that the rest of it was forgettable – far from it, merely less ‘colossal’ than some of his earlier work with that group).
In the meantime, we’d had the epic All Things Must Pass from George Harrison and the uncompromising John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band from Paul’s former song-writing yardstick.
Ringo too had enjoyed chart success, both the 45 and 33 and a third kind, so the benchmark was high as were expectations as to what McCartney would put out next.
What we got was a true masterpiece – a quintessential PM long-player, with more melodies in one song than most can manage in a whole LP and a glorious foray into musical styles – a bit of this, a bit of that, all unmistakably McCartney.
Surprising then (or not, depending on your take) that Ram was largely savaged by the critics and dismissed as lightweight.
Fans and the record-buying public knew better, catapulting the album to the top of the charts in the UK and very nearly in the US.
But chart positions are largely irrelevant when you’re talking about quality.
The fact remains that the music press, for whatever reason, seemed hell-bent on rubbishing McCartney’s efforts around this time, possibly because they unfairly thought he was responsible for breaking up The Beatles, or possibly a bit of ‘pack mentality’ setting in… who knows?
They were wrong anyway, in my opinion.
In the past, I’ve had a hard time reconciling the idea of certain favourites of mine turning 50.
I remember thinking, in 2015, “How the hell can Highway 61 Revisited be 50?”
Some records are bursting with vitality and attitude to the point that it’s difficult to imagine them ageing or mellowing over time.
But then I remember that the “old age” of the music doesn’t matter and certainly does not equate to relevance (just as it doesn’t in life).
With Ram however, I feel age actually suits the record.
Conversely, I have no doubt that if it came out today, in 2021, it would be a huge smash.
Quality, you see, is no respecter of time or fashion.
Maybe it was ‘cooler’ to like John or George’s albums in 1970/71 (and with good reason, they are magnificent) but on Ram I believe we really do get a glimpse of the real Paul.
Humour. Earworms in abundance. That ‘homespun’ feeling. Less emphasis on the heavy themes and more on the warm, loving, even vulnerable side of the man.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s also the needly digs in Too Many People, which upset Lennon, along with the pictorial metaphor of the copulating beetles on the record sleeve…
The album is credited to Paul and Linda McCartney and Linda’s vocal work really stands out across the tracks – and in a good way.
There are some moments which are admittedly borderline goofy, but who says you have to be supercool ALL the time?
That’s part of why I love this record.
I was thinking of going through track by track and appraising them in some kind of hierarchy, but I soon found this to be nigh on impossible due to my fondness for each one.
This is one of those albums that I’ve played so much over the years that I am familiar with every nuance and anomaly in the mix (of which there are many).
The aforementioned Too Many People opens the record and is one of McCartney’s best songs, despite its arguably dubious status as catalyst for the song feud between Paul and John.
The song chugs along with confidence and I’m sure I can hear a bit of Duane Eddy influence in there…
A great album needs a great opener and this is one for sure.
One of the boring criticisms I hear of this LP is that it is ‘disjointed’ or ‘made up of unfinished bits’, which, on a basic level, may be true – but when you’re listening to music you have to let the whole experience guide your judgement.
So what if one tune doesn’t sound like it was fleshed out to the full?
There’s more here to appreciate.
The same rock critics who (rightly) lavish praise on Abbey Road (famous for being comprised of ‘unfinished tunes’ on side two) or The White Album (stuffed full of ‘ditties’) were quite happy to pick Ram apart for employing the same kind of stylistic approach as these two indisputable masterpieces.
Whether it’s the weirdness of 3 Legs or the novelty ukulele-rock of Ram On, three tracks in and you know you’re listening to something uniquely Paul.
Dear Boy is one of those songs where the melody just keeps coming at you like cannon fire, while Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey contains so much it is just staggering.
Great albums contain sublime moments and this track is a high-point for me.
There are several on the record.
Smile Away cranks up and we’re into the arguably goofy section, but it closes out side one of the LP nicely.
On Heart Of The Country we get an autobiographical look at the ex-Beatle’s current satisfaction with all things bucolic, while with Monkberry Moon Delight we’re treated to a barrage of nonsense lyrics delivered with that voice – the one that made McCartney one of the most formidable vocalists in rock (think Long Tall Sally, I’m Down, Oh! Darling).
Eat At Home is a riff-heavy gem, with more than a nod to Buddy Holly and Elvis.
Long Haired Lady is often criticised for being overly long, schmaltzy, a poor-man’s Hey Jude, but I don’t buy that.
To me it’s just the sound of a man grateful for the support of his partner, his wife who dragged him through the darkness of The Beatles breakup and into a world of possibilities, where there was life after the phenomenon.
Sure, lyrically it’s not Beware Of Darkness or Mother (both of which are superb, by the way) but like I say, not all music needs to explore heavy themes in order to resonate.
It wouldn’t be a real McCartney album without a reprise in the track list, so we get Ram On again, followed by the powerhouse closer, The Back Seat Of My Car, which contains another of those sublime moments towards the end as the vocals reach their crescendo.
Amazingly, this is another one of those tracks frequently singled out for criticism for being ‘unfinished’ somehow – you have to wonder what these people were hearing.
Ah, well… just my opinion.
I wonder if it irks McCartney, who is after all still producing new music, to be told that something he did 50 years ago means so much to people… but then again he did do it and so much more besides.
He must have felt some affection for the album despite its initial poor critical reception as he took the unusual step of producing an entire LP of instrumental covers entitled “Thrillington”, under the comedy pseudonym Percy “Thrills” Thrillington, which is, in itself, a fascinating listen.
This record remains one of my favourites in any genre and I will continue to play it and enjoy it, but it’s important to remember that, whatever your favourite, whether it be Band On The Run, Venus And Mars, London Town, Back To The Egg, McCartney II, Flowers In The Dirt – all contenders in my book for McCartney highs, in the end, it doesn’t really matter.
Enjoy the music.
Have fun with it.