Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ram - Paul and Linda McCartney

"Too many people preaching practices / don't let them tell you what you wanna be / too many people holding back / this is crazy and maybe it's not like me..."

Those lines from "Too Many People", the first song on Ram, seem to set the precedent for the rest of the record. McCartney may have had something to prove with Ram, but he used it to push forward with what may be his greatest solo record. I'll be honest, this is a new revelation for me. Up until a few months ago, the only song I was really familiar with on this record was "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey".  I can clearly remember the first time I heard that song on the radio as a kid over the PA at a Thift Store.  I'm not old enough for it to have been a current single, but it still reeled me in.  This was probably because it was more like a Beatles song and I was and am still obsessed the music of The Beatles. I had bought into the ridiculous notion that Ram was a less than stellar McCartney offering, and I had never even listened to the record! That was my first mistake...

My dad would always talk about how great it was, and try to get me to listen to it, but I never cared enough. I'm not sure why I eventually sat down and listened to Ram, but when I did, I was blown away! It is definitely a record best experienced straight through. "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" isn't even the best song on the album! There are so many subtleties that the listener might not even pick up on after the first few listens. For instance the backwards acoustic guitar on the third verse of "3 Legs" before it breaks into an captivating half time groove. Or the sound of a tape machine spinning up at the start of "Ram On" Or the fact that the vocals on "Dear Boy" sound like they were recorded through a Leslie speaker. Or the way that he over enunciates the word "horse" in second verse on "Heart Of The Country". I'm in love with the tone of the guitar on "Eat At Home". Speaking of guitars, the tone of the solo on "Too Many People" is insane! It sounds so similar to the tone used on his guitar solo on the Abbey Road track "The End".

Possibly the best moment for me on the record is the epic "Long Haired Lady". It's a winding journey of a song with all these twists and turns of guitars, horns, strings, delayed and layered vocals and an outro that calls back to an earlier McCartney masterpiece "Hey Jude". At the same time though, I find myself willingly haunted by the deceivingly simple title track "Ram On". The contrast of the ukulele and sparse percussion and a well placed Wuhrlitzer electric piano, perfectly complement the lush vocals complete with whistling. Genius.

The artwork on Ram, designed by Paul himself with photos by Linda, is also incredibly engaging. It includes candid photos much like his previous solo record McCartney, but they are merged together with colorful sketches and art.  It reminds me a bit of Klaus Voormann's cover design for The Beatles Revolver. There are a two (that I know of) easter eggs hidden in the art as well.  One, a not so subtle jab at his former band in the depiction of two beetles copulating - commentary on his feelings about a recent past.  The second appears on the front cover.  On the right side of the jacket face in between the multi-colored zigzags are the acronyms L.I.L.Y, short for "Linda I Love You".

The recording sessions gave birth to what eventually became Wings.  McCartney recorded it in New York with hired session musicians.  One of those dudes was Denny Seiwell who ended up being the first drummer for Wings up until Red Rose Speedway.  Recorded, but not released on the album, were two songs worth listening to as well.  The first is the single "Another Day" and the b-side "Oh Woman Oh Why" with the latter having a vocal take closest to songs like "I Gotta Feeling" and "Helter Skelter".  Speaking of crazy McCartney vocal takes, the man has no fear.  Just listen to "Monkberry Moon Delight" on the second side and you'll see what I mean. And, like my dad, I choose to believe he's saying "Catch up Super Fury, don't get left behind!"

It is also fitting to note the response Ram garnered from the press and former writing partner John Lennon.  Firstly, it was torn apart by the notorious Rolling Stone magazine, who according to Jeff Bebe "is the magazine that trashed 'Layla', broke up Cream, (and) ripped every album Led Zeppelin ever made". Rolling Stone writer Jon Landau, called it "the nadir in the decomposition of Sixties rock thus far," "incredibly inconsequential," and "monumentally irrelevant." Man, was he wrong. I'm sure it had more to do with how The Beatles break-up went down and the fact that Linda sang on the record and got a writing credit. Compared to what Yoko Ono brought to the table, Linda sounds like a dream. Ever listened to Double Fantasy all the way through? Secondly, John Lennon felt some stabs directed by the songs like "Too Many People" and "Dear Boy". Both of which McCartney admits to he did target him in some sections. John famously responded with "How Do You Sleep" on his Imagine album. Also, there is an audio snippet from an interview with John's commentary on Ram, that's included in the bootleg The Alternate Ram.  You can find that here. That bootleg also includes rarities such as the radio promo mono mixes of the record which vary slightly from the official release and outtakes from the recording sessions.

In the context of rarities, McCartney was so inspired and excited about what he had created, that he commissioned an alternate version of the record himself. It was an instrumental orchestral version of the entire album later released under the pseudonym Percy "Thrills" Thrillington and titled simply Thrillington.  Though recorded at the same time in 1971, the label didn't release it until 1977. Adding to the mystery, McCartney's involvement wasn't mentioned at all in the liner notes except that he was listed as a friend of Percy. It would be twelve years later, in 1989, that McCartney would finally reveal that he had created the project. The LP is pretty rare, so if anyone has one that they want to donate to the Vinyl Odyssey fund lemme know!

Ram has officially become one of my 10 desert island records. I've listened to it countless times in the last few months. Actually, finding a copy on vinyl was what pushed me a bit to start collecting again. I thought it would be easy to find, but I couldn't get one anywhere in St. Louis for a couple months. I finally bought a copy off eBay along with Band On The Run.  Then, of course, literally the day after I got my copy in the mail, I found three of them locally! I guess that how it goes.

Thanks for reading and keep checking to see what I'm listening to...

Next up I'll be doing a series on records with art designed by Hipgnosis and Storm Thorgerson. If you're not familar with those are, you just don't know it yet...


  1. Part of the reason I miss albums (for going digital has made singles king) is because even though a song may be made popular, it's amazing how much of the rest of an album can add to an experience. I insist on listening to an entire album because I feel the artist deserves it & because I'm amazed at how many times I've preferred the lesser known tracks.