I’ve been enjoying the reissue of Ram, part of the current crop of Paul McCartney reissues that has recently served up lovely new extended versions of McCartney, McCartney II and Band On The Run as well as other Wings records like – Venus and Mars, At The Speed of Sound and Wings Over America.
But then, I was always sold on Ram – it’s long been one of my favourites. Raised on the records my parents retained – particularly Abbey Road and Band On The Run, also McCartney II (for more on that click here) I can’t remember the time in my life when I wasn’t under the spell of Paul McCartney’s seemingly effortless gift for melody, his endearing and ultimately enduring arrangements that move from the baroque sweep of mini-epics to country crooning and bash-it-out rock’n’roll – sometimes all within the same song.
A love of Band On The Run had me searching out more from Wings – and so I snapped up a cheap vinyl copy of Ram in my first year of university because I knew Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey from the Wings Greatest tape.
Ram had actually made an impression earlier than that, though. It was one of the records my dad played, part of what was left of his record collection (including the other McCartney/Beatles albums mentioned above). But I never knew it as an album, as such. I just suddenly recognised all the songs when I bought my own copy of it. Too Many People, Monkberry Moon Delight, Dear Boy, Smile Away, Three Legs, Ram On and Uncle Albert (“we’re so sorry!”) – all of these songs resonated. I knew them all.
So Ram was a special record to discover – it felt brand new to me as an album but I recognised every song.
And it’s never really left my consciousness – nor my turntable. I don’t really have any desire to upgrade to the new flash vinyl version (until my copy finally bites the dust). But I like that albums like this are given the chance to be rediscovered and – essentially – reinterpreted.
Yes, yes, it’s money-grubbing and it appeals, in part, to the last generation of record-buyers, a way to collect some revenue and all of that – but Ram is an interesting case for reappraisal. Chiefly because it never stood a chance at the time.
Savaged in the reviews, it was almost a case of how dare one quarter of the most famous band in the world and one half of the greatest pop songwriting partnership release an album that he wants to. He needs to keep The Beatles dream alive!
But as much as Paul ventured off and found his own sound – ever so slightly away from The Beatles and edging towards Wings – he was (in and of that move) paying tribute to his roots; the antecedents that inspired The Beatles. The rock’n’roll of his youth.
I’ve always loved Ram for where it sits. It is correctly placed. It is sharper and cleverer than the very demo-like/skeletal/sketch-book debut album, McCartney. And it is a hint at what would follow with Wings. But it occupies its own space – and probably, in some way, that co-branding, an album by Paul and Linda McCartney has helped it to achieve this space.
Linda was the muse – the partner in life, in music, in all things. And though it’s easy to take pot-shots at her musical ability Paul was probably paying tribute to her spirit, to the effect she had had on him, to the solidarity she provided. It was no cop-out to release this record as a husband and wife gig. It was a bold move. It showed the real separation from The Beatles – the hint that something new was going to happen.
You can laugh at the silliness of the album cover, or you can see it for what it is – Paul grabbing it by its horns…
There were fabulous post-Beatles albums offered by George (All Things Must Pass) and John (Plastic Ono Band) and maybe they are better albums. All Things is far too overreaching for me, but it’s totally understandable that Harrison, frustrated, would want to get all of this material out there. Lennon’s Plastic Ono album is a masterpiece, probably my favourite post-Beatles album by a Beatle. Pretty hard to deny its brilliance. But it’s an album that keeps you at arm’s length. It’s not an album that gives you a hug.
Ram is an album that happily, if sometimes/somewhat warily, will give you that hug.
It’s easy now to take pot-shots (pardon the pun) at McCartney for how his career has played out. Professional Beatles Jukebox, smiling/waving/peace-sign-making “it’s all good” perennially-happy/happy-go-lucky chump. Man who releases albums with titles like Kisses On The Bottom. Let’s face it. He’s the Ringo that retained his talent. Flag waver for the decade he couldn’t wait to escape.
But it’s been validating I think – as one of the few McCartney apologists in this world, seemingly – to see things, remarkable things, like Paul McCartney interviewed for Pitchfork about Ram. To read about skinny-indie-hipsters digging on McCartney II.
These are things that should be happening, of course. Because the influence is obvious, pervasive.
Too Many People, besides being a great, great song and a perfect opener for Ram, has a line that inspired Daniel Johnston. He pinched the bit about taking a lucky break and breaking it in two for his Worried Shoes.
Elsewhere McCartney would later steal from himself on Ram. The magical mini-symphonies contained within Uncle Albert would re-appear, framework-wise, for Band On The Run’s title track. Monkberry Moon hinted back to the rocking-out aspects of the “White Album” and Abbey Road but also turned up again on Band On The Run and later throughout Wings’ career. Monkberry Moon was perfectly rewritten, in a sense, stripped of its silliness, as Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five; which is really just a way to say that you can see how McCartney’s solo/Wings work evolved from the McCartney/Ram albums/era.
So I haven’t bothered with the flash new version/s of this Deluxe Edition. But Universal did send me the remastered version of the bog-standard single disc with new liners and packaging. And I have to thank them for that – because through playing the album over and over – all over again – I’ve focused in on that sublime closing track, The Back Seat Of My Car. What a gem. I knew it was good, of course, but somehow, in playing the record all these years I never quite got that song the way I should. It is so obviously a tribute to Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys, a way of saying thanks for the music from Brian; music that inspired Paul, as direct competition compositionally and as a listener, a fan of music.
Go back to that album cover. This is Paul’s personal Pet Sounds.
That is what I like about reissue campaigns. You get to see/hear an album in a new light/new context. You get to read various takes on the album, people get newly turned on to it or re-approach to re-appreciate. Ram felt like a wee secret for a while. And now more people get let in on that secret if they want. I like that.
Ram, finally, is a kiss-off to The Beatles. And you hear that in the regret and agitation that is voiced. Nostalgia and a sense of (forced) moving on. So maybe that is part of why it was panned and written off as a lazy/home-grown album.
Sometimes lazy/home-grown albums are the best. McCartney made a few of them – many of them brilliant – before (really) resting on his laurels.
I’m looking forward to Back To The Egg getting the revaluation it so deserves. Then I can rest happy.
So what about you? Any Ram fans out there? Either from back in the day or newly turned on to this record? What are your favourite tracks and do you think the album was unfairly criticised back then? Or could you never get on board, back seat of the car, or otherwise?