Album Review: “Ram” — Paul & Linda McCartney (1971)

After the reasonable success of McCartney [his first post-Beatles solo album], Paul took a bit of a holiday and returned fresh to the studio in November 1970 to begin the Ram sessions. This time the approach would be a solidly studio effort, incorporating session musicians such as guitarists David Spinozza and Hugh McCracken (actual name). Through early 1971 they recorded 23 songs for the Ram sessions, and the album (pared down to 12 songs) was released the following May.

Ram is strongly considered to be one of Paul’s best solo efforts (if not THE best), and it’s almost impossible to argue that it isn’t a huge step forward from his first solo LP. Whereas that album generally consisted of homespun musical doodles, the tracks on Ram are more polished, layered, and fully-formed. The end result is a very strong album with some really memorable work.

Too Many People opens the album as if to immediately quell the listener’s fear that they’d be listening to “McCartney part II”. It’s a slick, mid-tempo rock number that is one of his best, highlighted by that rich guitar tone on its signature riff (opens the song, played under the chorus). The song contains two digs at Lennon that probably resulted in that infamous Lennon postcard with him recreating Ram’s cover… with a pig.

3 Legs is Paul doing his White Album blues wankery, and it’s an upbeat, toe-tapper of a song that breaks into outbursts of blues rock. It’s another alleged dig at his three former bandmates (“My dog he got three leg but he can’t run…”) A chirpy ukelele strum introduces Ram On, a cheerful number that has a wonderful dreamy quality to it. I love the sound of the vocal orchestrations on this track. It’s also a nod back to one of Paul’s earliest stage names, ‘Paul Ramon‘, perhaps as testament of Paul’s new beginning as a solo artist. Either way, Paul seems to be having fun by now, and this leads directly into the wonderful “Dear Boy”, the most Beatle-esque sounding track on the album. You could have slipped this into any Beatles project mid ’67 through ’68 without anyone looking twice.

And then…. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey. I can hear the knives sharpening in anticipation. All I can say is that I *LOVE* this ridiculously silly song. Always have. Have at you.

Smile Away wisps away the silliness of the previous song with a loud, swingin’ rocker. Linda’s backing vocals are beginning to get a bit grating. Gears shift again with Heart of the Country, Paul doing his gentle folksy bit in an ode to the simple pleasures and grateful escapes of his Scottish farm, and I like it. Say whatever you want about McCartney being “lightweight”, but he was easily the most versatile of The Beatles, both as a songwriter and a musician.

There’s only one song I find alternately enjoyable and annoying on Ram, and that’s Monkberry Moon Delight. Linda’s vocals get really grating here; it’s not so much that she can’t sing, but more like because her vocals simply don’t fit. The over-emoting in Paul’s vocal delivery doesn’t help either. The strange thing is, with a couple of fixes this song could have gone from annoying to good. I love the chorus, the production sounds fine, and with a different approach (taking away the echoing repeats at the end of each line in the verses, removing Linda’s vocals, Paul singing it straightforward rather than in a melodramatic manner) it could have been a great song.

Things improve much with Eat At Home, a cheeky upbeat rocker about afternoon delights. It has a country twang to it that really works. The only thing I could do without is some of the “hoo-hoo-hooooo” during the bridge, but overall this is a great tune and one of my favorites on the album. The rollicking beat really makes this song work.

Linda gets pushed to the forefront entirely too much with Long Haired Lady. Her droning delivery during the opening verse is nails on a chalkboard. Again, not so much that she can’t sing — she can’t, at least, not professionally — it’s more like she shouldn’t. Average, at best. Once she gets escorted away from the mic, the song isn’t bad. Definite filler material.

To end the album we start with a 1 minute reprise of Ram On which, OK, doesn’t really count for much of anything. Finally we have the richly satisfying The Back Seat Of My Car, a dark, piano laden ballad that rises to a strong, powerful crescendo. Paul’s vocals sound strong and confident here, I like the feel of the song; it has that sort of “written in movements” feel of “Band of the Run” or “Admiral Halsey”. It’s a great track and a strong way to finish the studio album.

Recorded during the Ram sessions but NOT included on the original album were Another Day and Oh Woman Oh Why. Both songs were released as a single, with Another Day as the A-side and a big Top 10 hit for McCartney, and has the distinction of being his first solo single released after the Beatles breakup. It’s a great tune as well, a contemporary urban take on Eleanor Rigby. Also just as good is Oh Woman Oh Why, a rocker with a killer groove and strong bluesy vocals from Paul. Both tracks, if included on Ram, would have made a really good album even better!

Overall, I really like Ram. It has some really great songs, albeit with some filler and some occasionally annoying proclivities. Although it was derided upon its release, over time rock critics have recognized that McCartney was forging ahead with his own sound and produced a strong album. He successfully raised his game from his quizzical first album in terms of production and songwriting, although to be honest there’s nothing on Ram that even comes close to the phenomenal Maybe I’m Amazed from his previous solo LP; however, this speaks less about the songs on Ram as it demonstrates how much of an anomaly MIA was compared to the rest of McCartney.

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