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 fantastic 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 ukulele 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.

I once found Monkberry Moon Delight both enjoyable and annoying I loved the structure of the song, the melody, the quality of the production, and of course that tasty hook of a chorus. What used to turn me off was Paul’s screaming, over-emoting vocal delivery and Linda’s background vocals. I simply thought the former was too over-the-top, the latter too out of place and weak.

What a difference time makes. Monkberry Moon Delight so entirely enchanting. The song makes about as much sense as peppermint-flavored garden gnomes carefully arranged in a zesty handbag, and maybe that’s why it works so well. The call and response lines combined with the cascading keyboards and bass vocal effects are a delight. Even the backing vocals from Linda and daughter Heather give the song such an irresistible charm. This one is a winner.

Things roll right along 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.

Unfortunately 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. Once she gets escorted away from the mic, the song improves dramatically as Paul brings his heartfelt pop sensibilities back into the spotlight, and the outro (even with Lindas vocals) swell into such a pleasing melodic vortex

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 absolutely adore Ram. It has some really great songs, albeit with some occasionally puzzling proclivities. Although the album was derided upon its release, over time rock critics have recognized that McCartney was forging ahead with his own sound and what has now been recognized as an indie pop ethos. Ram may have been unfairly targeted as pabulum in 1971, but Paul McCartney ultimately produced one of the strongest albums of his career.

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