Ram (EMI Paul McCartney Collection 89139)
The ups and downs of Paul's post-Beatles career are so oft-reported that they really need no further discussion in these webbéd pages. But, man, when Paul was/is on, he's SOLID ON. The ideal Paul situation is to have him on his own, away from the critics, away from the Jeff Lynnes of the world, away from new-fangled technology or trends. The stars truly aligned for the creation of Ram. What we get is Paul, locked in the studio with sizable amounts of hashish, basically upping the ante from McCartney (his first solo efforr; a spottier but still quite interesting affair), with extra effort toward songwriting in particular and production in general. Album bookends "Too Many People" and "Back Seat of My Car" let Paul out of his cage (in a good way, as opposed to a "Twenty Flight Rock" way), with vintage McCartney screaming near the end of the latter.
The the album is, for pop fans of any seriousness whatsoever, just jaw-dropping. The delayed ukulele on "Ram On," the harmonies on "Dear Boy," the obligatory (but welcome) "Weird Paul" hamminess of "Smile Away". And as tired as "Uncle Albert" might be due to playlist overkill on classic rock radio, in the context of Ram, the track leaves your shoulders slumped, your head shaking, and the phrase "only Paul" racing across your forehead like a Times Square bank banner.
Sadly, Ram indirectly brought out the worst in Paul, too. The critics were baffled by the record, and audience reception in general was lukewarm, hence inspiring Paul to distance himself from the ambitious approach of this album from there on out. True Paul fans know that whenever Paul tries to appease the critics instead of himself, get ready for another Pipes of Peace *shudder*. Notice the blatant neglect of Ram tunes on any of Paul's endless parade of increasingly flaccid live albums through the 90s, "warm & fuzzy" Unplugged album as well. Hopefully, unreleased album tracks may surface on the long-rumored Wings-era box set. At any rate, one can only hope that Paul will ultimately embrace Ram as perhaps his coolest masterpiece. It's certainly leagues past the crowd pleasing antics of Abbey Road, and definitely stands proudly beside totemic early 70s pop stuff from the likes of Stevie, Marvin, Brian, and Lou Christie.
Each track Ram is equally weird. And equally brilliant. From the weirdo country blues of "3 Legs" to the bombastic craziness of "Monkberry Moon Delight" (which I didn't even believe was a McCartney song the first time I heard it), Ram is packed with extremely catchy songs that reflect Paul in his best off-the-cuff mode. He doesn't seem to have been aware of how bizarre some of this stuff was, but even at the weirdest it is still extraordinarily tuneful and brilliantly arranged. I'd say that it is without question McCartney's best album (narrowly beating out London Town just kidding), sincere in its pursuit of pop pleasure and containing none of the "social conscience" and "rock edge" that would be added to the mix beginning with (the also underrated) Wild Life.
One might argue that the entire career of Wings stems from "Smile Away" off Ram, and that's probably the weakest track on this album. "Dear Boy" (Paul's barely veiled statement to Lennon on the big breakup; not an "attack" as a lot of people say) and "Heart of the Country" are neglected McCartney masterpieces; "Uncle Albert" has about 8,000 different parts yet still clocks in at less than five minutes (take a hint, Brian Wilson), and incidentally may be Paul's most bizarre song ever (what's all that mumbling about a "pie?"). "Back Seat of My Car" is another forgotten masterpiece, plastic yet honest in a way that something like "The Long and Winding Road" just isn't.
It's too bad Paul himself has neglected this album so much, because almost every track on it is among his best. Even the defined "album tracks" (the Buddy Holly pastiche "Eat at Home," the oddly twangy "Long Haired Lady") are memorable. The UK remastered version adds "Another Day" and "Oh Woman, Oh Why" as bonus tracks, which don't fit with the flow of the album that much but certainly are welcome nonetheless.
One of the elements of Ram that goes unmentioned is that in addition to whatever else it is, it is also the best documented recording of Linda as a vocalist she is used throughout to good effect (some of that Wings-era stuff was, um, let's be diplomatic, not exactly the best-sung music ever). In fact, the album is credited to Paul & Linda McCartney, with several of the tracks given co-writing credits. This is one of the many aspects of Ram that makes it stand out in McCartney's catalog as his great undiscovered album. I always think it's a stone cold piece of perfection, but then "Monkberry Moon Delight" comes on. Not the worst song ever, not even Paul's worst song, but my God "Monkberry Moon Delight!?" That one I definitely have to blame on the cocaine.
Review by AAA & DEF