Classic Album Series: Ram, Paul McCartney (1971)

While it is common fact that Paul McCartney officially called the Beatles quits in the spring of 1970, most people don’t realize the immense struggle it put McCartney through.  While Lennon, Harrison, and Starr went on with solo careers with the vigor of free men, it was McCartney who seemed to suffer.  This struggle was rampant through his songwriting of the time; usually a songwriter who prided on third person narratives and story-telling, McCartney was  writing about something completely new, himself.  “Two Of Us”, “Let It Be”,  “The Long and Winding Road”, “Carry That Weight”, even perhaps “Oh Darling"  are all not only skilled love songs and some of his best material, but they also reflect a man troubled on the inside.  McCartney, his eponymous debut still showed the scars of this massive breakup, with "Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Junk” both showing the man with his heart on his sleeve, and the ragged production not only a sign of his talent but perhaps his mood at the time.

However, McCartney is too much of a showman, and too much of an immense talent to let such things bother him for long, although his writing partner was perhaps more famed for his fight for the working class, it was McCartney who had really come from one, and thus this hardship was almost a challenge for him to do better.  Music never seemed to be the issue, McCartney’s appreciation for music was only eclipsed by his talent for it, and of his previous band’s members, he was the most well rounded.  Yet this was an unknown commodity of the time, it was a scarce few people who knew that he had played drums on numbers such as “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and “Dear Prudence” as well as lead guitar on songs such as “Taxman”, “Good Morning, Good Morning” and the like.  Many musicians who have met the man in fact will attest that he is a guitarist of prodigious skill, and only limited by his choice to play bass.

So McCartney set about recording Ram in late 1970 and finished in March of 1971.  It had been recorded partly in McCartney’s home studio in Scotland, and it was finished in New York.  This accounted for the intriguing overall soundscape of the record, it wasn’t quite polished, but it wasn’t as ramshackle as its predecessor, McCartney, had been.  The inclusion of a formal studio led McCartney’s whimsical and homespun melodies to get full production treatment, and let his vision be un-compromised in scope.

Critics, hungry for the sound of his former band, were very harsh at first with the overall consensus being that it was full of whimsy but not much else.  However as time played its course, many began to find new insight into Paul McCartney’s second album, some even called it the first indie record, a label which given the range of styles found on the record, seems rather fitting.  The album, track by track, after the jump.

1. Too Many People

“Too Many People” would start the album, a rather scathing number with biting acoustic guitars and lyrics (admittedly) directed at John Lennon stating among other things “too many people preaching practices” and “you took your lucky break and broke it in two”.  The production is effortlessly organic with great harmonies and acoustic instruments and the stinging solo at the end is worth the wait.

2. 3 Legs

“3 Legs” is at the base, an acoustic delta blues styled number, with the production values held in check to emulate recordings of the era. Despite the warmth of the song, the interpretations vary from being a diatribe about the end of his former band, to just an attack on John Lennon himself.  Yet the real genius is how authentic Paul McCartney sounds by way of the blues.

3. Ram On

“Ram On” is a number that is an example of McCartney’s pure melodic talents, in a wistful dreamy number similar in style to his contemporary Brian Wilson.  Looking back now, it almost seems like a direct ancestor of today’s indie lo-fi, an intriguing arrangement that captures the listener’s attention in both its meticulous beauty and off the cuff production, clocking in at 2:26, there is hardly any number in McCartney’s catalog that approaches this profound perfection.

4. Dear Boy

“Dear Boy” continues the sentiments of “Too Many People” with a beautiful vocal arrangement and great melody led by a striking piano chord structure.  If critics are to be believed in assessing Linda McCartney’s vocal talent (or lack thereof) then it is a testament to McCartney’s skill as a producer that her backing vocals are top notch.

5. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey

“Uncle Albert/ Admiral Halsey” stands as a perfect example of McCartney’s good and bad.  Critics will say this song typifies McCartney’s lackadaisical lyricism, but will also say it showcases his amazing melodic ability.  The transition is perfect, and the arrangement (with George Martin’s help) is awe-inspiring in its beauty.  The storm (recorded on the edge of a cliff in Scotland) is a perfect unexpected touch, and the suite of melodies stands among McCartney’s best.  The guitars alone bring to mind at times The Police (Hole in My Life) and Dire Straits (the lead guitar throughout Admiral Hasley). It’s content is ridiculous, but it’s never trying to be serious.

6. Smile Away

“Smile Away” is a straight out raunchy rock number, showcasing McCartney’s ability as an all around musician with some great rhythm and lead guitar interplay along with drumming as well as a great rough vocal.  It’s admittedly a throwaway number, yet again McCartney’s talent with melody makes it worth repeated listens.

7. Heart Of The Country

“Heart of the Country” features a warm organic rootsy arrangement with Paul McCartney at the top of his vocal register mimicked by an impressive acoustic lead guitar.  The real star of this show however is the bass line, a bouncing chromatic groove that matches the feel of the music perfectly.

8. Monkberry Moon Delight

“Monkberry Moon Delight” is pure nonsense, like someone took the wrong turn out of “I Am the Walrus”.  Despite sounding like being on the wrong end of an acid trip, McCartney’s gruff vocals are quite impressive and the melody is catchy despite how much the lyrics try to throw you off. It’s simply just good rollicking fun.

9. Eat At Home

“Eat at Home” is a tongue-in-cheek sex themed number that features some of the best guitar lines this side of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

10. Long Haired Lady

“Long Haired Lady” starts with an admittedly horrid intro, but the arrangements constant development makes it one of the more interesting songs on the entire album.  Great vocals, great guitar, and a rather interesting breakdown around the 2:20 mark make this song worthwhile.

11. Ram On (Reprise)

“Ram On (Reprise)” in just 55 short seconds, makes you just want to go right back to that part of the album, just perfect placement.

12. Back Seat Of My Car

“Back Seat of My Car” would close out the traditional album, a beautiful Beach Boys styled number, with all the harmonies provided by McCartney himself, and a much more produced, though still quite disarmingly beautiful and charming, arrangement.

Bonus:

13. Another Day (Single)

“Another Day” was initially recorded to be on the album, but due to marketing strategy at the time, was released before the album as a single.  The song is among the best McCartney would ever write Beatles or not, the arrangement, bass, lyrics, and vocals are all top-notch, a beautifully sad tale of the eventual breakdown of the titular character.

And thus, in a little over 44 minutes, Ram was over.  The album has stood the test of time and is perhaps McCartney’s finest album, it finds him with unfiltered, and unprecedented control of the studio, giving him the full artistic vision he wanted and he did not disappoint.  In many ways it is a precursor to the indie music genre and rather brilliantly captures McCartney at a time where he had something to prove, where he was hurting, and showcases his innate musical ability that made him so successful throughout his career. 

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