Ck Retro Review: Ram by Paul and Linda McCartneyPosted: September 29, 2016
1971’s Ram has always been viewed as Paul McCartney’s effort to get back to being a proper studio artist after the critical backlash against the homemade feel of McCartney. Yet even with the occasional contributions from sidemen and wife Linda (who gets a co-credit), the album has the feel of a one-man tour de force, the full breadth of McCartney’s mercurial personality given free reign. And it’s a triumph, completely underrated in its time and only now gathering a cult of followers who hear it as pop music at once fearlessly ambitious and enjoyably freewheeling. Here is a track-by-track review:
11. “Long Haired Lady”- One clunker out of twelve (if you count the two versions of “Ram On”) ain’t bad. This just goes on and on without much direction, and putting Linda out front on the vocals didn’t do her any favors.
10. “3 Legs”- Plenty of lyrical fodder here for the Beatle obsessives (“My dog he got three legs/But he cant’ run.)” That saves it from being forgettable, although the music is also quirky enough to make it an intriguing listen.
9. “Eat At Home”- Not a bad little rambler, if a tad on the generic side. As for the lyrics, well, something tells me dinner isn’t what’s really on the menu or on his mind.
8. “Smile Away”- This kind of driving rocker was always right in McCartney’s wheelhouse, yet it shouldn’t be taken for granted. After all, these kinds of songs often tripped him up on the lesser of his solo albums, when they aimed for ingratiating but landed on grating. “Smile Away” avoids that with its persistent groove and ebullient refrains.
7. “Back Seat Of My Car”- McCartney would have been better served sticking with the Beach Boys-style verses all the way through; I’m not sure that the romping connecting sections work in tandem with that, and the Abbey Road-style pomp of the “We believe that we can’t be wrong” section is in a completely different ballpark. A bit of a rollercoaster, but lovely passages throughout compensate.
6. “Heart Of The Country”- Nothing new to hear here, especially if you’ve checked out the superior, similarly-themed “Mother Nature’s Son” on the White Album. But the bouncy thrum of McCartney’s bass playing off his high-pitched vocals is irresistible. (And, man, this dude can scat!)
5. “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”- To this day I haven’t the foggiest idea what this song is trying to tell us. But who cares, really? There are 1,001 hooks, even more headphone delights buried in the mix, and enough whimsy to turn away even the staunchest of cynics. McCartney’s obsession with song suites is hard to disparage because they usually turned out quite good, if not masterful. Put this one in the quite good category.
4. “Ram On”- There’s a lot of Brian Wilson in this little ditty too, from the overhanging backing vocals to the off-kilter sound effects. McCartney holds down the center with his ukulele, his dreamy vocal, and a simple but effective message of love not unlike the one he delivered at “The End” of his former group. Utterly charming.
3. “Too Many People”- McCartney has always been coy about this being a direct broadside against the Lennons, which it clearly was. Of course, John heard himself in the entire album, to the point where he likely thought he was Uncle Albert. In any case, Paul wins this round: “Too Many People” is miles better, musically and lyrically, than the clumsy “How Do You Sleep?” The tension of the music is compelling and the swerving guitars of Macca and Hugh McCracken add some muscle to the ominous proclamations.
2. “Dear Boy”- With its harmonies (and, say what you want about Lindas’ vocals, but she’s in there contributing) and multi-tracked Maccas swooping in from all angles, this track sounds like something Beatle buddy Harry Nilsson might have concocted. The melody is classic McCartney, the minors twisting in the knife and the majors healing the wounds. One of his most unheralded beauties.
1. “Monkberry Moon Delight”- Of all the things that angered Lennon about Ram, it had to really rile him to hear McCartney do bizarro wordplay with all the aplomb of “I Am The Walrus” on this marvelously unhinged song. And the musical backing McCartney concocts is pretty dynamic as well, all churning piano, spiralling guitars, Linda’s conspiratorial harmonies, and his larynx-straining vocals making him sound like some kind of grizzled deviant. Why Macca hasn’t hooked up with TGIFriday’s to patent a drink based on this song is beyond me. I guess he doesn’t need the money. If you don’t know this song? Well, listen to what the man says: “Catch up, cats and kittens.”
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For an in-depth look at Mr. McCartney’s original group, check out the link below to pre-order my new book Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, out in March, 2017.)