In many ways, 1997’s Flaming Pie set the template for what a late-period Paul McCartney album would sound like. With the singles charts no longer an option, McCartney could play directly to his fans and give them what they wanted: Some fun, feisty rockers, a handful of ballads, maybe a special guest or two, plenty of self-reflexive nods to the old days, and nothing that strayed too far from the brand (that’s what his side projects as The Fireman were for.) And Flaming Pie certainly rates on the higher end of these types of “In case of desire for Paul McCartney album, break glass” kind of projects, especially in terms of the love songs. Here is a song-by-song review:
14. “Really Love You”- Some people may love hearing old bandmates McCartney and Ringo Starr jamming away. To me, improvisation is best when you can’t tell it’s improvisation. I think anyone listening to this could tell it was made up on the spot.
13. “If You Wanna”- One of three collaborations with Steve Miller on the album, this sounds pretty good but, ironically considering it’s a driving song, doesn’t really go anywhere.
12. “Heaven On Sunday”- Jeff Lynne, who produces many of the tracks here, gives this one a lovely glow, but the best part is when Paul trades blues licks on guitar with his son James. That instrumental passage seems beamed in from a different song, creating a little disconnect from the adult contemporary feel of the main section.
11. “Souvenir”- Another one that’s a bit schizophrenic, half Wilson Pickett, half “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Lynne can’t quite meld it all together without the seams showing, but the individual parts of the disjointed whole command your attention.
10. “Young Boy”- Just an effortless pop track with a bit of a melancholy tinge. Miller shows his chops on lead guitar, while McCartney proves an able one-man rhythm section. A full album collaboration between these two should be on any Macca fan’s wish list.
9. “Beautiful Night”- The verses are gorgeous, reminiscent of the stellar Tug Of War ballad “Wanderlust,” all with Ringo lending those off-kilter, just-right fills any Beatle fan adores. The refrains are just OK, stirring musically but lyrically needing a bit more care. The coda is a fun ruckus, Starr getting in on the vocal act for old time’s sake.
8. “Great Day”- Paul wrote this album-closer in the early 70’s, and it’s eerie how well he recaptures his sound from that era, right down to Linda’s backing vocals. On an album that looks back as much as ahead, it makes for the right kind of send-off.
7. “The World Tonight”- Lynne gives McCartney’s drums a little Wilbury twist to add some rockabilly heft to the slightly psychedelic tone of this one. And Macca gets in a great couplet: “I go back so far, I’m in front of me.” The lyrical dots don’t always connect, but Paul sings it as if his life depends on it.
6. “The Song We Were Singing”- I could have gone one star higher on this affecting opening track if it had just a little more deviation from the acoustic verse to soaring chorus (with the harmonium, reminiscent of “We Can Work It Out”) formula, which gets repeated a bunch here. Still, it sets the nostalgic tone of the album quite well.
5. “Somedays”- Buoyed by typically sensitive George Martin orchestration, this introspective ballad manages to be both a devoted love song and a subtly pensive meditation on aging. Throw in some genuine empathy for those “who fear the worst” and you’ve got a number that covers a lot of bases without showing any sign of strain.
4. “Flaming Pie”- Among other things, this album is a great showcase for Paul’s instrumental dexterity. A largely do-it-yourself affair, it gives him showcases throughout on bass (of course), drums and acoustic guitar. Here he takes charge with some steamy piano licks, which back up wonderfully nonsensical lyrics inspired by John Lennon’s equally nonsensical tale about the origin of the name Beatles.
3. “Used To Be Bad”- A good little blues song immeasurably elevated by the easy camaraderie and instrumental excellence of McCartney and Miller. If you remember their late 60’s collaboration “My Dark Hour,” consider this duet a sizzling sequel that proves the pair hadn’t lost a stitch in the three-decade interim. People tend to think of Miller as a hitmaker, which he is, but his solos here remind that he can really rip on lead guitar.
2. “Calico Skies”- Well, this has always been what it’s all about with Paul, right? Sitting with an acoustic guitar, enchanting his audiences with the kind of tune that seems brand new and handed down through the ages all at once. And those who get at him about his lyrics should check out this set, which trips from the lips with nimble ease and both warms your heart and breaks it all at once. The kind of song that’s too good to be background music, because it will stop you in your tracks and whatever you’re doing will become secondary to the need to listen. Very powerful stuff in a humble package.
1. “Little Willow”- “Thanks, Mo,” Paul can be heard saying at the end of “Get Back.” This achingly beautiful lullaby was his way of expressing that gratitude to Maureen Starkey after her passing, as a way of trying to ease the pain her children felt. Lynne’s expert massaging of ballads comes in handy here, and his backing vocals provide supportive counterpoint to McCartney’s anguished, wordless cries. “Nobody warns you” is the hard part, the fact that even when you think you’re prepared to lose a loved one, you’re really not. But though you may bend in that cold, hard wind, the goodness of the loved ones still around allows you to locate the strength to hold on tight. All of that conveyed in three musical minutes that can pry cathartic tears from you on any occasion.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. My new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, arrives this month. Pre-order it in the link below.)
With a couple days to kill in the studio and some ace session men on hand, Paul McCartney ripped off a bushelful of songs consisting mostly of classics from the first wave of American rock and roll. The resulting album (CHOBA B CCCP or Back In The U.S.S.R.) was released only in the Soviet Union in 1988 before finally getting a worldwide release three years later. Although the arrangements sometimes betrayed the tossed-off, hurried nature of the sessions, McCartney’s affinity for and ease with this material makes it an invigorating listen, reminding anyone who might have forgotten how great a rock and roller this guy is.
14. “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”- A rock arrangement of this standard might have worked with just a tad more lightness to highlight the deft nature of Duke Ellington’s melody. But the band sort of bludgeons it, even if the instrumental break is well-done.
13. “Ain’t That A Shame”- Cheap Trick had a pretty good go at this song by not playing it too close to the vest. The respect that McCartney shows to the original smothers it a bit and makes it come off as more imitation than inspiration.
12. “Midnight Special”- Maybe too light a touch is employed here by McCartney and the band, with the arrangement by Paul not quite capturing the darkness in the song that makes that ever-loving light so important in the first place. Nice guitar work on this one by Mick Green though to recommend it.
11. “Lucille”- The groove is a touch mathematical here, especially when you compare it to Little Richard’s raucous original. McCartney has fun with the vocal though, inspired by one of his true idols, and there’s no denying that this is a bona fide classic that’s hard to botch as long as you bring the energy.
10. “That’s All Right, Mama”- You have to hand it to McCartney on one account: He certainly didn’t back away from the behemoth songs of the genre. His take on this track that Elvis immortalized hews a bit more country and western, with the exception of the robust guitar break. Doesn’t threaten the original by any stretch, but a fine turn nonetheless.
9. “Kansas City”- McCartney knows his way around this song, as it was included way back in the day on Beatles For Sale. His voice sounds remarkably spry considering the quarter-century between recordings, doesn’t it? But, then again, it sounds pretty spry today even further down the road. Pretty good heft delivered by the band on this one.
8. “I’m Gonna Be A Wheel Someday”- McCartney is, for sure, a “real gone cat” throughout this collection. On this, one of three Fats Domino-penned songs on the album, he and his buddies bust it up pretty good and vigorously sink their teeth into a tale of romantic revenge.
7. “Twenty Flight Rock”- This one holds a special place in Macca’s heart, as it was his knowledge of the song’s lyrics and changes that allegedly impressed John Lennon back in the day when the pair first met. Mick Gallagher gets a nice showcase on piano, as the band, taking the Eddy Cochran classic at a lope instead of a sprint, keeps their footing very well.
6. “I’m In Love Again”- Anybody’s who’s ever heard “Lady Madonna” should know that McCartney can do Fats Domino better than anyone save Fats himself. He slips into this rambler with no sweat at all, as Gallagher nails the piano triplets to anchor the music.
5. “Lawdy, Miss Clawdy- Man, does Paul sing this one wonderfully, touching every bit of the playfulness and bluesiness in the lyrics with ease. The fuzz of the guitar doesn’t quite square with the swing of the arrangement, in my humble view, but that’s nitpicking. The positives far outweigh that little nick.
4. “Crackin’ Up”- This is the most obscure song on the album, and it benefits from that, sounding alive and fresh rather than encased in glass. McCartney gets a lead guitar showcase and makes the most of it, while seeming to enjoy the quirkiness of the lyrics.
3. “Just Because”- The quartet nails the rockabilly vibe of this one, an antiquated song that Elvis also made famous. Great interplay among the musicians, while Paul’s bass and vocals bring a lot of charm to the proceedings. Certainly one of the most fun recordings on an album where “fun” was the operative word.
2. “Bring It On Home To Me”- Taking on a Sam Cooke song isn’t for the faint of heart if you’re a vocalist. McCartney tears into it fearlessly, adding a bit of a grittier edge in the higher notes compared to Cooke’s break-no-sweat smoothness. The call and response at the end leaves everything on the floor. A great showcase for his vocals, which retain their youthfulness and yet still reference the heartbreaks only life experience can engender.
1. “Summertime”- Taking this George Gershwin song and giving it an arrangement that hits the ominous notes of “House Of The Rising Sun” proves to be a stroke of genius. It really transforms it into something that Gershwin himself might not have realized possible. And it’s the one place where the heavier tones of the electric guitar don’t sound like they’re overwhelming the content of the song. Paul puts everything he has into the vocal; Ella would have been proud.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter & JimBeviglia. My new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, arrives in March. You can preorder it at the link below.)
The show must go on, as they say, and Paul McCartney rose to the occasion on his first album following the death of John Lennon with one of his finest efforts in years. 1982’s Tug Of War reunites him with George Martin, who brings his gilded touch to the album, especially the ballads, which are uniformly fine and occasionally brilliant. The mid-tempo numbers glide about elegantly, while the harder stuff is feisty and fun. The first side outdoes the second side by a pretty good margin, but overall Paul was back on firm, crowd-pleasing footing with this one.
12. “Dress Me As A Robber”- Way too busy, this Latin/disco number doesn’t ever settle on an identity.
11. “Be What You See (Link)”- Dreamy interstitial that’s gone almost as soon as it arrives.
10. “Get It”- McCartney’s chance to work with idol with Carl Perkins is far from objectionable. But there’s not much to it that will make it stick in your memory banks, other than Carl’s laughter at the end of the track.
9. “The Pound Is Sinking”- It gets a little more twee than some of Macca’s biggest critics would like, but the bounciness of this rundown on the world’s currency keeps it in the black. Good enough to be somebody’s favorite on the album, for sure.
8. “Ebony And Ivory”- Hey, we’re not arguing that the views on race relations are anything too profound. But the melody is as comfy as old slippers, and the funky coda where McCartney and Stevie Wonder go to town with some vocal improvisations is worth the price of admission.
7. “Somebody Who Cares”- The way the bluesy, minor-key verses open up into the surging chorus is the evidence of an old pro at work. This one doesn’t do too much but what it does it does well. Pleasant on the ears, for sure, if not particularly challenging.
6. “Ballroom Dancing”- It’s kind of out of place on the album, but I guess it would be out of place on any rock album (except maybe the White Album, where stuff like this was all part of the crazy tapestry.) McCartney’s ability to pull off this antiquated material always amazes me; even when you don’t think it’s what you want to hear, he convinces you otherwise.
5. “What’s That You’re Doing”- Wonder revives some of his mid-70’s magic with this relentless funk workout, letting Paul tag along for the ride. It doesn’t go very far from its initial groove, which carries it a long way, although maybe not quite six-plus minutes down the road. Still, the two superstars fit together seamlessly on a song that easily could have been a hit had they edited it down and released it as a single. But “Ebony And Ivory” sold about a quadrillion copies, so who am I to quibble?
4. “Take It Away”- If there’s a fault to be found with this song, it’s that it very much sounds like it could have been on a late-70’s Wings album, not quite in synch the early 80’s times. Still, McCartney is relaxed and smooth throughout, with the lyrics tripping off his tongue effortlessly and the charging chorus, with “Savoy Truffle” horns and Ringo Starr and Steve Gadd pushing the beat recklessly onward, is grabby. Paul’s bass work counters the light-footed melody nicely. Everything in its right place.
3. “Tug Of War”- McCartney keeps the lyrics vague enough that they might refer to his relationship with Lennon or to actual armed combat. Or maybe both. It nicely captures the senselessness of combat, much like Floyd’s “Us And Them” in that regard. The inherent sadness in the song comes from the unspoken fear that the “time to come” and “another world” promised might not actually arrive. In addition, it smoothly modulates between the acoustic, dreamy opening section and the urgent, electric second half. An excellent starter, for sure.
2. “Wanderlust”- I know that Paul has certain crowd-pleasers that have to go into every concert, but I couldn’t believe when I read that he has never played this live. Ringo adds his inimitable sense of touch on the ballads here, the horns are suitably buoyant, and McCartney sings the stuffing out it. When all of those countermelodies start to crash into one another in the final moments, prepare for the chills you’re bound to receive. As moving a defense of restlessness as you’re ever going to hear; the Captain, representing the staid world that refuses to take chances, gets his head handed to him in this musical argument.
1. “Here Today”- Imagine the pressure McCartney must have felt to make some sort of epic statement on his relationship with Lennon. That he had the foresight to pull back and simplify things down to their essence is beyond admirable; it was a stroke of genius. The song sidesteps the sappiness that easily could have enveloped it while still delivering raw emotion, and Martin does one of his stirring without being showy arrangements in the fashion of “Yesterday.” Isn’t that what friendship is, the idea that someone gets inside the song that we sing in a way that mere acquaintances can’t possibly achieve? Hurting as we all were, McCartney’s song was as much what we needed to hear as it was what he needed to say.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Paul’s “other” band, check out my new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, in the link below. It’s due out in March.)
The making of Paul McCartney & Wings 1973 album Band On The Run featured a little bit of everything: band departures, exotic locales, theft, health scares. At a time when his solo career was being run down by everyone from critics to ex-Beatles, McCartney didn’t really need the extra pressure. But he rose to the occasion brilliantly, overcoming all the obstacles and finding his rock and roll pocket for one of the great albums of the decade. Here is a song-by-song review:
10. “No Words”- Denny Laine, the last Wing standing on the album, received a co-writing credit on this interesting little shapeshifter. The modulations from section to section are the best part of it, which I’m guessing is where Macca had the most input.
9. “Bluebird”- Again with the birds! Band On The Run succeeds largely on its rockers, but the ballads have an ease about them that’s alluring; it doesn’t sound like Paul is trying so hard to please on them as he had in some of the slow ones from just before this release. Guest players Howie Casey (on sax) and Remi Kebaka (on percussion) make solid contributions on this one, and the sleepy little melody works its magic without pushing too hard.
8. “Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me)”- The folky part was written on demand from Dustin Hoffman, and it’s quaint and lovely in a “Michelle” kind of way. It then spins off into an orchestrated medley of the rest of the album’s songs, which hasn’t aged all that well but still doesn’t torpedo the dreamy beginning.
7. “Mamunia”- Note how the stretched-out lines of the verses are contrasted by the short, sharp punches of the refrain. The countermelodies that show up in the final verse are sumptuously pretty, while the message of keeping spirits up in adverse conditions is rendered nicely.
6. “Mrs. Vandebilt”- McCartney uncorks a sinuous bass line here that plays perfectly off the acoustic rhythm guitars. There’s a Beatles-y electric guitar interlude to sweeten the pot, and the “Ho-Hey-Ho” chant that coaxes involuntary fist pumps. it may not have too much on its mind, but, as he sings, “What’s the use of worrying?” Especially when there’s effortless fun to be had on a track like this.
5. “Let Me Roll It”- There’s toughness in the electric guitar flicker that drives the music and tenderness in the vocals as McCartney rolls his heart to his lover. His bass keeps taking us where we need to go, from the yearning verses to the cathartic chorus. The comparisons of this song to John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band were knee-jerk and off-base; whereas Lennon’s stark music was more about getting out of the way of the message, McCartney uses the elements, sparse though they may be, to set the tone here.
4. “Helen Wheels”- After all those years of America messing up The Beatles’ albums, a U.S. release finally did McCartney right, as this indelible chugger was only (originally) included on the version of Band On The Run released in the states. McCartney learned well from Chuck Berry how important meter was to writing a good rock lyric, and he uses that skill to give this one the forward momentum that fits the theme of the song to a tee. Great guitar work at the end of the song from Macca as well, even after everybody says bye-bye.
3. “Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five”- After the opening line, McCartney pretty much abandons the futuristic theme in the lyrics. But the music manages to communicate it quite well, from the driving piano to the spaced-out vocal interludes. This is a good point to remind you that Band On The Run was largely a one-man show, which makes tracks like this, which keeps you on your toes for the entire running length right down to the title track reprise, even more impressive. And he sings the stuffing out of it, absolutely freaking out during the cacophonous outro. Fantastic closer.
2. “Jet”- It’s quite unfair how many hooks McCartney crams into this high-energy rocker about, well, I have no idea but I get it, you know. Nobody has ever been able to marry rock propulsion to pop tunefulness as well as this guy, and “Jet” is one of his best examples of how to do it. The instrumental touches are all right on point, from the stately brass to Linda’s wobbly keyboard solo. And the Lady Suffragettes and Sergeant Majors all make perfect sense in the context of the thrilling music. There’s nary a moment in the song that doesn’t demand your full attention.
1. “Band On The Run”- McCartney’s signature solo song works on a lot of levels. Obviously it’s a musical tour de force, a song suite assembled with ambition and grace to signal every stop on a prisoner’s journey, from incarcerated doldrums to tense planning to glorious escape, which finally comes in the pristine strums of Paul’s acoustic guitar. Lyrically it could certainly be read as McCartney’s nod to the shackles that his Beatle reputation had placed on his solo career, shackles that he finally shook off by focused force of will and sheer talent. And once the fans heard this song, they had to finally grant him that freedom, while the critics couldn’t help but tap their feet as they ate their crow-and-humble pie hoagie. You could listen to it every day and never tire of it.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Macca’s “other” band, check out the link below to preorder my new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, available in March 2017.)
Wings’ 1973 album Red Rose Speedway doesn’t deserve the clunker reputation that generally hangs about it. The first side is actually pretty good, with a classic ballad surrounded by a decent collection of songs rendered imaginatively. That second side certainly seems like Paul McCartney had run dry on ideas, however. Certainly better things were just around the bend for McCartney and friends, but this one, while not even in the ballpark of a classic, aims to please and hits the mark at least until halfway through. Here is a song-by-song through
9. “(Loup) First Indian On The Moon”- Pink Floyd need not have fretted; Wings’ entry into the spaced-out instrumental genre stays stubbornly earthbound.
8. “Hold Me Tight”/”Lazy Dynamite”/”Hands Of Love”/”Power Cut”- For a guy who pioneered the art of smushing bits of songs into wholes so much greater than the sum of their parts, he took a huge header with this one. There’s little musical invention here, just a lot of refrains and, most surprising of all, plodding melodies. I sat through eleven minutes of this so you shouldn’t have to.
7. “Single Pigeon”- In another life, McCartney had to have been an ornithologist, such is his songwriting interest in using birds as metaphor. Alas, this ain’t no “Blackbird” or “Bluebird” or “Jenny Wren,” for that matter. It’s not objectionable, but it’s not memorable either.
6. “When The Night”- McCartney’s always solid Fats Domino impersonation (he even lets out an “Oh Darling”) is somewhat undercut here by lyrics that make “Blueberry Hill” seem like James Joyce. And still it’s catchy, effortlessly so, so you can’t be too mad at it in the end.
5. “Big Barn Bed”- Slightly funky music and nice harmony vocals attached to some lyrics that hint at paranoia when they hint at anything at all. It works itself up into a decent lather by the end, just enough to make it worthwhile as an energetic opener.
4. “One More Kiss”- I guess after all these years he still has to follow the sun, so, in this song anyway, he leaves behind a saddened paramour. It’s genial enough, even if it doesn’t change the world.
3. “Little Lamb Dragonfly”- Call me a Beatles obsessive (I’ll own it), but I hear the lyrics in this one as a message to John Lennon, full of regret and yet still holding out hope for some kind of rapprochement. If that were true, the good intentions might be cancelled out by the subtle condescension. In any case, it’s an effectively atmospheric ballad, even if it’s not quite the epic that it seems like it was intended to be.
2. “Get On The Right Thing”- Left over from the Ram sessions, it has that kind of one-man band feel to it. McCartney’s hyperactive but fun drumming calls to mind his work on “Dear Prudence,” and the melody takes so many twists and turns that it keeps you on your toes. The backing vocals are a tad overbearing for my taste, keeping it from four-star territory.
1. “My Love”- Maybe the most polarizing song of McCartney’s solo career, and this ranking should tell you what pole I’m straddling. People get after the lyrics, but my take is that complicated words would only have distracted here. The point here is to keep the sentiment as simple as possible and let the music do the talking, and boy, does it ever. This is one of those Macca melodies that hits all the emotional peaks and valleys, rising to intense moments and then relaxing again to luxuriate in it all. And Henry McCullough’s guitar solo is one for the ages, as it somehow lives inside the lush walls of the song and explodes into the ether all at once. Be cynical if you want, but I’m slow dancing with the missus to this one at every opportunity.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on McCartney’s “other” group, check out the link to pre-order my upcoming book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, due out in March of 2017.)
The idea of an off-the-cuff, no-frills album first enchanted Paul McCartney in the late-60’s, which led to The Beatles bickering their way through Let It Be. Perhaps reviving that ethos for the first album by his post-Beatles band, which included drummer Denny Seiwell, guitarist Denny Laine, and wife Linda, before it had established itself wasn’t the best idea. In retrospect however, it wasn’t so much the idea of Wild Life, Wings’ 1971 debut, that was its downfall, nor the execution of the idea; it was Macca’s punchless material, which, for the most part, no amount of improvisational jamming could enliven. Here is a song-by-song review:
10. “I Am Your Singer”- When the best thing you can say about a song is, “Hey, that’s a nice recorder solo,” well, it’s probably two-star material, folks.
9. “Mumbo Link”- The instrumental belching that ends the album. McCartney always liked to take the pomp out of grand closing statements (see “Her Majesty”), so instead of ending with the high drama of “Dear Friend,” Wild Life bows out in appropriately anticlimactic fashion.
8. “Bip Bop”- One fun little throwaway on an album is fine, but having the first two songs be made up on the spot is testing everybody’s patience. This one doesn’t compensate for the nonsensical lyrics with anything memorable in the music.
7. “Bip Bop Link”- Short, acoustic guitar interlude that’s just all right.
6. “Wild Life”- The groove is ominous enough if a tad monotonous, while the message is honorable if a bit muddled. My main problem is that McCartney oversings the song to the point where it almost seems like a parody, thereby undercutting whatever points he might have wished to make.
5. “Mumbo”- Could it have been improved with intelligible lyrics? I say yes. But it’s a fiery jam, if nothing else, which seems to be all that McCartney was after. So I can give this one a pass.
4. “Tomorrow”- Nothing spectacular here, but the piano-based melody is ingratiating as are the backing vocals, which McCartney had a knack for arranging quite sumptuously in this era.
3. “Love Is Strange”- That ain’t a bad little reggae groove that McCartney, Seiwell and Laine conjure; certainly as creditable as The Stones of “Cherry Baby” and others of its ilk. And it’s a good song choice for the genre, kind of wise in a simple way.
2. “Some People Never Know”- It’s an interesting concept for a love song, as you have a narrator deep in a blissful relationship still poking his head out to worry about those who would denigrate the positives of love. The melody in the verses is a bit sleepy, but the bridge is a real beauty. Nice acoustic arrangement as well, but there’s another long, jammy outro that doesn’t add much (bongos, anyone?) Such were the times, I guess.
1.”Dear Friend”- Lovely and sad, this quiet piano meditation was apparently an olive branch to John Lennon after he and Paul had been sniping back and forth in the press and in song following The Beatles demise. McCartney doesn’t back down from embracing his new life, but he wonders if there’s a way forward for the friendship in the new reality of their lives. Those vocals are so piercing they’re spooky in parts, and finally here’s a track where the extra instrumental flourishes add to the desired effect. The one song on the album where the creative spark is not only apparent, it’s vibrant.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter at JimBeviglia. For more on Paul’s “other” group, check out the link below to pre-order my new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs.)
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.)