I first heard RAM in the
summer of 1980, driving in an old van to and from days at the flea market on
the weekends with my dad. Because it was a long drive and he had it on 8-Track,
of all things, we listened to it over and over all the way through each time.
It was his favorite McCartney album. It became mine too. It still is.
So as it comes out again in
deluxe repackaging, here are some thoughts I have about it:
I’m not sure if it’s a letter of love or spite to an old friend and bandmate. Probably both. There is
certainly a broken, or at least, wounded heart behind RAM. Most of Paul
McCartney’s most creative and daring work seems to be either about or because
of John Lennon, who I see as the very ram Paul is trying to control on the
cover and the very beetle taking him from behind on the back.
But hey, that’s just me.
…is the last time Paul
McCartney was, indeed, a Beatle. You can figure out what I mean by listening to
…is as good, if not better,
than Plastic Ono Band and Imagine, and better than All Things Must
Pass. It is also better than Band On The Run and Tug Of War, the two
albums in the canon recognized as masterworks upon their release.
…was unfairly received and
unjustly dismissed because 1) Macca was “The Bad Guy” in early ‘71, having
supposedly broken up The Beatles, effectively ending “The Dream” that Lennon spitefully sang
and spoke about at the end of 1970, and 2) he wasn’t buddy-buddy with Jann
Wenner, and never gave Rolling Stone an all-encompassing expose/interview about
his life and former band to promote an album.
Now keep in
mind, that's just me.
Moving on, RAM…
…with the passing of four
decades and umpteen albums by its creator, has never gotten its just due.
…has some of the best
guitar playing on any album by any Beatle. The solos on “Too Many People” are
what electric guitar is for, proving that Paul McCartney is the greatest guitar
player in rock and roll that no one ever mentions.
…has the best singing of
Macca’s post-Beatles career. The collective performances showcase an unmatched
versatility and the screaming climax of “Back Seat Of My Car” is his high-watermark
as a vocalist. He never sang this masterfully or effortlessly again.
…is the last time Paul
McCartney was Superman, meaning it’s the last album where every song is
magically inspired, springing from some hallowed place beyond him, and each one
is chock full of pure musical information of the highest quality, often
delivered in gloriously sophisticated counterpoint and harmony. There are so
many well-developed motifs and fully realized ideas on RAM, that it not only
rewards repeated listening but grows greater and deeper each time through. The
“hook” quotient is off the charts here, rivaling Beatles, meaning musical bits
that nestle in your memory and enrich you for the rest of your life. “Uncle
Albert/Admiral Halsey” has at least six by my count. That’s more than most
“recording artists” come up with in an entire career, let alone an album or
song. (He is McCartney after all.)
…contains the best lyrics
(read Most Poetic) of any McCartney album. And although many of the words are
either completely or borderline meaningless, they still conjure the feeling and
effect that while they don’t mean anything, they mean everything too. This is a
Beatle trick learned from John Lennon that nobody else really knows how to do
as well. Something about being in that band, I guess. Even Ringo does it from
time to time.
What I’m trying to say is
that the full mojo was still with him here. And although he was at
the end of his tenure in the Can Do No Wrong Zone, McCartney was still so
capable and inspired, he was even able to take a woman with a tuneless,
unpleasant singing voice and make her sing like an angel in a two-person
choir that rivals, if not betters, Sunflower-era Beach Boys.
Given all this, RAM is the
most overlooked, misunderstood, under-appreciated album ever made by a Beatle.
In fact, it’s the only one of its kind, in that it is a true masterwork,
showing one of them at a formidable peak, but has never been accepted or
discussed as such, along the lines of every Beatle album, Band On The Run, POB,
Imagine, All Things Must Pass and Ringo. In a way, this has enhanced its legend
and specialness among those of us interested in such things.
And while Plastic Ono Band
might have the stronger impact, RAM is far easier to spend a good deal of time
with. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of sugar to help the medicine go
down. And nobody’s sugar is sweeter than Paul McCartney’s. Few give better
Furthermore, the absurd
humor that is the most overlooked trademark of The Beatles’ greatness is in
generous abundance on this album. The dummy cowboy attitude of “3 Legs,”
the seemingly offhanded choices of using ukulele on “Ram On” and then
reprising the piece out of nowhere on the second half to give the album an
illusory thematic unity, the unabashed horniness and hilarious hygienic
concerns of “Smile Away,” the out of control mongrel shriek of “Monkberry Moon
Delight,” are all hallmarks of the Beatles’ goony side that would
have been recognized with adulation had they been on say, The White Album. Instead
they have been overlooked and forgotten. McCartney is often accused of
being silly or trite, but RAM serves as proof that on record, he could be every
bit as funny, witty and entertaining as John Lennon. Well, almost as.
Again, that’s just me.
Driving the point home now
to utter excess, RAM…
…contains no less than six
of Paul McCartney’s best songs: “Too Many People,” “Dear Boy,” “Uncle
Albert/Admiral Halsey,” “Heart Of The Country,” “Long Haired Lady,” and the
monumental “Back Seat Of My Car.” The rest of it is top-notch listening
entertainment as well. Even more amazingly, four songs that didn’t make the
vinyl rank among McCartney’s best work: “Oh Woman, Oh Why,” “Rode All Night,”
“A Love For You,” and “Another Day.”
…is the most listenable
McCartney album because it is the last pure expression of his Beatles persona.
This intoxicating energy would drain away within the year and this wonderfully
entertaining man would morph into other shapes of differing degrees of
captivating with the forming of Wings and an overwhelming need to make a name
for himself beyond the long shadow and legacy of his former band. That protean
guy would reappear briefly on a track here and there, “Band On The Run” most
notably, or on the middle section of “The Pound Is Sinking.” Notably, even the
renditions of actual Beatle songs on Wings Over America don’t carry the same
impact as what was being achieved on RAM. He was a very different artist by
(Whew) So finally, and
perhaps most importantly, RAM…
…as a musical statement, is
just as satisfying as Abbey Road, and shows with masterful effect who
was truly the driving force and de facto producer of late period Beatles. When
comparing it to that first great wave of Beatle solo recordings, it becomes clear
who was most steering the ship from ‘67 to ‘70 and literally being instrumental
in creating The Beatles’ sound. Whereas Plastic Ono Band could be (and was
actually) described as “conceptual” in nature, in that it was music stripped to
the bone by its maker, leaving much to be implied and/or imagined in the
listener’s mind; and All Things Must Pass was an ambitious cornucopia of what
was going on in George Harrison’s head in 1970 (and a good 20 or so of his
friends’ heads as well), neither record sounds much like The Beatles. But RAM
does, following a logical auditory, harmonic and arrangement-based progression
from Revolver on. Certainly John Lennon was moving toward the naked soundscapes
of POB as early as 1968 and the more ornate arrangements on Imagine hearken
back to a Fab way of doing things, but it was Paul McCartney informing his work
and the work of George as well, and not the other way around, that crystalized
and cemented that eternally fantastic and satisfying Beatles brand of record-making.
Now I like and even love
many of Paul McCartney’s albums and singles. Some of his biggest hits rank with
the very best ever made. Nobody has ever done anything quite like “Silly Love
Songs,” “With A Little Luck,” or “Coming Up” for instance. It’s a long, lovely
list of major achievements.
For fans, there is a
McCartney album for every taste, every mood, so varied and huge the output.
Some people swear by Back To The Egg or Venus And Mars. Some go with Press To
Play, Flowers In The Dirt or Flaming Pie, or the obvious home runs of Band On
The Run and Tug Of War. I dig them all actually, in one way or another.
Some might say to me, “Hey
man, you love RAM because you attach a sentimental value to it based on a
formative experience of youth.”
To that, I would respond
that’s only partially true. The thing is I just don’t get a wholly satisfying “Beatlesque”
feeling from any other McCartney album the way I do from RAM, including Band On
The Run and Tug Of War. Does it always have to be BEATLES? No, of course not. Not
much ever is. But that’s the best he ever was, and that’s what I hold him to
every time I buy a new record he puts out. And that’s been every one, by the
way. And that’s a lot of records. Yes, there are many sublime moments
scattered over forty years of work, but never again did he offer such
a complete collection of them over an album-long statement.
It boils down to this: RAM
is the best one he ever did without the help of the other three. It’s probably
because they were still on his mind and in his heart on a daily basis. I know I
can feel them when I listen to it.
But that’s just me.