ON THIS DATE (41 YEARS AGO)
May 17, 1971 – Paul McCartney and Linda McCartney: Ram is released in the US (May 21, 1971 in the UK)
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 5/5
# allmusic 5/5
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)
Ram is an album by Paul McCartney and Linda McCartney, released in the US on this date in May, 1971. It is the only album credited to the pair. “The Back Seat of My Car” was excerpted as a UK single from Ram that August, only reaching number 39, but the US release of the ambitious “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” proved much more successful, giving McCartney his first number 1 single since leaving The Beatles. The album reached number 1 in Britain and number 2 in the US, where it spent over five months in the Top 10 and went platinum. The album has sold over two million copies.
Set against the backdrop of the legal action taking place in Britain’s High Court with the dissolution of The Beatles partnership, following their break-up the year before, Ram was the second of two albums McCartney released between quitting The Beatles and forming Wings, whose future drummer Denny Seiwell played on the record, alongside the McCartneys and session musicians.
At the beginning of his solo career, McCartney took the term rather literally, recording virtually alone, playing and singing nearly all the parts himself. Nowhere is that approach more effective than on RAM, arguably his finest solo recording. Admittedly, he had a little help from guitarist Hugh McCracken and a couple of others here and there, but for the most part, this is Paul’s show. Instead of succumbing to self-indulgence, though, he used this forum to focus his artistic energies, thus turning out some of the best songs of his post-Beatles career.
The opening “Too Many People” is an appealingly melodic rocker that combines the two sides of McCartney–melodious popster and unabashed rocker–to unprecedented effect. He gets bluesy on “3 Legs,” homespun-acoustic on “Heart of the Country,” and appealingly jocular on the radio hit “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” whose whimsy recalls his best light-hearted Beatles efforts. What he maintains throughout all this is his vision, never getting sidetracked into loopy experimentalism or sentimental mush. RAM is McCartney at the peak of his considerable powers, spontaneous-sounding but still expertly crafted.
ORIGINAL ROLLING STONE REVIEW
Ram represents the nadir in the decomposition of Sixties rock thus far. For some, including myself, Self-Portrait had been secure in that position, but at least Self-Portrait was an album that you could hate, a record you could feel something over, even if it were nothing but regret. Ram is so incredibly inconsequential and so monumentally irrelevant you can’t even do that with it: it is difficult to concentrate on, let alone dislike or even hate.
McCartney’s work in the Beatles was always schizoid. On the one hand there were the rockers: “She’s A Woman,” “I’m Down,” “If You Won’t See Me,” “Get Back,” and “Lady Madonna”; on the other, the ballads and the schmaltz, including (in descending order), “Hey Jude,” “She’s Leaving Home,” “Yesterday,” “And I Love Her,” “Taste of Honey” and “Till There Was You.” Ram fulfills all the promise of “Till There Was You” and loses touch with the entire remainder of McCartney’s own past. And it is so lacking in the taste that was one of the hallmarks of the Beatles that it strongly suggests Paul is not happy in his role as a solo artist, no matter how much he protests to the contrary.
The odd thing about it is that within the context of the Beatles, Paul’s talents were beyond question. He was perhaps the most influential white bass player of the late Sixties, the only one of the Beatles with a keenly developed personal instrumental style. He was also the group’s best melodist, and he surely had the best voice.
But, if it was Paul who used to polish up Lennon’s bluntness and forced him to adapt a little style, it is by now apparent that Lennon held the reins in on McCartney’s cutsie-pie, florid attempts at pure rock muzak. He was there to keep McCartney from going off the deep end that leads to an album as emotionally vacuous as Ram. Now left to their own devices, each has done what always came most naturally. Lennon has created a music of almost monomaniacal intensity and blunt style, while McCartney creates music with a fully developed veneer, little intensity, and no energy.
Thus the dissolution of the Beatles reveals that their compromises had always been psychological first, and musical second, and that without each other they both drift naturally to their own emotional-musical extreme. Lennon has the better of it for the moment, but he may falter yet: “Power to the People” was as awful in its own way as anything on Ram, and only a fool would write off a man of McCartney’s past accomplishments on the basis of two albums (I’m not much of a fan of the last one either).
All of which makes it no less easy to deal with this very bad album from this very talented artist. For myself, I hear two good things on this record: “Eat At Home,” a pleasant, if minor, evocation of the music of Buddy Holly (with some very nice updating), and “Sitting in the Back Seat of My Car,” the album’s production number.
The album’s genre music—blues and old rock—is unbearably inept. On “Three Legs” they do strange and pointless things to the sound of the voice to liven it up; it doesn’t work. “Smile Away” is sung with that exaggerated voice he used for the rock & roll medley in Let It Be: it is unpleasant. The “When I’m Sixty-Four” school of light English baubles is represented by “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” a piece with so many changes it never seems to come down anywhere, and in the places that it does, sounds like the worst piece of light music Paul has ever done. And “Monkberry Moon Delight” is the bore to end all bores: Paul repeats a riff for five and a half minutes to no apparent purpose.
The lowest point on the album, and the one that most clearly indicates its failures, is “Heart of the Country.” It is an evenly paced, finger-picking styled tune, with very light jazz overtones, obviously intended as Paul’s idea of “mellow.” Somehow, his lyrics about the joys of the country ring false. Rather than a sense of self-acceptance or pride, I get a feeling of self-pity and self-justification from this cut, feelings that are almost masked by music so competent, in fact routine, that it all seems to slip away. Compare it to an earlier piece of music somewhat in the same vein, “Blackbird.” That song has all the charm and grace “Heart of the Country” tries for, but also the depth, purpose, and conviction, which are the missing ingredients from Ram as a whole.
These days groups are little more than collections of solo artists. The idea of a group as a unit with an identity of its own has become increasingly passe as groups become less and less stable: they seldom stay together long enough to achieve such an identity. But the Beatles were obviously a true group and history is now proving that it was greater than the sum of their parts. Collectively, the Beatles had a way of maximizing each of their individual strengths and minimizing each of their individual flaws. Individually, none of them can create on the same level, no matter how good some individual recordings may be.
For none of the Beatles is a truly self-sufficient artist and therefore none of them seems to function at his best as a soloist. In this light, Paul has simply proven to be the most vulnerable: the group hid most of his weaknesses longer and better than they did the others so that they were the most unexpected now that they have finally become visible. But now they have become visible and the results can scarcely be more satisfying to McCartney himself than they will be to the many people who will find this record wanting. McCartney and Ram both prove that Paul benefited immensely from collaboration and that he seems to be dying on the vine as a result of his own self-imposed musical isolation. What he finally decides to do about it is anybody’s guess, but it is the only thing that makes Paul McCartney’s musical future worth thinking about and hoping for.
~ Jon Landau (July 8, 1971)
1 Too Many People (Paul McCartney) 4:10
2 3 Legs (Paul McCartney) 2:44
3 Ram On (Paul McCartney) 2:26
4 Dear Boy (Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney) 2:12
5 Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey (P.McCartney, L.McCartney) 4:49
6 Smile Away (Paul McCartney) 3:51
7 Heart of the Country (P.McCartney, L. McCartney) 2:21
8 Monkberry Moon Delight (P. McCartney, L. McCartney) 5:21
9 Eat at Home (Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney) 3:18
10 Long Haired Lady (Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney) 5:54
11 Ram On (reprise) (Paul McCartney) 0:52
12 The Back Seat of My Car (Paul McCartney) 4:26
Bonus tracks on 1993 reissue
13 Another Day (Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney) 3:41
14 Oh Woman, Oh Why (Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney) 4:36
Standard Edition 1 CD; the original 12-track album
Standard Edition digital download; the original 12-track album
Special Edition 2 CD; the original 12-track album on the first disc, plus 8 bonus tracks on a second disc
Deluxe Edition Box Set 4 CD/1 DVD; the original 12-track album, the bonus track disc, the original album in mono, Thrillington, DVD of films (including the documentary, ‘Ramming’ narrated by Paul and directed by Ben Ib, as well as the original music videos for ‘Heart of the Country’ and ‘3 Legs’), 112-page book, 5 prints, 8 facsimiles of lyric sheets, photograph book, and download link to all of the material
Remastered vinyl 2-LP version of the Special Edition and a download link to the material
Remastered mono vinyl limited edition LP of the mono mixes
Remastered (Record Store Day 2012 exclusive) vinyl single of “Another Day” and “Oh Woman, Oh Why”
DISC 1: The original album
The original 12-track album.
DISC 2: Bonus tracks
Another Day single released in 1971
Oh Woman, Oh Why B-side of the “Another Day” single
Little Woman Love B-side of the Wings’ “Mary Had a Little Lamb” single
A Love for You (Jon Kelly Mix) previously unreleased
Hey Diddle (Dixon Van Winkle Mix) previously unreleased
Great Cock and Seagull Race (Dixon Van Winkle Mix) previously unreleased
Rode All Night previously unreleased
Sunshine Sometime (Earliest Mix) previously unreleased
DISC 3: Ram mono
The mono version of the original 12-track album.
DISC 4: Thrillington
The Thrillington album.