Paul McCartney's "Ram": Another Day, Another Look
Ram by Paul and Linda McCartney
After receiving much negative criticism of his first solo album "McCartney", Paul McCartney set out to make a more polished, full and refined album complete with fuller, orchestrated backings that differed greatly from the quiet serenely acoustic "McCartney". Rather than play all the instruments, the McCartneys went to New York, hired session musicians to help round out a complete production that was found lacking in the last project.
By 1971, the bitter breakup of the Beatles and his ex-band-mates scathing reviews of his first solo outing began to weigh heavily on McCartney's mind and eventually (as it did in Abbey Road) started to leak through his music with very not-so-subtle lyrical references.
It was around this time that McCartney had decided to sue the other three to get out of the existing contract instigated by their then de facto manager Allen Klein. It was no surprise then that the other three saw the various references against them and it would lead to at least John Lennon to respond albeit more direct and mocking vitriol on his next solo album.
Too Many People
Much has already been written about this track even from McCartney himself who admitted some pointed lines were aimed at John Lennon. "You took your lucky break and broke it in two" were the stinging lyrics aimed at Lennon. The track rocks on in a mid-tempo 4/4 rock style and features a dinosaur-wailing guitar solo. McCartney makes good uses of his vocals here especially the reverb-soaked beginning. Linda McCartney can be heard on backing vocals here and the engineer does well to keep her voice at a distance. The track has a certain scolding tone to match its pointed lyrics. Interesting that towards the end there is also a sniping barking as if McCartney loaded up the ideas of how many ways he could snub his nose at Lennon.
A bluesy rock number that belies yet another jibe against Lennon, McCartney decides to lump his three mates into an anatomy of a three-legged canine. On the second verse the analogy is extended to a "moose" fly. The bitterness is almost palpable on this track but because the lyrics were so veiled, the listener laps up the music while the tracks slaps its intended victims in their proverbial faces.
A simple ukulele ditty which McCartney labels the title track, gets introduced first by a quick rolling piano almost seemingly melting into a hint of something sinister before a "take one" announcement to get into the main focus of the song. The ukuleles almost sounds as a course for beginners before being accompanied by a Wurlitzer piano. Linda McCartney's various vocals are reverbed quite nicely here and add an unexpected depth to the track. The outro features a nice matter-of-factly whistle during the fade.
A sentimental fluctuating melodic track that Lennon again thought was about him and upon reviewing the lyrics could be conceived as another "You took your lucky break" theme from "Too Many People". McCartney does well to mix the vocals on this track to give it extra dimension. However the background harmonies while soaringly melodic are a bit contrived, threatening to badly relegate the track to its "Partridge Family" era sound. Interestingly, the higher vocals at the end are very reminiscent of "Penny Lane".
Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey
The crowning achievement of "Ram" not simply because it was released as a single but how it masterfully wove many different segments into a cohesive yet lyrically puzzling song. The track opens with lone vocal entry by McCartney, eventually accompanied by acoustic and bluesy guitars.
It is followed by a beautiful combination of more bluesy guitar with a thundering rainstorm. Add in some faint brass backing and that distinct Beatles cello movement and we are into something very serious here. One of the highlights of the song occur after the telephone ring. McCartney's telephone voice, Linda McCartney's background vocals, and Hugh McCracken bluesy guitar calling all bring a dimensional tone reminiscent of "She's Leaving Home". There is a slight diminish in the choice to sing "Nyah, Nyah.." but one can easily disregard this as the cellos bring everything to the next segment.
There are two other segments - "hands across the water" - a catchy ditty almost screamed and the falsetto "Be A Gypsy" both work off each other before the shuffling fade with the traditional high McCartney "oohs".
Coming off the heavenly rich "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey", one lands with a loud splat with the basic rock track Smile Away. Lyrically deficient, the track is handcuffed here by Linda McCartney's backing vocals and this may partially the fault of the mixing engineer who did not apply reverb with the same caution as on the previous track. Fast forward to Linda's "Cook Of The House" on "Wings Of The Speed Of Sound" for another sorry example.
Heart Of The Country
Country rock around this time dominated the music airwaves. Add to this McCartney's penchant for hiding out on his Scottish farm and the result is a precious hidden gem. Smooth, quaint complete with a vocal/guitar scat, this is McCartney at his best. His vocals swing through this so nicely, Broadway could have come calling.
Monkberry Moon Delight
To place "Monkberry Moon Delight" right after "Heart Of The Country" was a sequencing masterpiece. The previous track's smoothness gives way to the urgent piano-pounding, shrieking McCartney vocal piece. Again, McCartney puts in a soul performance here but the entire track is somewhat diminished and distracted Linda McCartney's vocals. John Lennon's Happy Xmas (War is Over) suffers the same fate with Yoko's shrill backing vocals with the children. Unfortunately, no remastering efforts have been taken to do something with these background vocals to ease the track of this severity. With McCartney's "Little Richard" shouting here in fine form, all is forgiven.
Eat At Home
A rollicking Buddy Holly-like song which almost is a duet with Linda McCartney in the chorus, "Eat At Home" is just plain fun. No serious lyrics, plenty of guitar solos, plucky strumming and hoots and hollers in the background, "Eat At Home" is a lighthearted, early 70's party tune.
Long Haired Lady
It could only be a matter of time before McCartney decided to revisit his ground breaking "Hey Jude" formula and he does so here with another ode to his wife. There is a saccharine romantic charm that is brought out by the guitars in this song during the lead up to the chorus line.
As in some of the previous tracks here, Linda's vocals again seem to grate the track and their sheer presence makes the track sound pretentious due to her being the subject matter. In direct contrast to "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" this track has definitely not aged very well and is doomed to be filed as one of the not so great moments of the early seventies.
The rallying, repetitive chorus singing at the end have neither Hey Jude's momentous build nor its exciting McCartney shrieks which only plummets it further into its mundane misery.
What would a McCartney album be without a proper reprise? This one picks up exactly where it left off on the first side. Quickly, it falls apart into a quick jig with a "Who's that coming around" piece. Interestingly, McCartney was not finished with this little ditty. It would be used yet again to open his 1973's "Red Rose Speedway" on the track "Big Barn Bed".
Back Seat Of My Car
The closing track on "Ram" sees McCartney going back to "Long Medley" of "Abbey Road" for further inspiration. A very touching melody with some good harmonies, McCartney alternates with slower verses, rocking on to the chorus. The annoying thing is that he could not figure out any lyrics for much of the background vocals. Panned to the extreme, they amount to jibberish and really grate the listener especially if equipped with headphones.
Musically the track has some wonderful brass moments which fill out nicely. A shame that McCartney could not complete the song lyrically; perhaps not meeting the required deadline?
The album is frequently cited as a favorite of McCartney fans due to its many diverse tracks. Indeed, McCartney had tightened up his songwriting skills and as a result, there are many glowing moments. The decision to employ studio musicians especially Hugh McCracken, payed dividends by adding and accentuating the strong material that McCartney brought forth.
Sadly, the mixing of Linda McCartney's vocals brought mixed results here. At the very best in "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" her vocals added nicely to the lush sounds. Pretty much elsewhere they debased the quality of McCartney's music that ironically, he had been known to be a stickler about. George Martin once remarked that Linda was no substitute for John Lennon and there are far too many moments on "Ram" to support his claim.