Friday 4 July 2008

Paul and Linda McCartney "Ram" (1971) (Revised Review 2015)

You can now buy our e-book 'Smile Away - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of Paul McCartney' by clicking here!

47) Paul And Linda McCartney “Ram” (Apple/EMI, 5/1971)

On which the McCartneys ‘ram on’ despite their critics and find solace in the heart of the country. Woolly thinking?! Read on...

Track Listing: Too Many People/ Three Legs/ Ram On/ Dear Boy/ Uncle Albert-Admiral Halsey/ Smile Away// Heart Of The Country/ Monkberry Moon Delight/ Eat At Home/ Long Haired Lady/ Ram On (Reprise)/ The Back Seat Of My Car 

'We believe that we can't be wrong - woah no no!'

When people sat around discussing what would happen if The Beatles would ever split up - a question the band were always getting asked across the 1960s - few would ever have predicted what did happen: George and Ringo at number one, Lennon howling about his painful drug addictions and McCartney left counting sheep. Whereas John and George couldn't wait to escape the Beatles' shadow and do their own thing and Ringo wasn't all that fussed as long as he still saw the others sometime, it was Paul who lost his sleep over the loss of the band that had been his raison daitre for so much of his life (quite literally - his haunting reminsicence about this period in later life recalls waking up every night shaking for months at an end, unable to switch off again). In the battered post-Beatles days of court-cases and inter-band insults it was Paul who came off worst, with Beatle blame and public hatred directed at McCartney for his perceived 'bossiness' and work drive. But unlike Lennon's sarcastic witticisms directed at his fellow band members Paul drove his colleagues on out of a love for the band rather than a dislike of them and a perfectionist vision of how great The Beatles could stil be even after all they'd done. Macca also got the blame for being the one to 'announce' the split via a badly timed questionairre included in the 'McCartney' album that typically said more than the others had been saying even though they'd been saying it louder - irony of ironies Paul was the one who wanted The Beatles to continue the most (there was also the sense from the others that the band must be over when even Paul said it was true). Without the band to be a perfectionist for and three of his colleagues facing him in a difficult court case (the only means Paul had to stop Allen Klein representing him was to sue his three best friends) it's probably fair to say Paul lost more than other three - or at least realised the loss quicker than they did. The end of the Beatles wasn't an excuse to prove what he was really capable of as it was for George or the end of a creatively restricting time as it was for John but a time for misery, of doubt and stress.

Macca bravely chose the harder, crueller option and fought against the decision in court, causing the other three Beatles (even Ringo, uncharacteristically) to fight back hard, each of them in turn dismissing Paul’s hard work over the last few years and questioning his talents along the way. Considering both that Paul under-took this brave move to protect the Beatles rather than dissolve them (in his eyes Klein was a monster who would rob the Beatles blind and had already done unspeakable things to the band’s Apple organisation – whether true or not Klein did indeed go to prison for a variety of business sins in the 1970s) and that Paul had enjoyed a special loving relationship with the public, even more than his sometimes-sullen and unpredictable colleagues, the sudden public backlash against McCartney really took him by surprise and led to both he and new wife Linda backing off from the public eye. The two of them fought a lonely dignified fight throughout 1970-71 while the other three Beatles fought publicly, noisily and messily, in Lennon’s case in almost every national newspaper in existence at the time. Macca had a right to feel angry in this period, what with the bitterness of the last Beatles days, where everything Macca had worked so hard for over the last decade turned into his friends’ bitterness and public resentment in one fell swoop. Though you sense that had Lennon been in the same situation he'd wouldn't have cared less what other thought of him and Harrison would have shrugged it off with a sense of worldly duty, McCartney always cared what people thought about him and the latest turn of events mere years after he'd been at the height of his fame and his powers was a major blow.

Even more than on 'McCartney' it's that bitterness and frustration that overpowers 'Ram', an album that's caught between an underlying sadness and a fiestiness. Chances are anything Paul would have released in this unhappy time would have been savaged by the press (even if the album still sold well thanks to a loyal fanbase, even if they now had four albums every year to fork out for rather than one or two) and 'Ram' was crucified mercilessly. However there was a sense amongst Paul's loyalest fans even at the time that actually this album was something special and it's a thought that's grown with every passing generation, to the point where most McCartney fans who don't choose 'Band On The Run' as their favourite Macca moment tend to go for this one. Though often given one or two star reviews on release, 'Ram' has grown in stature with every passing generation and each new re-issue, to the point where it now regularly gets five. Part of that is clearly the passing of time - it's hard to be mad at someone for the break-up of a band forty years ago when we know so much more about why and how they split and the fact that of all four McCartney has remained the most approachable Beatle, the keenest to reflect on the old days and live up to his part in the 'family firm'. However, 'Ram' is also more than that: because of the once-in-a-lifetime circumstances that went into making it the record draws out a quite different McCartney to the one we're used to hearing. While Paul would never answer back in a libellous snide way that John so happily did there's a toughness to 'Ram' that's missing from most of his other records, an 'I'll show you defiance' that's often there in the music and occasionally in the lyrics too. There are few songs in the McCartney Collection tougher than opening 'Too Many People', which gets as close to thumping Lennon as he dares and starts off with a line generally heard as 'piss off, yeah' (though according to the lyric sheet it's 'piece of cake'). Except perhaps 'Three Legs', the witty retort to misguided press speculation that the other Beatles were still friends and it was only McCartney who was a problem and who could easily be replaced ('you may still be a greyhound but good luck running with a leg missing' is Paul's cackled retort). Or 'Dear Boy', long seen as another icy attack on Lennon but actually a song full of digs at Linda's ex for not realising what a good thing he was on to when he married her. Even on the other more ambiguous there's an underlying current of fury: far from the usual thumbs-aloft sunny pop optimism we get an inverse song that all but spoofs Macca's usual pose (the edgy and aggressive nonsense song 'Smile Away' in which smiling sounds like the last thing on his mind), the wild and desperate nonsense song 'Monkberry Moon Delight' in which Paul sounds close to tears despite singing about a made-up yoghurt and bitterest of all the sad and lonely voice that admits that all the Beatles song of sunshine are over and 'I believe I'm gonna rain!' Even the usual love songs come with an added kick on this album: 'Eat At Home' is the hardest rocking of all of Paul's many love songs for Linda, while 'Do you love me like you know you ought to do? Or is this the only thing you want me for?' complains 'Long Haired Lady'; 'We believe that we can't be wrong!' triumphantly states 'Back Seat Of My Car'. 'This is crazy and maybe it's not like me!' Paul desperately cries during the opening track as a difficult year brings out a side of him he never even knew he had. Though we still get the typically majestic McCartney melody, lyrical whimsy and solid and often spectacular production skills 'Ram' comes with an added bite too.

Half of Ram is worryingly downbeat for a McCartney album, full of lyrics about ‘ramming on’ against the obstacles in the ex-Beatles’ way, sung through gritted teeth and only partially disguised lyrics about how bitter the man feels about losing so much so quickly when – in his eyes at least – he was the only one who cared enough about the Beatles to brave the court-rooms. Lennon, especially, hangs over this album like a dark shadow, with McCartney almost-but-not-quite repaying John’s scathing attacks of him in the music press of the time with weary half-hearted olive branches of peace mixed in amongst attacks on John and Yoko so vague as to be almost gentlemanly in their reply (when you read them as lyrics anyway—hear the performances on the record and you’re amazed again at just how hurt Macca’s vocal sounds; he’ll never be quite this angry on record ever again, even if the targets of his wrath are vague). 'Too Many People' is the McCartney arrow let fly in the battle of the Beatles that included John's 'How Do You Sleep?' and George's 'Living In The Material World' and while it's characteristically gentler than either slingshot, it's also the single most damning and vitriolic McCartney song until the Heather Mills years. Though ignored at the time against the better-selling 'Imagine' and 'Living In The Material World' by John and George, 'Ram' has held its own nicely, dating better than either. In its own way, Ram is every bit as eclectic as George’s set and as soul-bearingly truthful as John’s album, full of trivia and barbed comments concerning the immediate Beatles post-split and covering everything from homegrown acoustic beauties with just a single vocal and guitar for company to epic landscapes filled with mammoth choirs and orchestras – often on the same track.

One silver lining in the gloomy Beatles cloud was that it allowed the natural country-loving Paul to follow his naturally country-loving wife back to nature after several Jane Asher-involved years where Paul was The Beatles' most natural townie. One of Paul's odder but yet most significant investments with his Beatles money was a Scottish farmhouse where he and Linda spent their honeymoon in 1969. Several hundred miles away geographically from London, the big city that was now associated with sadness and frustration, but many million miles further emotionally, it was exactly what Paul needed to rest and recharge his batteries. Never one to do things half-fold Paul even developed a taste for farming, inheriting his own collection of sheep from the previous owner and proudly displaying one of his rams on the album front cover as The Beatles might have once showed off their fashionable new jackets or a collection of their heroes watching them play. (The wonderfully home-made cover is the antithesis of the elaborate mid-period Beatles album sleeves and -like the home-made art of predecessor McCartney - has a real ‘two of us against the world’ quality). Many casual McCartney fans get the wrong idea about this album and—taking one look at the cover and knowing Paul and Linda's environmental causes—think it’s a series of songs about ship-shearing and pigsty mucking and the like. Ram isn't actually like that; only the delightful soothing tonic 'Heart Of The Country' makes reference to Paul's new hobby and otherwise only 'Three Legs' mentions an animal (that wonky doggy again). The real spirit of Ram, though, is juxtaposing the innocence and beauty of the countryside with the now suddenly dull-and-grey journeys into town to fight Beatle court battles. The countryside is 'real', honest, upfront, good for the soul, full of love - the town is a place of smutty car backseat-fumblings, capitalist foodstuffs and too many people preaching practises. Though not the first musician to ever make the connection (country singers had been making it since time immemorial),Paul was amongst the first rock musicians to do so (certainly the first with as much fame as he had back in 1971) and without knowing it started something of a trend of rock and roll stars discovering the beauty of the country for themselves. It's no coincidence that the animal theme will be in Paul's work for some time to come, through the next album 'Wildlife' through 'Little Lamb Dragonfly' and through to 1993's 'Looking For Changes'.

Tying up all these themes rather cleverly is the title, 'Ram'. This is a clever double pun that does't often get the credit it deserrves, referring to both Paul's newfound passion for the countryside and the ram of his own he's handling on the front cover and the album theme of overcoming obstacles - of 'ramming on' through situations even when they become tough. Finally, there seems to have been a third reason for calling the title track 'Ram On' - one which we guessed at during the first draft of this article but Paul then confirmed as part of the 'deluxe' set packaging (Yay - so at least one of my 'guesses' on this site turned out to be true!) The de facto title track is indeed a sweetly nostalgic tip of the hat to the Beatles’ earliest days, times that Paul must have been remembering fondly at the time in contrast to their later bitter years, when the band were as similarly unknown and unprepared for a new musical career as McCartney was at the time of recording this album. You see, when the band were still known as the ’Silver Beetles’ each member picked out a rockstar pseudonym, in common with most beat groups of the day (that’s how Richard Starkey got re-christened Ringo Starr during his pre-Beatles spell with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes). Paul chose the name ’Paul Ramone’, only one letter away from the title track of this album, in the belief that it would make him appear more ’mysterious’ and might be a hit with the ladies ('Ramone, give your heart to somebody' - Beatle fans The Ramones liked the sound of it too and nicked it as the name of their band at the end of the decade!) You can see why having a nom de plume would have appealed to him at this point: in an unfortunate parallel with the imaginary 'Sgt Peppers' band 'created' as a half-psueodnym because the band were getting 'too popular', Paul wants to be anybody except an ex-Beatle and anyone but himself.
Interestingly the release of 'Ram' also saw Paul and Linda beating John and Yoko at something: a mainstream (as opposed to 'avant garde') record credited to both of them. Though Linda plays a key part on every McCartney album up till her death in 1998 as part muse, part musician and part confidence-boosting sounding board, she's never more vaulable than here and it's sweet and entirely in character that Paul decided to reward her for her hard work with a co-credit, even with the invitable sniffy replies from those who complained about her lack of experience ('She's no replacement for John' close confidant George Martin said to one journalist, while McCartney's publishers decided to sue on the grounds that she'd never written a song before). Even when it was revealed that the co-credits on some songs was partly out of necessity (the Apple court case meant most of Paul's income was frozen, but as his wife wasn't directly involved in the case her income was free) Paul clearly gave her the album co-credit out of love. Linda's is a key second voice across 'Ram'. Sometimes providing glorious Beach Boys style harmonies both of them loved (and inventing more than a few of the lines herself), recorded over several painstaking hours in the studio. Sometimes she's playing the Lennon role, the sour kick that interrupts Paul's dreamy reverlries and pulls him down to Earth (none of his love songs have ever had his partner answering back before 'Long Haired Lady') and it's partly Linda whose responsible for Ram's delightful bite. However she's also responsible for a lot of the love and 'Ram' is full of some of the best McCartney love songs fro her, written at a time when he needed her more than ever. Linda also co-designed the packaging, putting her photographic career to good use alongside some Macca doodles (which feature two pointed contrasting album motifs; the scratched initials LILY - not some long lost relative as some Beatlefans presumed but 'Linda I Love You' shortened to be more cryptic in keeping with this smokescreen-filled album and a picture of two beetles attacking one another, alongside a picture of daughter Heather's teeth (don't ask); Lennon - who inevitably said he hated this album though like me he seems to have saved most of his ire for the song that doesn't fit 'Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey - replied by including a picture in 'Imagine' of him wrestling with a pig in a pointed spoof of 'Ram').

Some other individuals who never get the credit they deserve for this album are the session musicians. Realising that he probably couldn't get away with another home-made album, Paul hired the best he could find at short notice - and unlike some line-ups of Wings got lucky first time. Guitarists Dave Spinoza and Hugh McCracken play some terrific pieces across this album, alternating between their lines as part of the band and as the piercing wild shriek that Paul clearly longs to sing but is afraid of letting loose on. With so few session records around we don't know quite which one played on what, but whoever performed the hreartwrenching solo on 'Too Many People' which translates all that's being left unsaid into one huge blast of noise and agony deserves a medal. The drummer is Denny Seiwell, the only player who agreed to sign up to McCartney's idea of Wings, although he's at his best here with time to rehearse and nail these songs compared to the ad hoc 'Wildlife' or the over-produced parts of 'Red Rose Speedway'. 'Ram' is an album that desperately needs to work as an ensemble piece because its full of so many layers and things being left unsaid and if any of the players had pulled less than their weight it could have easily ended in tragedy (ironically it's much more of a band album than Wings' debut 'Wildlife', which leaves the band waiting in the 'wings' for much of the album).

One last point before we finish: so geared up were Paul and Linda for this album that 'Ram' could have easily have been a double. As well as the 'Another Day/Oh Woman Oh Why?' single taped at these sessions and released at the 'tail' end of 1970 there are some extra-curricular songs intended for a Rupert The Bear animated film (revived again in 1979 and shrunk to the length of an animated short in 1984), an early version of B-side 'Little Woman Love', two songs that will end up on 'Red Rose Speedway'  and so aren't strictly by 'Wings' at all ('Get On The Right Thing' and, typically, the animal song 'Little Lamb-Dragonfly')and a whole host of outtakes including the noisy jam session 'Rode All Night' and the playful 'Hey Diddle'. The 'Ram' deluxe set could have been even fuller! P.S. You might have to mortgage your house to buy it, but Look out too for the ridiculously rare Thrillington LP (or CD if you’re really lucky) where Macca himself masquerades as Percy Thrillington, a mysterious classical conductor who decided to make his own easy listening version of the whole of the Ram album one day (though the wool pulled over people's eyes didn't last for too long). This album doesn’t bear repeated listenings unless you really want to hear what a James Last version of 'Monkberry Moon Delight' might have sounded like and even Macca got itchy feet, delaying it's release until as late as 1977. However hearing Macca’s classic tunes without the sometimes confusing words to go with them shows what a terrific, neglected bunch of melodies they are, especially side two. It's also all part of an integral reason why Paul's head is different to most musicians: it's being able to hear albums in these different ways at once that's enabled him to release high-falluting classical works weeks apart from ground-breaking 'Fireman' improvisations some years - interspersed with a cartoon soundtrack for kids. 'Ram' isn't the obvious candidate for this treatment in the Wings canon by any means given that its a shade rockier and more rock-orinetated than most (the Mardi-Gras filled 'Venus and Mars' sounds as if it would have suited the brass feel more, while the ballad-heavy reflective 'London Town' might have worked well too) but even 'Thrillington's arrangement have their moments. P.P.S. You might still have to mortgage your house to buy it but since writing the first draft of this review 'Thrillington' has at last been re-issued - as part of the pricey deluxe re-issue of 'Ram' with a host of extras and some gloriously fitting handmade inserts tied up with bits of string.

In the stormy climate of the first post-Beatles years you could forgive Macca for running away, becoming a monk and never touching a musical instrument again.  Instead Macca and the new Mrs Macca went back to the drawing board and sacrificed the sweet but rather tiring home-madeness of the album McCartney for a return to writing ‘proper’ songs, putting their all into 'Ram' despite knowing that however much of a masterpoiece they came up with the world wouldn't see it that way. Compared to the breadth of All Things Must Pass and the naked honesty of Lennon/Plastic Ono Band its easy to see why both McCartney and Ram became such a scapegoat for Beatle critics who thought Macca had lost it. Yet if you like the man’s music – and boy is there a lot of things about it to like, whatever Macca’s current cultural standings – then Ram is a lovely album, full of witty lyrics and timeless melodies all played with the sweet bit of polish that brings Macca haters such contempt but causes shivers of beauty in his fans. Again, Ram is a two-headed beast. Half of this animal is fascinatingly oblique and hard-to-follow for a McCartney album, with Paul hiding his attacks on his fellow Beatles over layers of confusing word-association poetry quite unlike anything else in his prolific back catalogue. But the other half of Ram is Paul at his most deliciously honest and intimate, telling us about the delights of home and countryside like a new religious convert and featuring some of his most moving and genuine love songs to new wife and saviour Linda. Cryptic, funky, catchy and moving; Ram is not the sort of album that casual Beatlemaniacs will ever take to immediately, but for those of us who genuinely like Macca’s solo writing and appreciate both the home-spun charm of its compositions and its highly-sheened production gloss, then you will welcome this album with open arms as it gradually becomes one of your oldest and dearest friends. Half baa-rmy 'Ram' may be, but it's also 100% baa-rilliant.
The Songs:

Defensiveness is the key word for this album, with even Macca’s happiest songs tinged with a ‘well, why shouldn’t I be happy?’ attitude. Opener [17] Too Many People is probably the best example of that, a sneering snarling song with Macca treading on Lennon’s territory with its I Am The Walrus-like cryptic verses. Many people see the song as a half-hearted attack on Lennon himself (‘too many people preaching practices’ sounds very JohnandYoko for instance), although Macca still has too much loyalty to his old partner to fight him directly and the end result of the song is more one of the ex-Beatle letting off steam in general than aiming it in any particular direction. Whatever their target, these lyrics are fascinating, full of lines that should make sense but somehow don’t and by the end of the song even McCartney is forced to admit ‘this is crazy and maybe its not like me’ – the ‘maybe’ being the operative word here with Macca still lost and unsure of the future or how he should fight back. A session musician (either Hugh McCracken or Dave Spinozza, annoyingly the otherwise delightful album packaging isn’t very helpful) brightens up what is quickly becoming rather repetitive track with a terrific guitar solo near the song’s end, mimicking all of the narrator’s wounded pride and suppressed pride. This towering solo, which keeps taking left and right turns seemingly at random through the song’s complicated key structure and masking it sound easy, is one of the album’s highest points and a strong candidate for best solo from this whole album archive list of recordings, piercing in its anger and yet remaining fully in keeping with this most melodic of albums.

[18] Three Legs keeps up the cryptic, eery atmosphere with another notably Lennonish, tongue-in-cheek vocal and a tune leaping about continually between being sinister and being playful. The ‘three legs’ is sometimes said to be another sneer at the Beatles who are said by McCartney to be ‘lost’ without him - their ‘fourth leg’ - the band’s late-period driving force and coordinator around to help them out; chances are it just sounded like a nice fun phrase to sing. Then again, the lyrics – laughing at the narrator’s competitors whose pets have missing legs and cannot run as fast as his own ‘creative muse’ – certainly sound like more of McCartney’s defensive ‘I did all the hard work and my band-mates did nothing’ feeling in the early 70s. Even though the song itself is probably fun childish nonsense, there’s no getting away from the very real menace in the recording: McCartney’s vocal has never sounded more sarcastic or scathing and the manner in which he sings the ‘when I thought you was my friend but you let me down’ lyric is the musical dictionary definition of saddened hurt and wounded pride. Curious, bitty and unfinished, Three Legs at least sounds as if its autobiographical and remains one of the most fascinating enigmas in the McCartney solo canon, as well as one of the most uncharacteristic tracks its creator ever made. 

[19a] Ram On is the single best song ever written for the ukulele (a relatively short category I know), a short acoustic song about battling through obstacles because you will get the one you love as a reward. How fitting that Ram’s almost-title track should sum up both the album’s themes of difficulties and beauty. Obviously inspired by Linda, whose glorious harmonies do much to enhance this track’s production as well as inspiring its subject matter, it’s a lovely peaceful sojourn amongst these often weary-sounding songs on the album’s opening side. Nice as the main part of the song is, with a beautifully solemn and regretful McCartney vocal, it’s overshadowed by the beautiful orchestral-sounding keyboard phrase that’s improvised over the song’s beginning; this bit is so ear-catching its crying out to become a song in its own right. Also, what’s all this fuss in the press recently about Macca learning to play a mandolin, with everyone getting in a hoo-ha because Paul plays one on the weakest track of his last album Memory Almost Full (2007) – he already knew how to play one on this track 36 years earlier! Anorakky note:  Ram On’s work-in-progress state is reinforced by the fact that, over the fade of the reprise version of this song, Macca improvises a snatch of yet another track – this will go on to become Big Barn Bed, the opening track of the Wings album Red Rose Speedway in 1973 (’Whose that coming round that corner?’ - the answer, for those of you who haven’t bought Speedway yet, is ’Can it be my friend, sleeping in a big barn bed?’ Bet you never guessed that lyric!)

[20] Dear Boy is Macca back in creepy mode, with a buried vocal that sounds uncharacteristically bitter. The words are full of more cryptic images and ideas, though again they seem to be pointed at someone – probably Lennon, although this song is another one of this album’s songs caught neatly between uncontrolled anger and betrayal and the singer’s growing love for new wife Linda. The lyric essentially finds the narrator, full of pride about his widening horizons and new beautiful girlfriend, telling an old rival to get lost and that ‘you never knew what you had found’ – an uncharacteristically nasty and bitter theme for McCartney who again sounds much more like Lennon on this track than his normal warm self. This song got another twist when the Daily Mail revealed a few years back that Linda may or may not have had an affair with John Lennon and may have chosen between him and Paul only after a lot of heart-searching – if true, ands truth isn’t exactly something the Mail specialises in these days, you could have knocked me down with a feather, as Macca put it on the last track. Nevertheless the song does seem to be making some sort of comparison between the narrator’s marriage and some other coupling, which given the close proximity of the Lennons and McCartneys (both couples married in 1969 just a few days apart) makes for interesting reading. Surprisingly uncharitable, this song sports another cracking tune but the snarled lyrics are mixed too low to hear and sadly aren’t all that rewarding when you work out what they are anyway.

[21] Uncle Albert/ Admiral Halsey is the one song that everyone knows from this album and, well, that’s a shame because it’s certainly not the best. A gloriously atmospheric opening and a return to the Abbey Road-medley in the positively glowing orchestration (check out the tricky Ringo-ish drum pattern which is especially thrilling) can’t make up for one of Paul’s emptiest lyrics that never quite tell us what the narrator is apologising for (is he apologising to the public here for apparently ‘breaking up the Beatles’, despite not being too sure what exactly he should be apologising for?) The sudden switch in tune and tempo in the song’s middle section leading into an equally empty third section would be really annoying if the tune wasn’t so effortlessly brilliant – as it is, its still mildly irritating because of the pointlessness of both the lyrics and the lack of anything connecting it to the song’s first half. Admiral Halsey seems like a daft but nice old codger, but like many of McCartney’s daft old codgers his talk of going to sleep in the bath and eating butter pies are confusing rather than intriguing and the tune isn’t sufficiently interesting enough to make you want to pay close attention anyway. Alas the most interesting portion of this whole song lyrically – the glorious chant of ‘hands across the water, heads across the sky’ which could have made for a fine charity single – is lost amongst the coming-and-going vocals and single-line characters portrayed by Paul and Linda in an array of funny voices that make the whole piece sound like some bad 1960s musical (think the gormless and pointless Hair rather than the glorious and magical Godspell). Strong on atmosphere but low on ideas, Uncle Albert is the sound of McCartney trying to remember how he achieved his former segmented glories such as the Abbey Road medley – and not quite getting it right. Alas, McCartney was to tinker with this bizarre medley format for much of the 70s and ruined several of his perfectly good half-cooked songs in the process.

Side one then rocks out with a thrilling return to 50s doo-wop in [22]  Smile Away; again its another cryptic, aggressive sounding track, but here the weird lyrics actually benefit the song. Macca, the true man-of-a-thousand-voices, digs out one of his better rock stylings here, a surprisingly deep-throated growl compared to his earlier higher-pitched Beatles rockers, which barks out the song with carefree abandon, all juxtaposed with Linda’s delightfully high-pitched backing. The chord change near the end where the backing stops but the vocals just keep on going, kicking the song right back round to the intro, is classic Macca, turning the ordinary into the extraordinary without a second thought. Fun and carefree though it is, however, there’s still an element of menace luring behind Smile Away – the distorted single guitar note phrase doesn’t sound that fun for starters – and like much of the album McCartney’s smile doesn’t sound genuine; its only there for show and the narrator is smiling only through gritted teeth and pain. A glorious arrangement, with Beach Boys-ish criss-crossing vocals, fuzz guitar and rattling percussion, makes what is in truth an average song sound like one of the best things on the album. 

Side two begins somewhat more peacefully, with Macca’s first obvious ode to his new life with Linda on their Scottish farm. [23] Heart Of The Country is a lovely simple song, miles away from the complex things The Beatles were doing at the end of their career, but Paul’s lovely vocal and – for once on this album – his sheer delight at escaping from the rat race are a pleasure to hear. No one can write the sort of glorious perfectly-formed cyclical melodies that Paul does and this talent is at its best here – three separate sections of differing tempos and keys somehow blend together to make up a glorious whole that’s even more than the sum of its glorious parts and yet the song still sounds deliciously simple despite its complexity. The lyrics are especially basic – Macca doesn’t even bother singing any words in the song’s middle eight and scats his way through the song in a delightful, playful manner – and simply tell us how desperate the narrator is to get away and escape his problems in the heart of the country. Interestingly, this song is the ’heart of the album’, appearing in the middle spot on the record and covering all of Ram’s themes head on. There are two particularly interesting lines here. The first is ‘want a horse, got a sheep, want to get me a good night’s sleep’ where the wail on the second line makes it clear that the narrator is praising the countryside only as a tonic to his troubles. The second is the line about the country being where the ‘holy’ people go, as if McCartney felt the ‘town’ and its material curses was the opposite of the spiritual pleasure he derived from the country (thus George Harrison’s anti-Beatle riposte ‘John and Paul live in the material world’ from the same year as Ram is an attack that is even more unfair than Lennons).

[24] Monkberry Moon Delight is a slightly more sinister remake of Smile Away, as if the eeriness of that track has finally broken through completely and McCartney can’t keep it at bay any longer. Macca’s at the limit of his rock growl here and his pleading, desperate vocal and tightly spiralling guitar riff are so intense that its hard to remember the words he’s singing are yet more woolly nonsense, displaying a rather neurotic distaste for some food source, possibly a yoghurt (have a look in the Blackbird Singing book of lyrics if you don’t believe me; what on earth is this gloriously messy song all about, you cats and kittens?!) The furthest out into surreal fragmented poetry McCartney has written so far in his 50-odd album career, there’s no denying this track sounds like its meant to be about something very real – from the eerie unchanging ‘bah-bah’ backing to McCartney’s almost tearful vocal, this song seems to resonate somewhere in Macca’s psyche but again I’ll be darned if I know why it does. Once more, though, the silly nonsense of the lyrics actually support the track’s atmosphere, making for another one of those Ram album tracks where McCartney wants to vent his anger but is too gentlemanly to say who he is attacking, but so strong are his feelings that he fights back in spirit if not in words. Linda’s backing is again spot-on, adding a harsh brash quality to the harmonies that contrasts nicely with her husband’s equally brash roar and Paul’s comic role-play of voices at the end, with his underdog ‘Harry’ character (long a McCartney favourite, mentioned in both his Broad Street film and in one or two early Beatles radio broadcasts) sipping Monkberry Moon Delight despite the apparently negative and paranoid effects of it on the song’s hapless narrator.

[25] Eat At Home is yet another return to cryptic rockabilly, but this time the mood is happier than before and another glimpse into ‘life with Linda’, with Macca obviously enjoying her cooking skills. The mood is infectious and delightfully retro with Paul putting on his best 50s voice and Linda grooving like her favourite 1950s rock and roll records. Typically McCartney, he spins his bed-bound 'lost' years into a positive, where he can enjoy the delights of eating in bed. There really isn’t much depth to this song at all– and you certainly can’t believe its creators spent long in crafting it – but its rough and ready thrown-togetherness only adds to the charm with only a 'don't do that' refrain that doesn't seem as if it really fits. A curious mix of Humble Pie boogie and Buddy Holly pop, its the antithesis of Lennon’s later ‘comeback’ song I’m Steppin’ Out – here the McCartneys are very much celebrating the joys of staying in. Bizarrely some countries (though Not Britain or America) released this as the single - the only one on the album that sounded less like one than 'Uncle Albert' or 'Back Seat Of My Car'!

[26] Long Haired Lady finally sees a return to the grandiose half of Macca’s character after half-an-hour’s worth of gentle simplicity and this song is a stunning medley of five or six different sections, all of them gorgeous in their own right. This one sounds again as if it was very much written with Linda in mind, but if so it seems to be a terribly early song in their relationship, with Macca trying to quieten his short-term doubts and working out whether this new person in his life will be there longer than the others (Macca had several girlfriends in the post-Jane Asher months – Linda was by far his strongest attraction but she was hardly the only woman in his life at the time). The heartfelt Hey Jude singalong of ‘love is long’, repeated again at the end of the song, seems to be Macca gradually coming to the conclusion that he’s made the right choice and that this relationship is the one that will last the longest and that this is more than just a short-term fling. Fittingly, Paul and Linda’s harmonies sound tailor made for each other in the song’s chorus and the fact that they’re singing a song of devotion to each other over and over as if in a hypnotised state makes for one of the most truly romantic moments on this list, with the voice of confidence suddenly overshadowing the voice of doubt in its narrator’s head. However, McCartney still teases us with the song, going back over old ground a second time (‘well well well’ he sings in a fair mimick of Lennon on his first solo record—see review no 43), before Linda herself questions ‘do you love me like you know you ought to do’ – suggesting McCartney is still making up his mind whether indeed Linda was his soul-mate or just a very badly needed, supportive friend. The song ends gloriously, however, returning to the simple chorus which this second time around plays on for a full minute, with the vocalists getting ever more sure of their devotion every time they sing that ‘love is long’. Paul may well have been inspired by Brian Wilson’s Caroline, No on this track – its long been acknowledged that the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds albums is one of Paul’s all-time favourites, particularly in this troubled period of the ex-Beatle’s life (just as Rubber Soul – the more folky, American version of the album that is – is one of Brian’s). Then again, this song shares more than a few similarities with Quicksilver Messenger Service's song of the same name (released in 1970 on the album 'What About Me' - writer David Freiberg is in fact in the process of joining Jefferson Airplane when 'Ram' came out). Taking up on the elder Wilson’s lead that long hair equates to childlike innocence, Paul proudly presents Linda as his ‘long haired lady’, the person in his life who will remain the same and keep the same standards through thick and thin – something Wilson and Tony Asher were beginning to doubt about their respective spouses at the time of writing their song, however attracted and compatible they still felt they were (something Macca may have felt mirrored his time with Jane Asher – she did have to cut her hair for some theatre engagement she took against her partner’s wishes at about the time the pair were breaking up I believe, though I’m not positive about that). Mixing the bare-bones simplicity of his early solo career and the epic arranger of his Beatles past, McCartney pulls off one of his first solo classics with this track and Long Haired Lady remains one of his most under-rated pieces, gloriously simple, gloriously complex, gloriously Macca.

Next there's a quick, shorter reprise of the de facto title track [19b] 'Ram On'. A lot of messing about with the two versions had led me to the momentous conclusion that they were originally part of the same take - and now a bootlegger has confimed it for me by finding the original take (which simply runs from the one to the other where the fade comes in!) Not that this second verse-long version adds a lot you don't already know from the original (although it does contain a 'sneak preview of the opening lines of 'Big Barn Bed' from the 'Red Rose Speedway' album on the fade who will be coming round that corner in two years' time...)

comes a second epic, the album closer [27] Back Seat Of My Car. Nowadays in the year 2000-odd, Macca too often writes empty songs about nothing accompanied by a beautiful but half-baked melody and leaves it at that; back in 1971 he embellishes his I’m-not-quite-sure-where-I’m-going-with-this sketch with counter-melodies and chord changes galore until the song sounds simply stupendous. In truth, Back Seat Of My Car makes even less sense than Monkberry Moon Delight, but that’s not what it sounds like when you hear this song rather than analyse it. Overdubbed Maccas come and go, each unique voice singing their own phrases for a line or two at a time, overlapping each other without ever distracting from the melody while a full orchestral plods on behind. A surprise failure as a single, it’s still vastly superior to the American choice of single (Uncle Albert) and is just as quirky and commercial in its own sweet way. Another very Beach Boysy track (Paul does a great impression of Mike Love on his bass vocals here), it quickly develops from the young-teenagers-in-love image of two lovers in the back seat of the narrator’s car to something much deeper and serious. What’s forgotten by most Beatles commentators is that this song is effectively ‘The ballad of Paul and Linda’, telling in Lennonesque fashion how the pair first got properly acquainted. Early in their courtship the pair used to get in their car and drive nowhere in particular at Linda’s urging, just to ‘get lost’ and escape society for a few hours (this must have been in stark contrast to Paul’s ‘society engagement’ with up-and-coming actress Jane Asher—these two spent their rare nights together at the theatre or in the company of kindly societal bigwigs). Two Of Us from Let It Be is another song on a similar theme (and not about Paul and John as oft supposed); indeed this song nearly became a Beatles classic too as Paul played a rough version of it at these same Beatle sessions. Paul too mentions ‘her daddys’ song’ of warning, which might be perhaps the fact that he had to convince Linda’s father Lee Eastman to let his daughter be his wife (coming from a rich family herself, Linda’s father was less impressed by the ex-Beatle’s wealth than most would-be dads and was already naturally concerned about Linda’s future, after her first failed marriage and her hand-to-mouth existence as a single mum before meeting Paul). Like the last track, though, the lovers are sure (ish) of themselves now and won’t take no for an answer. A clever fake ending merely adds to the genius of the song, while the closing lines with Paul and Linda yelling ‘we believe that we can’t be wrong’ at the top of their lungs several times over is lovely, with the pair taunting their nay-sayers in a much more friendly and positive way than McCartney’s rather less charitable musical colleagues. A moving moment for McCartney-philes everywhere, this song remains another of Paul’s most ambitious and under-rated recordings. 

Macca might not be baring his soul with heartbreaking honesty like Lennon, he might not be writing spiritual epics like Harrison and thank goodness he isn't murdering 1930s standards like Ringo, but what he is doing here in his early solo career is writing and recording the sort of songs he does best and he’s right to stick to his strengths. Even if you don’t like this album at first, ram on, because in the great tradition of Wings albums, it’s a grower. Macca has made several classy albums since this one, many of them full of ‘proper’ songs filled with all of the weight and imagery The Beatles used to do in their sleep counting sheep, but none of them sound closer to the heart of the man himself than this charming, simpler effort. Delightful, even if its homespun philosophy and laidback grooves are the result of dark and difficult days.

'Wings At The Speed Of Sound' (1976)

'London Town' (1978)

'Back To The Egg' (1979)

'McCartney II' (Original Double Album) (1980)

'Tug Of War' (1982)

'Pipes Of Peace' (1983)

'Press To Play' (1986)

'Flowers In The Dirt' (1989)

'Driving Rain' (2001)
'Chaos and Creation In The Back Yard' (2005)

'Memory Almost Full' (2006)

'New' (2013)

The Best Unreleased McCartney/Wings Recordings

Surviving TV and Film Footage

Live/Wings Solo/Compilations/Classical Albums Part One: 1967-1987

Live/Wings/Solo/Compilations/Classical/Unreleased Albums Part Two: 1987-1997

Live/Wings Solo/Compilations/Classical Albums Part Three: 1997-2015

Non-Album Recordings Part One 1970-1984

Non-Album Recordings Part Two 1985-2015

Essay: Not So Silly Love Songs

Key Concerts and Cover Versions

1 comment:

  1. It may reflect my mind being in the gutter, but I have come, over the years, to suspect that "Eat At Home" is not about eating FOOD in bed.