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Paul McCartney
Ram (reissue) Jeremy Allen , May 25th, 2012 07:23

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1971 was a god awful time for music. Acoustic guitars weren’t so much machines to kill nazis as instruments utilised by entrepreneurs hiding behind beards. The pervasive sound of sunshine folk was a prefab sunshine used to power a malignant, corporate agenda, duplicitously simulating a naive hippy dream the protagonists knew had died a death at the end of the 60s.

By this time however, Paul McCartney was so ensconced in conjugal felicity and isolated from what was going on beyond the homey domesticity and tranquility of his farm that the outside world must have seemed like a distant noise. In the 1960s he’d influenced everything in a way he never could have imagined, but having killed the Beatles monster he was free to indulge himself. Having proved everything he needed to prove, his music no longer fed his ambition, and the next decade would see him driven by whimsy and curiosity. As one half of the most successful songwriting partnership the world had ever known, who could argue? He might have lost his chief quality control officer in John Lennon, but Ram is a record that clearly doesn’t concerned itself with public approval.

According to the singer, it was never really meant to see the light of day. McCartney had taken to bed with his wife and not bothered alerting the world’s press like his old partner in crime. Having asked Linda to join his “band”, Ram stands as the only album in his considerable discography credited to Paul and Linda McCartney. The naysayers will complain that Ram is unfocused and sometimes unfathomable, but that’s one of the things to love about it. The sheer ebullience, the devil-may-care attitude taken in the construction of these songs, makes it an album to treasure.

Take ‘Monkberry Moon Delight’ for instance, with its stream-of-consciousness lyrical nonsense (“sat in the attic / piano up my nose” or “when I leave my pajamas to Billy Bupdapest”); it grooves along like some early Tom Waits’ jam, with a hook that by coincidence sounds awfully like Frankie Valli’s ‘Grease’ (though it arrived six years earlier). It’s wild and unfettered, and pot (as McCartney liked to call it) may have played an instrumental part in its composition.

Opener ‘Too Many People’ could have been the first Bond theme tune to slip into cod-reggae, if it wasn’t for arbitrary, throwaway lines like “too many people... losing weight!” On near-title track ‘Ram On’, the DIY nature of the record is best exemplified, as Macca pares everything down to a simple ukulele with whistling and mouth trumpets drenched in echo to give it a commodious and welcoming feel, while ‘Dear Boy’ and the lush ‘The Back Seat Of My Car’ demonstrate the singer’s unerring ability with peripatetic melody; here he proves once again that nobody can write a pretty ballad like Paul McCartney in full flight.

Least successful are the various rock ‘n’ roll jams like ‘3 Legs’ and ‘Heart of the Country’ (the latter of which was the sort of thing that kept Status Quo in bread and butter and Bolivian marching powder for decades). In fact, ‘Why Don’t We Do It In The Road’ from the White Album aside, Lennon was always better at the straight-ahead blues rock number, whereas Macca’s other key influence, dance hall from the 1920s and 30s, was always his strongest suit; and so it proves here. And then there’s ‘Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey’, probably the best known track here; it more than any song signified the way his post-Beatles career would go, with flashes of genius and moments where you sit there and wonder what the bloody hell he’s going on about.

Ram is often described as patchy, but that feels like a harsh summation. It’s a record by a man and woman unburdened, enjoying the happiest days of their lives. It’s full of hope and honesty and goofing around. Unlike so much music from the era, it wasn’t trying to shift units or promote itself as ‘real’ music. In fact Paul McCartney probably doesn’t give a toss if you like it or not.

Kitsune
May 25, 2012 12:52pm

1971 = Master of Reality.

Nuff fuckin' said.

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Jason Taverner
May 25, 2012 1:03pm

I'll say that the writer has his heart in the right place: "The sheer ebullience, the devil-may-care attitude taken in the construction of these songs, makes it an album to treasure." One has to agree with this.

Still, throwing out generalizations such as "1971 was a god awful time for music. Acoustic guitars weren’t so much machines to kill nazis as instruments utilised by entrepreneurs hiding behind beards." without the least bit of substance (i.e. an example or two) to back them up is poor practice if one wants to be taken seriously as a music writer.

And does Quietus not have proofreaders? Not that such elementary errors should make it this far: "...but Ram is a record that clearly doesn’t concerned itself with public approval." not to mention that "Nazis" is a proper noun that requires capitalization.

The final five sentences offer some redemption; may that be your future review-writing model.

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Lizbeth
May 25, 2012 1:09pm

Ram is my favorite McCartney record. He's not only at this best here musically and arrangements-wise but lyrically it's joyful and angry and paranoid, and yes, at times, absolutely silly. I think Ram is his best solo album, though I like McCartney and McCartney II as well. He sounds so loose and free on all of those records, especially on Ram. So much of his stuff after that is best forgotten. It took him 30 years to make another record, 2008's Electric Arguments, that comes close to being as good as any of those.

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Nick Kos
May 25, 2012 1:10pm

I've always loved Heart of the Country. Not heard the rest of the album, but will have to get it now. Great review!

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Lizbeth
May 25, 2012 1:20pm

One fact this review gets wrong: It was McCartney II that was never meant to see the light of day. Ram was always a planned album.

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jeres
May 25, 2012 1:30pm

In reply to Jason Taverner:

I've been taking myself too seriously as a music writer for quite a few years now Jason

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Doctor Doom
May 25, 2012 2:14pm

In reply to Jason Taverner:

Wow, chill out baby.

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Stumpy
May 25, 2012 8:37pm

Did Linda McCartney really have HUGE breasts like that? I'm wholly unconvinced by "Ram" but that horseback ride doesn't like.

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May 26, 2012 4:09am

In reply to Stumpy:

Have no real respect for McCartney's post-Beatles work, most if it is/was shite and his views on pot usage reeks of hypocrisy, but was tempted to watch the vid due to your 'HUGE breasts' comments...song was a bore, but damn she had big ones.

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Jason Taverner
May 26, 2012 6:28am

In reply to jeres:

So I guess that the intent of this review was to counterbalance that tendency.

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Jason Taverner
May 26, 2012 6:32am

In reply to Doctor Doom:

So incisive a comment. "Chill out,baby" succinctly illustrates how the near complete disappearance of standards in contemporary writing is the new normal. Have it your way, by all means.

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Brett
May 26, 2012 8:26am

What hypocrisy? He just quit smoking it. Doesn't mean he's against it.

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Andy
May 26, 2012 12:04pm

Some moronic comments here. Like you've never seen breasts before. Bit pathetic.

Ram is an amazing record -- wildly misjudged in 1971 and now looks increasingly like one of the best solo albums by an ex-Beatle. Mostly it's just a great listen. It's hard to say McCartney is "under rated" given his Beatles history but his solo work certainly is.

As for the pot, he's smoked it most of his life and decided to quit (probably related to his custody issues with the ex-wife). He's spoken out publicly for legalization repeatedly. And now he's 70. Time for someone else to take up that banner.

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Ghost of Maureen O'Hara
May 27, 2012 10:41am

In reply to Andy:

HUGE breasts, Andy. HUGE. Everyone talks about Linda's money, or her photos, or her questionable musicianship. Since I don't care for the music I didn't go further and nobody mentioned her GIANT cans in an age before sports bras. Ululation, brother!

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Steve
May 27, 2012 12:22pm

This is why Pitchfork doesn't allow comments on its reviews: Because most commenters are idiots. Ram, however, is fantastic.

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Herr Besserwisser
Jun 3, 2012 11:37am

Maybe you're thinking of another song, but 'Heart of the Country' isn't a Status Quo type "rock 'n' roll jam". There's no boogie rock in that tune. It's acoustic folk/country pop, man! It's also on of the best tracks on the album.

Other than that, keep on chooglin'.

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Gerard O 'Carroll
Jun 8, 2012 6:29am

I have always loved this record, yeah it's all over the place, with a couple of duds but it's got 'Too Many people', and 'Back seat of my car', two of the best things he ever did, in fact this is about the only post Beatle album of his that I listen to with any regularity. If you haven't heard it have a listen!

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Nick
Aug 15, 2014 12:27pm

Linda was expecting baby number three when that video was made. That's why she looked "huge" Duh!

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