My First Time: Ram by Paul & Linda McCartney

 Friends, this latest one feels as though I’ve been dropped into a soap opera of post-Beatles drama, and I kind of dig it. Paul McCartney and his wife Linda released Ram, Paul’s second non-Beatles studio album in 1971 and despite being popular with the people, the critics tore it to shreds. Of the album, Ringo Starr even said, “I feel sad about Paul's albums ... I don't think there's one tune on the last one, Ram... he seems to be going strange.”

Man, you know shit had gotten weird for Paul when even Ringo was giving him that kind of grief publicly. 

But here’s the thing; what the fuck did people think Paul was going to do? Were they expecting him to keep pumping out Beatles albums by himself? In retrospect, my honest belief is that a lot of people were mad the Beatles broke up and took it out on Paul because he wasn’t the “cool” one. Not cool, man.

Over time, reviews of Ram have gotten softer and more positive to the point that now it’s often viewed as a masterpiece that blazed a trail for future indie pop. Statements like that are above my pay grade (still waiting for that first paycheck, you guys), but to my ears when you listen to Ram outside the context of the post-Beatles drama, it’s a solid album where Paul rubs off a lot of that Beatles polish and stretches into some cool musical places.

Taking the album as a whole, a few things stand out to me as I listen.

1. I love the vibe you get with Paul adding distortion and building a gritty blues-rock feel into some of the songs.

2. Paul’s vocal range is uncanny on this album. He’s all over the place, and yeah maybe it’s kind of weird sometimes, but it’s also damn impressive.

3. I am a big fan of Linda’s backup vocals. It’s totally different from other backing shit you heard then or even now. Sounds to me like she could have sung jazz stuff in the 30s. (The 1930s, that is, not six years into the future.) Reminds me of the time I saw Dr. Jazz and the Jazz Bugs play at Nietzche’s in Buffalo, and one of the bartenders got up and sang with them - with a similar voice to Linda’s - and it was just mind-blowing. Or maybe I was just happy-drunk. Either way, good times.

My favorite song on the album is ‘Monkberry Moon Delight’. Paul screeches the vocals while pounding the piano; with that guitar riff eventually joining in with Linda’s backing vocals to create a really cool and pretty unique sound. This is probably the type of sound that would have eventually been boxed in and tidied up if The Beatles had recorded it, but that would have been a travesty. Lyrically, the whole thing feels like some kind of a hazy drunken stupor brought on by some weird cocktail called “Monkberry Moon Delight”. 

Another song worth calling out is ‘Heart of the Country’. I had never heard this song before, but I wonder if someone had played it for me and not told me it was Sir Paul, if I would have guessed. This one is interesting to put into the context of the time when Paul was essentially saying, ‘screw all this noise, I need some space and privacy to be with my family after years of Beatlemania’. Seems pretty relatable to me, a guy who needs three full days to recover from each hour spent socially with strangers.

I tried to take in Ram without the historical context of the time it was created, but upon reflection, it’s interesting to wonder how many songs have Beatles references. ‘Too Many People’, ‘3 Legs’, ‘Dear Boy’ and ‘Smile Away’ all feature lyrics that you could imagine as slight to moderate digs at his former bandmates. And given what they were saying about the album, there’s little doubt that George, John, and Ringo interpreted things that way. Regardless, Ram has aged extremely well according to many critics, and is definitely worth a listen.

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