Paul and Linda McCartney ‘Ram’ : album review

 

Paul and Linda McCartney 

‘Ram’

Album review

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Defying rock’s dated notion of cool, Macca McFab’s second post Beatles outing really stands the test of time with its melodic, playful and cleverly  stripped down songs predating indie lo-fi by decades. 

Cool is the most overrated component of rock roll. It blinds the fools and sends the insercure up grubby back alleys of music taste.  The gunslinger, wife beater, pretend revolutionary cool at the heart of rock n roll was always a con. A PR stunt in dark sunglasses with darker drugs that somehow got mixed up with a seventies notion of cool. Of course that world has its moments but it’s not the only story in town. Being a fan of Paul McCartney in the seventies was a tricky business – after all he was not cool, he was not complex prog for boys to feel clever appreciating, he was not matinee idol gone glitz like Bowie and Roxy cool, he was not a pretend Che Guevara…he was just himself and his prodigious pop talent. He lack of cool was a joke that ran on through the decades – who can forget Alan Partridge claiming that ‘Wings are only the band that the Beatles could have been.’ It’s a great line of course but pop music is a bit more insidious than that – it has a habit of slipping and a sliding past your hastily constricted castles of cool and getting under your skin and Ram  is an example of that.  

At the time of release it was pelted with insults and put downs by the leather kicked, sunglasses after dark nocturnal rock press who saw Macca as the villain of the peace. In the post Beatles fallout Macca was not the ‘cool one’. Lennon was the cool one.  Paul copping all the blame for the end of the band – a band he desperately wanted to keep together being the only one who understood their magic and chemistry whilst John was the revolutionary in one of his many shape shifting guises that never really stuck. George was the most successful (All Things Must Pass is the last Beatles album for me – the only great trick they had left was to make the Beatle George album) and even Ringo was banging some pretty good hits and Paul was off to a stuttering start. Maybe its a measure of the times but what people ragged on about Paul at the time was the good bloke/family man/simple things in life/not very rock n roll personae that are now seen as assets and that brings us to Ram.

At the time the album was buried by the media but now sounds forward thinking and full of that buoyant pop imagination that the supremely talented Mecca seems to effortlessly ooze. With the luxury of history the album now sounds like a decades too early precursor to lo fi indie with all the post late sixties bombast stripped away. It’s a deceptively simple almost rustic album that mirrors its felt tipped artwork with farmer Paul wrestling with an, er, ram on the album cover. 

Of course this simplicity is deceptive. The precociously brilliant McCartney is playing many the instruments (with help from guitar players Dave Spinozza and Dave McCracken and drummer Deny Seiwell and Linda sharing vocals) and he’s great at anything he picks up dealing out guitar licks, bass runs or pastoral acoustics with an ease for his perfect pop voice to fly over with those cascading and exquisite melodies. 

Whilst the music press were sneering and tripping over each other in leathery cool McCartney just got on with it and his second post Beatles album is chock full of bouncing imaginative tunes that wouldn’t have sounded it of place on the Beatles White album where the stripping it all down to basics process started. 

Playful songs like Ram On with its ukulele and vocal gymnastics sit ext to the exquisite architecture of Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey  – his first post Beatle number one hit in the USA. It’s a song that threads other micro melodies into a weaving and building dynamic like the Bayeaux Beatle tapestry of side 2 of Abbey Road where Macca stitched together the countless bitlets of songs left lying around from the trip to India in 1968 into a symphony of pop brilliance.  One minute Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey is melancholic rainy day melodies pouring down and the next it’s  twenties pastiche and the next it’s a soaring radio friendly anthemic chorus that in your head you can still hear booming out of FM car radio in suburban sunburned America of the early seventies. Oddly the song that if it was The Kinks would be lodged into ‘rock canon’ means little in the UK as it was never a single here. The big UK hit was Another Day  not on the album but recorded in the same session and a classic piece of Macca cornflake pop that was left over from the 1968 Beatle sessions. 

Despite trying to forge his own post Beatle sound  the Fab hangover is ever present from The album kick off track Too Many People which may or may not be about his estranged partner John Lennon having too many people on his case and in his ear yakking on about revolution that in Winston’s heart of hearts he was never a believer of. The song is classic McCartney bouncing along with one of those complex yet catchy quicksilver melodies that defines pop/rock – perhaps the least loved genre for old school music writers.

Monkberry Moon Delight is Fats Domino piano rolls and an almost Tom Waits drinking keyboard vocal and a neat piece of off kilter weirdness whilst Heart Of The Country echoes the finger picking acoustics taught to the Beatles by Donovan in Rishikesh India on the game changing 1968 trip – the song sees McCartney extolling the simple things in life which again he was slammed for by the rock n roll revolutionary guard of the time who were just about all fibbing about their allegiances before become the super rich Tory rockers of their later years. 3 Legs is honky tonk blues and the silly but romping Smile Away  is Beach Boys boogie as ever fantastically sung by Paul whose voice switches styles and intensity at a flip and is always perfect and wild and free and soaring like a bird with is Murmuration of melodic brilliance. 

The album is full of these playful gems and a reminder that pop music can be fun as well whilst someone beneath the surface the much guarded McCartney emotional vault is there – the heart and pain of the Beatle split and the solace he found in his marriage hovers just beyond the effortless pop brilliance and joyful melodic frolics. 

 

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.

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