Ram, Paul McCartney’s ’71 collaboration with his late wife Linda, has the former Beatle seamlessly oscillating between electrified blues, psychedelic flourishes, and catchy pop vistas reminiscent of Phil Specter’s wall of sound. Deftly remastered to highlight the subtle intricacies of the LP’s mesmerizing, melodic verve and crafty time signature shifts, the 2012 reissue plainly warrants a revisit to this cult classic. And for the fanatics blessed with deep pockets, there’s a “Special Edition” release featuring eight bonus cuts, as well as a “Deluxe Edition Box Set,” which contains four CDs, a DVD, a hundred-plus page booklet, prints, facsimiles lyric sheets, a photograph book, and download link to all of the material. The Box Set will set you back about $150.
Echoed by a frolicsome chorus on opening track “Too Many People,” McCartney brings to our attention a slew of polarizing maladies: “Too many people going underground / Too many reaching for a piece of cake…Too many hungry people losing weight.” Atop tinny percussion and playfully rambunctious instrumentals, the singer counsels us to shun pigeonholes and demagogues in favor of authentic individuality: “Too many people preaching practices / Don’t let them tell you what you wanna be!”
On call-and-response ditty “3 Legs,” steadfast grit and the promise of salvation peak out from behind downtrodden, bluesy guitars: “When I fly above the cloud / Well when I fly, when I fly, when I fly, when I fly above the crowd.” Driven by a soothing ukulele, titular track “Ram On” features blithe whistling alongside soft hues of dewy-eyed contentment. “Dear Boy” combines Paul’s simplistic lyrics of heartsick regret with a stiff piano, woodblock percussion, and Linda’s opaque, haunting backup vocals: “I guess you never saw, dear boy / That love was there / And maybe when you look too hard, dear boy / You never do become aware.”
Eclectic overture “Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey,” weaving together cheeky, psychedelic verses with the irresistible sing-along reflex of an infectious pop chorus, achieves a unique communal cadence. Leading off with Sir Paul’s dutiful, falsetto laced apology to a wronged kindred, sparse, teardrop guitar lines drape over a summer rain’s tranquil pattering and the gentle rumble of rolling thunder. As the clouds part, the calming storm is replaced by trippy telephonic effects, oddball comic interjections, and the escalating energies of a brisk violin. Bebop trumpeter Marvin Stamm’s festive, blithe flugelhorn solo and the sounds of chirping songbirds catapult the track into its boisterous, anthemic chorus. Paul and Linda joyously chant: “Hands across the water / Heads across the sky!” Covering twelve distinct segments in less than five minutes, this schizophrenic cut scored McCartney his first #1 US hit as a solo artist.
Whimsical “Long Haired Lady” features the gorgeous orchestration of the New York Philharmonic. The orchestra section reappears on “Back Seat of My Car,” as the singers deliver unabashedly naive claims of infallibility: “Oooh oh oh oh, we believe that we can’t be wrong!” Self-deprecating “Smile Away” has McCartney sporting a silly grin in the face of social degradation. Endearingly sentimental folk-pop “Heart of the Country,” championing the spiritual purity of rural life to the tune of delicate acoustic finger picking and playful scat, has the singer yearning to break from the hustle bustle of urban decay to get “a good night’s sleep / Livin’ in a home / In the heart of the country.”
Although the bulk of the eight supplemental cuts on the Special Edition reissue are essentially expendable, “Another Day” and “Oh Woman, Oh Why” are clear exceptions. “Another Day” is a solitary tale of mundane monotony interspersed with touching glimmers of hope. Merely staying alive is a perennial struggle amidst chronic bouts of depression and days spent in “the office where the papers grow.” The poor girl can only reach for another cup of coffee to keep from dozing off, as her thoughts wander to the day when “the man of her dreams comes to break the spell.” Although the song ends with peppy instrumentation and carefree vocals, we sadly know that her knight in shining armor will never arrive. “Oh Woman, Oh Why,” a rueful cut brimming with agony and regret, pairs the singer’s pleading caterwaul with a slide guitar and the unmistakable echo of a shotgun: “Oh woman, oh where, where, where, where, where / Did you get that gun/ Oh what have you done / Woman what have you done.”
The remainder of unreleased ditties and b-sides, including kitschy, buttery “A Love For You” and jaunty “Little Woman Love,” although aurally appealing, are ultimately derivative and bland. But self-indulgent “Rode All Night” really crosses the line. Leading with coarse, scratchy riffs, the track plays as a misguided attempt at adapting Mississippi Delta Blues. Across the song’s excruciating 8 and a half minutes, McCartney delivers a painfully generic and repetitive appeal to break free from our paralyzing inner demons by fully abandoning all ties and obligations.
Remastered at Abbey Road by the same team of audio engineers that handled The Beatles’ re-releases, Ram’s 2012 reincarnation sounds impeccable. Though the bonus tracks don’t pack much punch, the LP’s dozen original cuts, crowned by the breakthrough sensation “Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey,” arguably make this LP McCartney’s seminal solo effort.
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