Paul McCartney – Ram

Album-wise, this is my favorite from McCartney. I love Venus And Mars and Band On The Run, and about half of Red Rose Speedway (the fantastic “Little Lamb Dragonfly” was apparently recorded during the Ram sessions), but this is like McCartney’s Tumbleweed Connection. It’s the album where you feel he is the least calculated, and most free musically. The overall vibe is strange and playful and just a bit angry. And I like Linda’s voice on these tracks, it’s integral to the album’s loose charm.

From a sonic standpoint, Ram sounds superb on vinyl. Sound is vibrant and clear, with rich analog sound far deeper than the CD remaster. All the details of this imaginative patchwork quilt of a recording flash out brightly like colored light from a prism. The guitars are grungier, the harmonies sweeter, and McCartney’s melodic Rickenbacker bass bounces like a pinball around the bumpers of percussion.

Track by track notes are as follows:

Side 1

Too Many People
Powerful and crackling with raw energy and some uncharacteristic bitterness, this is an incredibly tuneful opener. From the rhythmic acoustic guitar and echoed intro, to the controlled chest screaming (that McCartney had mastered on workouts like “Oh Darling”), to the sideways guitar solo, this is punch after sonic punch. Listen for the fantastic urgent harmonies, the subtle radio wave-like background vocals behind the falsetto “lucky break” lines, and the multilayered percussion that appears at the guitar solo and plays at through the end.

3 Legs
The album takes a sharp turn from obscurity into wailing absurdity, and it’s terrific. I can imagine listeners in 1971 being confounded by the record at this point. It’s thumpy, the vocals and guitars are compressed like they’re coming from a box. It’s a home brew garage sound that was ahead of its time. Listen to the imaginative subtle details in the acoustic guitar picking, and the bouncing bass.

Ram On
Acoustic guitar sounds like a ukulele, and background vocals are sweet and airy. Listen for hand claps from the middle onward, and vocal “bass” parts similar to the final version of “I Will”.

Dear Boy
The first piano based track on the album. Listen to how the background vocals suddenly bloom into a bouquet of “dear boy” phrases. The main vocal again has that “radio style” compression that appears frequently on this album. Toward the end everything blends like a little multilayered pocket symphony with a ringing tack piano sound on top.

Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey
McCartney has the ability to make a song – and its performance – sound so good that he achieves poignancy regardless of the words. He could – and has – made compelling hit records with basically nonsense words (“Jet”, “C-Moon”, “Obla-di Obla-da”, “Junior’s Farm”, “Old Siam Sir”). Nowhere did he better demonstrate that ability than on this song. Musically this track is equal parts sweet and creepy. It’s haunting like an old sea shanty put in a blender with about three commercial jingles. Brilliant and diabolical ear candy. Listen to the background vocals that somehow manage to be more lovely and more weird than anything on Pet Sounds.

Smile Away
The first rocker on the album that you could imagine being belted from a stage. Also stubbornly and purposefully nonsensical. Listen to the sweet crunchy guitar tone and the maniacal bass at the end.

Side 2
Heart Of The Country
Quintessential McCartney whimsy meets a seriously memorable tune. Falsetto, scat singing, complex bass lines, all made to sound simple and sweet. Give the devil your soul, and you could write a song as ridiculously catchy as this.

Monkberry Moon Delight
Possibly the best track on the album. Circus-like piano and bass backing up the most maniacal vocal track McCartney recorded this side of “Helter Skelter”. Charming childlike backup vocals apparently by both Linda and Heather. Catch up, cats and kittens.

Eat At Home
Again, really sweet mingling of vocals between Paul and Linda. Listen for the cool guitar lick that leads into the verses and the Buddy Holly vocal bit in the middle. And the rich guitar tone.

Long Haired Lady
Slightly awkward and still endearing, this track has a lot going on sound-wise. It’s a patchwork of at least four different melodies. Hear the Les Paul-like high guitar bits toward the end, and McCartney’s voice like pancake syrup trading endearments with Linda.

Ram On
Short reprise of earlier tracks with whistles, hand claps, and that ethereal “ooh” background.

The Back Seat Of My Car
A lovely tune with insane ups and downs, plus the New York Philharmonic. This is The Raspberries meets Phil Spector and Brian Wilson in an elevator going up to meet the early Bee Gees in heaven. Listen to the piano and hand claps deep in the mix.

A trip through the sonic imagination of Paul and Linda and the few others who touched this album. There isn’t another record like this one, and on vinyl it sounds crazy and blistering just the way it’s meant to.