Paul and Linda McCartney - Ram Reissue
This may be hard to believe but if one came of age during the CD era, before downloading became the norm, you carefully selected what you bought and being a completist was a near impractical dream for any artist, let alone one who released his first record decades before you were born. You relied on word of mouth, those big mammoth books of album reviews and also…what you could find in your local record store. This is specifically why I had never heard Paul and Linda McCartney's Ram until a decade back. No one raved about the record, I didn't know anyone who had it in their collection and most stores didn't carry it especially once Wingspan (a 2cd set of highlight's from McCartney's career) was released in the late 1990s. I picked it up on CD shortly thereafter at a used CD store and it largely sat on a shelf until a friend urged me to give it a listen with an open heart and open mind. I was surprised to find its effortless charisma infectious.
After Paul McCartney left the Beatles, critically he was a punching bag for the rock press. Looking back on his career, especially the first decade of his solo/Wings career, the words thrown at him were full of vitriol. It was unwarranted and as I often look back at old articles and reviews it's evident that this wasn't constructive criticism, it was pathetic prose by those who considered themselves holier than thou tastemakers. Make no mistake- no artist has a catalog full of five-star masterpieces. The course of a career is measured by highs and lows and McCartney has made plenty of music that isn't A-grade. However, as his new reissue campaign has forced us to re-evaluate his catalog. Everyone agrees that Band on the Run is a masterwork, but the rest of his catalog tends to be held in suspicion. His 1970 debut McCartney is a now viewed as a do-it-yourself work of genius, something no one believed when initially released. One of the most critically drubbed recordings was Ram. In listening to the new vivid remaster (done at Abbey Road Studios under the supervision of the same team who handled the Beatles remasters), it's hard to imagine such an off-the-cuff and wonderfully amiable record wasn't received with wide open arms. However, the demise of the Beatles was still in people's mind and it possibly didn't help that John Lennon had released The Plastic Ono Band and George Harrison had released All Things Must Pass, the creative and commercial high points of their post-Beatles careers and both had Ringo Starr perform on them. At the time, it's believed that Paul McCartney was partially responsible for the break-up of the Beatles; however, time has told a different story. Further, while his former band mates were relishing their spotlight on their own, McCartney has always been more of a band guy, hence why Wings came into existence shortly after Ram. But this is precisely what makes Ram such an essential record in his catalog. It captured McCartney in a time and place where he would never return. It captures an air of youthful love and innocence and two people who set out to simply make music, not necessarily hit records.
Last summer McCartney and McCartney II were released in beautiful newly remastered editions. Both were successful but dismissed critically when initially released, however, it's important to point out these records have aged well. Even some of the outdated instrumentation on McCartney II couldn't overshadow the strength of the songs. The latest addition to the McCartney reissue series is his 1971 LP Ram. Like the other reissues, Ram comes with an assortment of configurations however, the biggest surprise in the package is the strength of the original LP. If anything, the non-fussy instrumentation is welcomed and on the record, you hear McCartney shift his focus from solo artist to band leader as many of the original Wings recruits began to perform on these sessions (Denny Seiwell made his debut here). Ram is a peculiar album in McCartney's cannon and has the distinction of being the only one attributed to "Paul and Linda McCartney". Written mostly on their farm in Scotland (Mull of Kintyre) and recorded in New York and Los Angeles it's a collection of songs that stands alone. At the time, I can imagine that many didn't feel this was the best McCartney had to offer as it feels mostly off-the-cuff, but therein lays its charms. McCartney is a consummate perfectionist and to hear him let loose if often when you find him at his best (as he did on his pair of covers records and McCartney and McCartney II).
The instrumentation is lush and ambient. Listening to "Dear Boy" I hear shades of some later Aimee Mann recordings, which is telling that many held the album near and dear to their hearts. "Ram On" features a ukulele, which now doesn't seem far fetched, is surprising to hear on record. "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" was the album's big hit but listening to it now, it's startling it was the album's big hot. The folkish "Too Many People" was forgotten about by many until its resurrection on McCartney's 2005 world tour where it was delivered with his ringing backing band with dedication. The bluesy acoustic strummer "3 Legs" even won the rare approval from John Lennon (in an interview where he dismisses Ram but points out this song). "Smile Away" is an old school 50's rocker, "Heart of the Country" is a straight-up folk country number, "Eat At Home" gleams with its buoyant rhythm while on "The Backseat of My Car" Paul tips the hat towards Brian Wilson with a verdant production and lyrics steeped in Saturday night virtue. Ram may not be an apparent classic, but time has been good to it and it's never sounded better than it does here on the 2012 remaster.
Like McCartney's other reissues, there are a variety of configurations including a 2cd set along with a more expansive four disc set. The second disc included "Another Day" which was recorded with most of Ram but released as a standalone single. "Oh Woman, Oh Why" was the b-side and is also included here with its unswerving drumming and bluesy guitar fills and a wailing vocal by McCartney. McCartney has always prided himself on creating well crafted records that are meticulously produced, but I tend to find his the furor from his gut to be his most indelible quality. All of Ram flowed out like water from a spring and instead of largely over thinking the process, he simply got it all down on tape. Most musicians have to refine and craft their recordings because if left bare boned they wouldn't endure. However, McCartney's talent is off the chart and songs deemed throwaways resonate and are most welcomed and savored on deluxe sets like this. Other b-sides "Little Woman Love" has a sprightly piano boogie highlighted by a lilting and enthusiastic acoustic guitar. There's a previously unreleased mix of "A Love For You" is a driven ditty with a near falsetto by McCartney. "Rode All Night" has some tremendous blues jamming with the drummer increasingly keeping the beat and every few chords slapping a cymbal or aggressively filling gaps with machine gun drum rolls. This goes on for nearly nine-minutes and while no FM radio station would ever dream of playing it, beneath McCartney's screeching howls you hear a musician having the time of his life. The second disc of extras is every bit as absorbing as the original record and while many of these songs have been heard before, they've never sounded this good or have been collected in one place.
The third disc includes the complete mono recording of Ram which was never released to stores. Mono recordings were mostly phased out by 1971 and even the Beatles last two albums (Abbey Road and Let It Be) were mixed for stereo only. However, a mono mix of Ram was made for radio stations and sent out. It's always been one of the most sought after and treasured McCartney collectibles now available in pristine sound. Lastly, the fourth disc includes the complete Thrillington record which has only had limited released over the last thirty-five years. It's an instrumental cover version of the record done by McCartney and his wife first released in 1977 and in two very limited CD reissues. No one knew the origins of the recording until 1989 when McCartney was asked at a press conference and until that moment, no one knew who had performed on the record. While it's unlikely this disc will get many spins, it is a most welcomed addition and will probably find its widest audience now on this deluxe set.
While McCartney is not unearthing new songs or the complete studio recordings for each of these reissues, he's ensuring that not just the album is remembered, but everything it encompassed including rarities, b-sides and alternate takes. The Ram reissue accentuates the significance of the record. Instead of sitting on my shelf with me thinking it's one of his minor and quirkier works, I now view it as a wholly delightful entry into his musical evolution. While the remastering is pristine, this is a reissue that is certainly worth the extra splurge for the second disc and quite possibly denting your wallet for the entire box.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
Paul and Linda McCartney - Ram Reissue
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