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Ram
Paul and Linda McCartney

Apple 3375
Released: May 1971
Chart Peak: #2
Weeks Charted: 37
Certified Gold: 6/9/71

Paul McCartneyLinda McCartneyThe Lennon-McCartney partnership was, of course, long ago discredited. The two Beatles continued to publish songs under this convenient rubric after the group's breakup, but they hadn't actually composed together since they were all on tour, which now seems so long ago as to be almost prehistoric. But though all of McCartney's apologists hotly deny his dependence on Lennon, he himself writes songs that have no relation to anything the Beatles ever performed or wrote or even thought about -- home-movie tripe. Now comes this new album, Ram, which although less simple-minded than McCartney's first solo efforts a year ago, is nonetheless curiously banal and mediocre.

If the Beatles developed at all, it was from a simple rock group who fell in love with electronic gadgetry to a group for whom the simplest things, although the most difficult to achieve, were often the most satisfying musically: from the straight no-nonsense four-in-a-bar of A Hard Day's Night to the hysterical slobber of Sgt. Pepper and back, once again, to their roots on Abbey Road, their finest hour. If anything, McCartney, on his own, is still clutching at phase two. "Ram On" is as good as any song he has written, its harmonies and rhythmic patterns constantly shifting and delighting. But he seems unsure of the strength of his material, because he mutilates it with all kinds of echo chambers, feedback, and overdubbing.

Paul and Linda McCartney - Ram
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One rumor I picked up recently in London is that after the critical approval of George Harrison's solo album, Paul rushed back to New York to remix some of these tracks, including wedges of the New York Philharmonic to cover up the thinness of his inspiration. True or not, there is an excess of extra-musical detail which often obliterates the original idea, and the Philharmonic (or some orchestra) is definitely there, persistently flailing away. There is also too much reliance on old sing-along melodies which once characterized a certain kind of Beatles laziness -- the result, on "Hey Jude," was that if you couldn't thing how to finish a song you just faded away into the distance. The end of "Long Haired Lady" sounds distressingly like the end of "Hey Jude."

Another problem is that the lyrics are relentlessly mundane in this collection. It's not that the old Beatles songs ever said anything important, but they at least has some wit. Here the best McCartney can manage is a cynical "I could smell your feet a mile away," which I suspect is some kind of takeoff on the line in Bart Howard's song for Mabel Mercer, "Would You Believe It," that goes "Today you can smell my Chanel a mile away." The change has not improved the idea, only cheapened it.

Finally, Linda McCartney (who helped compose the songs as well as co-produce the LP) is no substitute for John Lennon. Her self-conscious little Tweetie-Pie chirp in the background is a sad memory of John's axe-blade voice, and no matter how she tries to sustain her man emotionally, she does not seem able to sharpen his mind the way John's poisonous bullying did. The result is the flabbiness that goes with despondency and confusion -- I hesistate to say middle age. McCartney has some musical talent, but on this regrettable album it is clutching to straws, not knowing which way to go, and ends up going nowhere.

- Rex Reed, Stereo Review, 11/71.

Bonus Reviews!

Paul & Linda debut like the sweethearts of rock'n'roll reborn, as the ex-Beatle continues to play the rock Romeo with little else on his musical mind. A good part of the fun is McCartney's light, clever arrangements and superb rhythm changes. "Smile Away," "Too Many People" and "Back Seat Of My Car" are wailing sentimentality.

- Billboard, 1971.

Paul McCartney may have found love, but judging from Ram, his second solo LP, he hasn't found out where his head is musically. The album consists of several dozen hits and pieces, covering most of the known pop world, spliced often uncomfortably into 12 cuts. Typical is "The Back Seat of My Car," which shifts from hard Fifties rock to syrupy Hugo Winterhalter violins to Mel Tormé crooning (complete with cocktail piano) and back to Fifties rock again -- all without much success. And the inventory for "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" includes a wiggly Biff Rose vocal, strings, French horns, bird whistles, a Beach Boys imitation, changing tempos and a thunderstorm. There are some nice moments, especially on a fundamental rocker called "Smile Away," but it mostly seems to amount to Paul's substituting facility for any real substance. It's like watching someone juggle five guitars: It's fairly impressive, but you keep wondering why he bothers.

- Playboy, 9-71.

This album has less of a work-in-progress feel to it than the first McCartney LP. This time he and Linda (credited with most of the songs) get together a widely differing set, full of very light and very clever arrangements (his "Heart of the Country" will bring in memories of Lovin' Spoonful and jug band jazz). Thre's a lot of sentimentality here as well that is carried over to the album jacket which has artwork from the children, blades of grass from the McCartney home, a lock of hair from the youngest child's head, all pasted down on the inside.

- Hit Parader, 11-71.

Ram remains something of a puzzle to Beatle people. At the time of its May 1971 release it was roundly and harshly condemned by reveiwers such as Rolling Stone's Jon Landau, who called it "the nadir in the decomposition of Sixties rock thus far," "incredibly inconsequential," and "monumentally irrelevant."

Still, to these ears anyway, Ram definitely has its moments: the exhilarating "hands across the water/heads across the sky" chorus in "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey"; "Eat At Home," a fine McCartney pastiche of his hero Buddy Holly (and about time too); and "Back Seat Of My Car," an elaborate production number almost worthy of Brian Wilson's wet dreams. (These were also the three songs that made it onto singles, though each was released in a different market: respectively, America, Europe, and Britain.) Ram is certainly more varied than McCartney and boasts some lovely snatches of melody.

The problem is that these remain snatches, none of which hang together to make for anything terribly memorable. Ram brings to mind a hollow chocolate egg: It is tasty, if just this side of sickly sweet, yet crumbles when one tries to sink one's teeth in.

"I tried so very hard and I really hoped people would like it," Paul told Melody Maker's Chris Charlesworth after the critics' verdict was in. "I thought I had done a great album... I don't see how someone can play it and take in all that stuff and say 'I don't like it.'"

The bum notices came as a particular shock to Paul because he had recorded Ram with the critics somewhat in mind. "I thought McCartney was quite good," he would later recall two years later. "But then it didn't quite do it in every way... it was very down-home, funky, just me... After it got knocked I thought... do just the opposite next time. So Ram was with the top people in the top studio. I thought, this is what they want. But again, it was critically panned."

The production was indeed far more ornate and slick than its predecessor, but the substance -- or lack of it -- was very similar. The words, when comprehensible, seemed to consist of more celebrations of "home, family, love"; and once again, the package featured a generous selection of family snapshots (including an obviously symbolic photograph of two beetles copulating).

Ram first appeared on the Billboard chart on June 5, 1971, reaching #2 and spending a total of 37 weeks.

- Nicholas Schaffner, The Beatles Forever, 1978.

"Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" is a major annoyance. I tolerated McCartney's crotchets with the Beatles because his mates balanced them out; I enjoyed them mildly on McCartney because their scale was so modest; I enjoy them actively on "Monkberry Moon Delight" because it rocks and on "Smile Away" because it's so vulgar and funny. But though nothing else here approaches the willful rhythm shifts and above-it-all silliness of "Uncle Albert," most of the songs are so lightweight they float away even as Paulie layers them down with caprices. If you're going to be eccentric, for goodness sake don't be pretentious about it. C+

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

While lacking the polish of his later efforts, McCartney's second post-Beatles effort is brimming with melodies and intriguing ideas. Ultimately, it seems unfinished, but along the way one is treated to the delights of "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" (a #1 hit), "Heart of the Country," and "Back Seat of My Car." * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Ram is credited to Paul and Linda McCartney, so you'll have to discount "Eat at Home" to accept more fully formed pop tunes from the hubby. Fluff, sure, but darn catchy fluff. * * * 1/2

- Roger Catlin, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

(2012 Deluxe Edition) After his homespun solo debut, Macca shot for the moon on the follow-up -- a grand psychedelic ramble full of divine melodies and orchestral frippery. This box adds B sides, artifacts and a lounge-y instrumental version of the LP. Ram sounds ahead of its time -- how many indie rockers could pull off such a daffy masterpiece? * * * * 1/2

- Simon Vozick-Levinson, Rolling Stone, 6/7/12.

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