#450: Ram, Paul & Linda McCartney
When this came out, it got kind of a cool reception — not just from critics, but from McCartney’s former bandmates themselves. John Lennon said it was “muzak,” as in elevator music, which, woof. Though in fairness, Paul takes several shots at the Beatles — opener “Too Many People” references the interband conflict, specifically John and Yoko: You took your lucky break and broke it in two. Yeah, I might not love that either.
But sometime after the initial blowback, critics softened on it (see: Rolling Stone) and hailed it as one of the first indie pop albums. And while I tend to be more critical of Beatles albums that are included on RS’s precious list, this one struck me far more than I thought it would. Removing Paul from the context of the Beatles proved the quality of songwriter he was.
Because even all by himself, McCartney stuns. He writes songs that just sound like they’ve existed forever. “Heart of the Country” is just a simple, effortless acoustic about a man searching for a rural homestead, with a sunny, unrealistic attitude and all. (Later McCartney would rerecord it with Elvis Costello and Mark Ronson, which is fun.) He also writes songs that sound like they shouldn’t exist at all, like “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” a medley directed at two older men that’s somehow both bittersweet and goofy. He writes songs about how bad he smells (“Smile Away”), about imaginary milkshakes (“Monkberry Moon Delight”), about three-legged dogs (“3 Legs”).
But mostly, he writes about how much he loves his wife. John Lennon can call them silly love songs all he wants — I thought they ranged from sweet to profound. I loved the cryptic “Ram On” and its reprise, which has such simple lyrics I can quote the whole song: Ram on/ Give your heart to somebody/ Soon/ Right away/ Right away. (Even sweeter when you learn that Paul’s old stage name was Paul Ramon.) And the exultant “The Back Seat of My Car” takes their love and ages it down to the desperate teenage phase.
I think Linda’s top billing is a little unearned, when all she seemed to have contributed was her backup vocals (though she does have writing credits on several songs). But at the same time, doesn’t “muse” deserve a credit?? And besides, when her singing is audible, it’s great and adds a lot. I thought her harmonies on “Dear Boy” and the sexy “Eat at Home” were technically impressive — she even mimics the extremely British way Paul says Lady. And when she finally gets to sing lead on “Long-Haired Lady,” the dissonance between her untrained punk voice and the slow piano part is striking. (Something I still take issue with: why isn’t she on the cover??)
Paul was with Linda until her death in the Nineties, which makes them one of the more successful unions in the music business. When I think of her, I’ll always think of “Lisa the Vegetarian,” which is probably the real reason I became a vegetarian. She has one hell of a legacy.
Fun Fact: Six or so years after this was released, McCartney released an instrumental version of this album titled Thrillington, under a pseudonym: Percy “Thrills” Thrillington. …Do you ever think the Beatles sometimes did things just to see if they could?