Thursday, February 14, 2013
"Ram On"-Paul and Linda McCartney's 1971 LP Ram (mono)
I finally had a free moment to sit down with the 2012 Paul McCartney limited edition Ram LP release, for some quality time. Remastered from an original mono mix of the record the album is a special sonic glimpse at one of my favorite McCartney recordings. Created during a period of rediscovery for Macca following the chippy Beatles breakup, the record features the "homegrown" creativeness of the "McCartney" LP but mixed with the forward thinking quirkiness of future Wings endeavors. The LP I have is packaged in a plain white jacket with the title scribbled in pen along the top. The original LP contained the famous picture on the back jacket of two beetles fornicating. This record was created during a period of upheaval and artistic discovery for McCartney, with both the jacket and music containing many obvious and subconscious messages regarding his present state of mind. The record sounds completely relevant today still, especially in mono, it stands as one of McCartney's finest achievements.
The record opens with a chunky acoustic strum and Paul's soaring echoed opening vocals. Already, the mono version jumps out of the speakers at me with an improved clarity and definition. McCartney's kinetic bass line is crisp with the personality and vibe of his instrument clearly audible. The opening punch in what would be a lyrical battle between Lennon and McCartney, "Too Many People" was considered a comment on John and Yoko's current activities by the McCartney's. Lennon would answer Macca back in the musical battle with his own "How Do You Sleep" off of the 1971 Imagine LP. Back to the record, the abundant and varied percussion of "Too Many People" also pops on this release, with all sorts of bells, drums, wood blocks and whatever else Macca was banging on coming through splendidly.
The second song on the first side is "3 Legs" and it hops along just like the poor dog who is the subject of the tune. Acoustic blues with a McCartney melodic twist, "3 Legs" jitters and shakes along side a picked acoustic riff and some electric "Chuck Berry" riffing played admirably by Paul. Lyricly nonsensical, but somehow making perfect sense, the tune rolls into a stomping and funky epilogue.
Beginning with a piano flourish that sounds like it was captured in a grand cathedral hallway, the majestic opening fades into a sunny day ukelele introduction. "Ram On"charges forward acoustically centered on a double bass drum thump and a groovy organ. The organic quality of the mono recording as well as McCartney choice of sonic music makers, makes "Ram On" gain so much more personality then the colorless versions on previous CD releases. The process in which McCartney creates his albums is fully on display when every detail is magnified by a good mono mix.
The first side of the record slowly gains complexity and melodic detail in my opinion as the dramatic "Dear Boy" approaches on simple piano chords. Another track that Lennon took personally, "Dear Boy" contains stratified vocal harmonies swelling and delving beneath themselves. Paul's "Beach Boy" influence that had decorated his work since 1966 is fully on display on this song. The middle eight of the tune sits on a chugging metallic guitar and corresponding piano ring that mesh like a grandfather clock's antique gears. The most serious of "Ram's" songs "Dear Boy" is a definative statement and composition.
Side one comes to an extravagant conclusion with the orchestrated narrative "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey. One of Paul's more well known songs, the track bobs along in instrumental waters, at first smooth but gaining turbulence as the song progresses. Sound effects of rainfall in conjunction with gentle orchestration swell like the oceans frothy foam, and propel the song further into uncharted waters. The stereo effects normally found in this track are now painted with gold filigree, and sparkle in mono as unheard details and surprises continuously reveal themselves. By the time the "hands across the water, heads across the sky" refrain hits "Uncle Albert" has become a new song for me, and I glance at the plain white, faux stained LP jacket thrilled. I'm gonna throw my original Ram CD right in the bin.
A jagged slightly off time guitar figure rises from the mix of "Uncle Albert" and stabs curt notes into the opening count off of "Smile Away" "Smile Away" bounds fuzzily behind Macca's guttural bass riff and scratchy "slap whack" rhythm guitar. Old school wordless "doo wop" backing vocals by Paul and Linda give the celebratory and very humorous song a euphoric vibe. Paul howls like a chained mutt, at the climax of the song, in falsetto ecstasy, a good time stomp to end side one.
Flipping over the LP "Heart of the Country" trickles in, a gentle country stroll through wildflowers and fields, a unforgettable quintessentially perfect McCartney melody. This is music that can change your perspective and your mood, and is testament to why Paul is one of the greatest developers of melody in musical history. Tasteful and slightly chorused guitar chords caress Paul's crisp strums and support the melody line. The best part of the tune is Macca's acoustic guitar echoes of his wordless scats at the end of each verse. One of my personal favorites on the record.
A goofy heavy stepping groove in complete contrast to "Heart of the Country" rises like a thick mist from the LP. "Monkberry Moon Delight" contains growling and emphatic McCartney vocals that border on the edge of comedic. He is growling about the benefits of this tasty unknown cosmic treat and various other unknown characters, "Monkberry" is a crazy bit of hysteria in the steamy mix of "Ram".
Another uptempo high stepping song follows, and "Eat at Home" is an obvious tribute to Macca idol Buddy Holly replete with hiccups and Holly vocalizations. A catchy little rock and roll song with no deeper meaning that to tap your foot and "rave on"!
"Long Haired Lady"begins with a falsetto series of "Well's" by McCartney that segue into call and response vocals between Macca and Linda. The verse is nice little break down that hops along like a classic coin machine bouncy ball. The real magic occurs at the end of the song when Linda's vocals rise and swell in relationship with Macca's candy sweet harmonies. Horns toot in the musical traffic, and the tune starts to swirl into a colorful vortex of sound. Vocals and instruments fall together like feathers settling after a pillow fight, a common theme on this record where the endings of songs are often stretched out and extravagantly orchestrated.
Following the end of "Long Haired Lady", a reprise of "Ram On" surfaces quickly and disappears the same way. Giving the LP a thread to hang onto, "Ram On" also contains a small snatch of lyrics from the not yet released "Big Barn Bed" which will eventually open "Red Rose Speedway" This track a quick reminder for the listener to indeed "Ram On" and adding coherence to the series of songs.
The closing song on the record is another mini opus called "The Back Seat of My Car". Again, a track that had the paranoid Lennon's taking some of the lyrics personally, especially the closing line, "We believe that we can't be wrong". The song begins with a piano and guitar introduction that has a slightly foreboding quality to it. The song's content deals with a boy and girl's clandestine relationship being consummated in the only place that they can find to be alone. A classic McCartney melody with soaring falsetto and wordless harmony lyrics. The mono edition really shines here as McCartney's vocals revealing many hidden vocal variations. The climax of the song spotlights a great McCartney scream along the lines of some of his best, (ie: Hey Jude), bringing the LP to an appropriate close.
An album sometimes misplaced because of the depth of the Mccartney catalog, "Ram" is one of McCartney's finest early efforts. In addition to it being a great listen, the recent mono release, similar to magic ink, reveals many details and buried additions not always obvious on the normal stereo issue. A great find and a welcome addition to the McCartney discography. The LP also has the distinction of being the first attack, in the public spat of McCartney and Lennon in which the battlefields were the media and their own records. A defining period, and second phase of McCartney's career started with this record, and set the stage for his eventual creation of "Wings". "Ram" is a recognized but often forgotten about period of Paul McCartney's long and impressive discography, its playful, but often serious content an impressive conglomerate of Paul's musical past and his blindingly bright future.
"Dear Boy"-Ram (mono)