Paul McCartney‘s 1971 album, although credited to Paul and Linda, is perhaps the record that best shows off the unbounding and unbridled talents of the ex-Beatle. Ram is McCartney’s solo ‘time-capsule’ album, full of wit, energy and musical diversions (Uncle Admiral/Admiral Halsey) that could only come from him, with a spattering of songs where he simply finds an extra gear and delivers a classic – Too Many People, Heart of the Country and The Back Seat Of My Car.
For better or for worse, Ram has McCartney’s DNA all over it. It is endlessly melodic (Long Haired Lady, Dear Boy), contains moments of silly wordplay (Smile Away), and has a surreal/nonsense highlight in Monkberry Moon Delight. The album confounds with a maze of musical ideas; vocal harmonies, refrains, intros, outros, overdubs, sound effects, scat singing, and, perhaps uncharacteristically, there is a steeliness of purpose evident. Having soaked up a fair amount of criticism over the very homespun debut McCartney (including some from his old bandmates), Paul was very much looking to Linda when it came to the next record, with what you might define as an ‘it’s-just-you-and-me-kid’ attitude that echoes the feelings of the protagonists in album closer The Back Seat Of The Car – “We believe that we can’t be wrong…”.
This spirit and bond was strong. Paul and Linda were now a family unit with daughters Heather (from Linda’s previous marriage) and Mary (the one popping out of Paul’s jacket on the cover of the McCartney album). Paul wanted Linda involved in the music too. Her voice is all over the record, harmonising with Paul extensively, and it is probably her most significant contribution to McCartney’s music. As well as the album being by “Paul and Linda McCartney” she gets a co-writing credit on six tracks also.
Most of the songs were written on Paul’s newly acquired farm in Scotland during 1970, but unlike McCartney where Paul had played all the instruments himself, with Ram Paul and Linda flew to New York later that same year to audition some top session musicians to play on the record. The ones chosen were drummer Danny Seiwell and guitarists David Spinozza and Hugh McCracken.
Non-album single Another Day would be the first track from the Ram sessions that the public would hear. McCartney’s first post-Beatles single, it peaked at number two in the UK and number five in the US. Interestingly, Dixon Van Winkle who did the sound engineering on this track admits, in an interview in the book within the box set, that he “got carried away trying to get the bass right”. This resulted in a very dense low-end to the song that didn’t sound great on the radio. Listen to it again – he’s got a point. Surely then, this deluxe box set offered an opportunity to present us with a remixed version of Another Day that ‘gets it right’, but either Paul has never had a problem with how it sounds, or the idea wasn’t suggested/of interest. Another Day and the B-side Oh Woman, Oh Why, both feature – newly remastered of course – on the bonus audio disc with the deluxe box.
The best known track from Ram is Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey. Incredibly, not only was this rather whimsical track selected as a US single, but it actually hit number one in the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart in September 1971. It has been a staple of Macca compilations ever since, appearing on Wings Greatest (1977), All The Best (US version – 1987) and Wingspan: Hits and History (2001). It is one of three tracks on the record orchestrated by Beatles producer George Martin (Long Haired Lady and The Back Seat Of My Car being the other two).
Ram works so well for many reasons. McCartney’s voice is at, or near, its peak – everything sounds completely effortless, including the performance on the throat-shredding Monkberry Moon Delight, and the whole thing just feels so real. Paul wasn’t really struggling for things to write about, whether it be the seemingly constant backbiting with Lennon or his new found love of family life and spending time with his new wife. So the campfire positivity of Ram On or the ode to fresh air Heart Of The Country have meaning and that, coupled with a slight grungy, lo-fi production and excellent musicianship from those New York session guys, makes all the difference.
So Ram, is a truly great McCartney album, but what of the Ram deluxe box set – part four in the McCartney Archive Collection?
Well for a start it’s a box. The previous deluxe versions of the last three albums (including public favourite Band On the Run) were ‘just’ books. Extremely well put together and delightful books, but books just the same. Since the last of these were released (McCartney and McCartney II in the summer of 2011) the market for deluxe or super deluxe sets has grown rapidly. The release of box sets such as the Pink Floyd ‘Immersion’ Editions or the Director’s Cut of The Who’s Quadrophenia has upped the ante somewhat.
Not wanting to miss out, the new Ram Deluxe Box consists of a similar book as the previous editions but slightly smaller (and soft back), an additional sketch-pad type book with even more photos, an envelope containing glossy photos, a smaller envelope filled with replica pages of handwritten McCartney lyrics, doodles and jottings, a little ‘book of sheep’ – a small cutely-designed book of Linda’s photos of Paul with sheep from which the cover was derived, – and did we mention FIVE discs of audio and video!
The discs are
- Ram – original album remastered
- Bonus Audio – 8 tracks (B-sides and outtakes)
- Thrillington – An easy listening style orchestral version of Ram recorded in 1971 and released in 1977 under the pseudonym Percy ‘Thrills’ Thrillington. (later reissued on CD – still under the pseudonym in 1995).
- Ram – Mono version of the album. Like The Beatles albums this is a unique ‘dedicated’ mix, not just the stereo version ‘folded down’ into mono. Unlike The Beatle records this has never been commercially available before.
- DVD – Short documentary ‘Ramming’ and promo films and videos.
All this, plus a download card for hi-res audio of Ram and the bonus audio tracks, fits into a box nicely styled to look the the previous books. The height and depth are the same but girth-wise this box is considerably fatter. Crucially, though they look good together on the shelf (see picture to the left).
This attention to detail is typical of this set. The books provide a wealth of detail around the recording with of course dozens of evocative photos of Paul both in the studio and on the farm. Interviews with drummer Denny Seiwell and studio engineer Dixon Van Winkle bring a different perspective to the making of the album and the whole thing is a delight. Glossy ‘White Album’ style photos in the yellow wallet, are a nice touch even if the shots chosen are not necessarily the pick of the bunch.
The Little Book Of Sheep is cute – yes not exactly on the wish list, but more relevant than a set of marbles.
Strictly speaking only four unreleased tracks amongst the eight bonus songs. The much-bootlegged session track A Love For You was eventually released 32 years later on The In-Laws soundtrack in 2003. That version was spoiled by a rather harsh “additional production” by David Kahne, but the version here sounds much more of the era, even if it was actually mixed in 1986 (by Jon Kelly) for possible inclusion on the All The Best! compilation of 1987.
Rode All Night is an eight minute guitar and drums jam with McCartney screaming ad-libbed lyrics over the top (better than it sounds) and Great Cock And Seagull Race and Sunshine Sometimes are both instrumentals. Hey Diddle is a charming, if lightweight, ditty with Macca in singing-to-entertain-the-kids mode. This is a studio version, unlike the live-in-the-garden version fused to Bip Bop on the Wingspan compilation. B-sides Oh Woman, Oh Why and Little Woman Love might be previously released but they remain – along with non-album single Another Day – the highlight of the bonus disc.
Mono version of Ram
The only place you will find a digital copy of the dedicated Mono mix is on CD in this box set. It is not available to download and the only other way to get hold of it is to buy the limited edition Mono Vinyl reissue of Ram. This disc is really for the Ram fanatics. You have to know the album really well, to spot the differences, but they are there. Monkberry Moon Delight has quite a bit of reverb on Paul’s vocals not present on the stereo version for example and there is a little bit less bottom end throughout, with Paul’s voice ‘cutting through’ some of the mixes better (this is particularly evident on “We’re so sorry, Uncle Albert” intro to Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey. This makes sense given that the mono mix was created to be played on AM radio. It was never commercially released.
This bizzare orchestral/easy listening version of Ram was McCartney’s idea, although he doesn’t perform on it. It’s fairly cheesy – Eat At Home gets a reggae/steel drum arrangement and 3 Legs sounds like the soundtrack to a dodgy ’70s porn film. The Back Seat Of My Car threatens to sound ‘cool’ for a moment (think soundtrack to Taxi Driver) but is a bit bombastic in the end. It’s not surprising that Thrillington was bundled with the Ram deluxe box (where else was it going to go?) but it remains an album to own rather than listen to!
Running time is 27 minutes, and two of the videos (Heart Of The Country and 3 Legs) are basically the same! Hey Diddle has great audio and picture quality – and Ramming is sweet little documentary in the same style as the one on the McCartney deluxe DVD. The highlight though, is the Eat At Home On Tour footage. Some of this is from Denny Seiwell’s archive – fantastic ‘Super 8′ footage of the first Wings tour – Summer Holiday-style with a Wings open-top double decker bus with the band, bikini clad ladies and toddlers in playpens all larking around on the top deck as the bus drives along! Hilarious. Also, some good footage of Eat At Home being performed live.
The last few reissues have made clear that McCartney isn’t interested offering massive amounts of outtakes, alternate cuts, demos and the like. That will likely happen on another day, via another medium, perhaps. Until then, fans will need to be satisfied with usual selection of B-sides and a smattering of unheard audio.
Thrillington is, frankly, pointless, but it is part of the history of the album and McCartney in the 1970s, and thus earns its place in the deluxe box for that reason alone. The Mono version is a collector’s curiosity, but sounds fantastic all the same.
However, there is no getting away from the fact that if you are a big Ram fan, then you are going to want this set. It has brilliant packaging, fantastic remastering of the record, and the era well documented in the books, with the ever-evocative photography of Linda McCartney. Recommended.
See an extensive photo gallery of the new Ram deluxe box here.