Paul McCartney, Ram

Andy Beta

By Andy Beta

on 05.22.12 in Reviews


Paul McCartney

The case against Paul & Linda McCartney's Ram (the couple's lone album made together under their names) is formidable indeed. Robert Christgau's Village Voice review of the 1972 album is a vicious body blow: "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." Over at Rolling Stone, Jon Landau aimed far below the belt: "Ram represents the nadir in the decomposition of '60s rock thus far." Well…with such critical savaging, one might mistake Linda McCartney for being more despised for ruining a Beatle than even Yoko.

What could Paul do but become more lightweight and capricious and, yes, pretentious?

Landau also noted in his dismantling of Ram that "the Beatles were obviously a true group and history is now proving that it was greater than the sum of their parts." So like an ionic bond, wherein opposites attracted and each individual element contributed their strengths and offset weaknesses. And nowhere was that bond stronger — and more volatile — than between Lennon's emotional intensity and McCartney's whimsical melodicism. So as Lennon's songs grew heavier, McCartney could only offset that with more lightheartedness. Splitting off into solo entities, those trajectories continued. So with Lennon's cathartic and scabrous Plastic Ono Band album, bed-ins, and the weighty "Imagine" (not to mention George Harrison's massive All Things Must Pass somewhere in the middle), what could Paul do but become more lightweight and capricious and, yes, pretentious?

As a manifestation of that tendency, Ram is a resounding success, a blueprint visited by everyone from the Flaming Lips to Elephant Six Collective in the decades since. McCartney indulges both R&B rocker roots ("Smile Away," "Eat At Home") and aw-shucks folkiness ("Legs" and "Ram On") with a cast-off theatricality. The multi-part "Uncle Albert/ Admiral Halsey" should be an aural trainwreck: solemn introduction, maudlin orchestration, insufferably jaunty delivery, radio play FX, awkward tempo gear-shift, and kindergarten-friendly transcendent chorus. And yet it succeeded wildly, becoming McCartney's first No. 1 single in the U.S. since the Beatles. Ram and its delights is summed up best by "Monkberry Moon Delight." A tambourine-shaking, bass-sproinging, driving piano ditty featuring Paul at his caterwauling and doot-dooting finest; the lyrics still puzzle. Is it about snorting some hallucinatory substance? Or is it actually a dressing down of his former partner John? Or is it just jabberwocky nonsense? Precisely.