“Ladies and gentlemen, this is an album from a long, long time ago, when the world was different. This is an album that is part of my history – it goes back to the wee hills of Scotland where it was formed. It’s an album called RAM. It reminds me of my hippie days and the free attitude with which it was created. I hope you’re going to like it, because I do!”
These are the words that greet visitors to Paul McCartney’s official website, reflecting on the newest archival re-release. The words are modest, completely lacking in superlatives one would expect from one of the most successful songwriters of all time. But perhaps that’s the most fitting way to discuss an album that excel s in pastoral, laid-back vibes more than any grand self-important gestures.
Conceivably with the 2009 Beatles remasters you’ve rediscovered or discovered the gorgeous simplicity and brilliance of the Beatles catalog and have looked to explore each member’s solo work. McCartney’s made it easy as of late with “Archive Collection” releases, remastering and re-releasing Band on the Run, McCartney, and McCartney II in multiple configurations with a large number of bells and whistles. Now here’s RAM, available as a 2 disc edition, a 4CD + 1 DVD Deluxe Edition, 2LP vinyl or the highly anticipated Mono LP. Each edition has its merits for every level of McCartney fan.
Paul’s right when he says that this album is part of history. More than just in the literal sense, this was released at an interesting time in his career. While easy to dismiss it through the foggy lens of time nowadays as just another early solo McCartney work, it has a detailed history that enriches listening for those of us too young to be there when all of this happened. The Beatles had broken up and were in litigious hell. McCartney was battling his former bandmates in court and sometimes even on record. His first solo work was absolutely panned as being slight and the man was constantly hounded by the press. To escape this he fled to the Scottish countryside with his wife, Linda McCartney and their children.
The beautiful and tranquil residence heavily influenced the sound of the album’s songs. “Ram On” would fit nicely on a South Pacific playlist and “Heart of the Country” and “Smile Away” sound like fun back porch sing-alongs. It is also his only solo album that comes across sounding particularly Beatles-like. “Dear Boy” sounds like a cousin of “Martha My Dear” and “Monkberry Moon Delight” and especially “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” wouldn’t be completely out of place on Sgt. Pepper. If you listen there are even references to his former bandmates in songs like the fun and defiant “Too Many People” or the band breakup metaphor of “3 Legs.” While Lennon and Harrison were making incredibly serious, personal albums, exercising internal demons, McCartney was keeping the light-hearted fun of the Beatles alive in his work.
Apparently this opinion would have been in the minority upon initial release. Despite being more produced than the “slight” McCartney, critics still panned it as “tossed-off” and fluffy, lacking any real thrill or substance. The other 3 former Beatles even trashed it, including the affable Ringo, thinking Paul had “lost the plot” and “felt bad for him.” Whether this came from genuine musical opinion or hurt feelings over lyrical jabs is anyone’s guess. It’s easy to see why Harrison and Lennon were on a high horse: Harrison had put out the deeply spiritual and passionate All Things Must Pass which would become a landmark album, and Lennon had released the fiercely cathartic Plastic Ono Band and was already recording what would become his most memorable solo recording, Imagine.
Paul was on a different trip than any of them, and nobody realized it at the time. Not only would he hit songwriting gold periodically throughout the rest of career (amongst some really poor stuff too of course), but he wasn’t the type to work out his anger and issues through song. Not like Harrison or Lennon. He did it for the fun and sport of it, music being his happy place of sorts. He did what he wanted and had a great time doing it. Regardless of whether it comes from hindsight or purely the album itself, RAM now sits as one of McCartney’s best, if not most fun and enduring work that any Beatles fan should enjoy.
Special Edition (2 CD/2LP)
This is your standard budget-conscious edition available in either CD or LP format. The first disc is the original stereo album, remastered with pleasing results. Yes, for those of you sticklers for detail, the phasing issues with the stereo master have not been corrected. According to some sources, the problem is in the master tapes themselves. A little searching on the internet and one can find a fan-created “phase corrected” version that does sound a bit different and is worth tracking down. To these ears the nowadays rare Steve Hoffman mastered DCC Gold CD version might still have the advantage in terms of overall quality of listening experience. Still, it sounds as good as it can for an affordable new proletariat release.
The second disc contains a mixed bag of other songs from the recording sessions. Absolutely essential to any McCartney collection are the single “Another Day” and minimalist bluesy number “Oh Woman Oh Why.” The rest of the disc is a mixed bag. “Little Woman Love” is fun little piano rag where Linda’s backing vocals shine and “Hey Diddle” is lovingly tender acoustic stomp. “A Love For You” is decent and sounds Harrison-esque to these ears. The rest is a bit inconsequential. “Great Cock and Seagull Race” is an instrumental that isn’t bad, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. “Rode All Night” for the first minute or two is alright, but then proceeds to drag on for nearly another 5 minutes in a highly repetitive fashion that by the ends wears on the listener’s ears and becomes borderline annoying.”Sunshine Sometimes” shows promise as an instrumental, but definitely seems not quite formed. Between the essential album tracks and the couple of great tracks on the 2nd disc, at the very least this version should be on any even mild McCartney fan’s shelf.
Deluxe Edition (4 CD + 1 DVD)
This souped-up version contains the two discs from the previous version, plus the very first CD pressing of the mono edition of the album and a disc called Thrillington, which is an orchestral arrangement of songs from RAM, originally release by McCartney under a pseudonym. The DVD contains an album making-of documentary called Ramming, as well as 4 promotional videos. In addition to the discs, the box contains a photo book, flip book, replica photos and download card, all housed in a fabric-wrapped box. It seems mighty impressive, but can’t be discussed further as it was a little too pricey for this writer’s wallet and thus not fully explored.
Limited Edition Mono LP
This is what has interested many a fan and collector, me included. Originally released only as a radio promo, it now sees the light of day as a limited commercial release coming in a plain white sleeve with the album title written on the sleeve to appear as if scribbled in pencil. This is all in an effort to stay true its promo-only roots. For many, this will become the go-to copy for home listening. As many found with the Beatles reissues, the issue of stereo vs. mono really depends on the album as to which is preferred, but in most cases, a mono mix has more “punch” to it. For a mostly laid-back album like this, it makes the whole thing seem more immediate and engaging honestly. Some noticeable differences include lower backing vocals and fades in different places on certain songs, such as “Too Many People” and “Dear Boy.” “Monkberry Moon Delight” sounds quite different. It feels like there’s more echo on the vocals, giving the feverish-sounding lyrics even more effect on the listener, creating a more psychedelic and satisfying experience. The pressing is of decent quality, with minimal surface noise. This striking mono edition of the album has barely left the turntable in weeks and should be in every audiophile and vinyl enthusiast’s collection.
Jarad Matula | Senior Writer