Paul McCartney's Ram: An Appreciation of the Album that Made Him a Pariah

Categories: Fiesta!

Late last month, the third piece of the Paul McCartney remaster series--a super-deluxe version of 1971's Ram--finally hit stores. The timing, if a little belated, was fitting; by now it seems like Ram is everyone's favorite Paul McCartney record, but that's only because after 40 years we've finally finished reassessing the strange transitional album that made McCartney alone, among the solo Beatles, a critical pariah.

I wasn't around when it was being savaged, so I can neither take credit for enjoying it before it was cool nor hope to understand, first-hand, what made it so unpopular.

But I can guess.

Ram is a weird, gawky hybrid album, coming after the underproduced, seemingly half-finished McCartney and before the precise bombast of Band on the Run, and it partakes equally of both impulses. Songs like "Heart of the Country" seem to want to be improvised and undone, while the album-closing "Back Seat of My Car" is as meticulously produced as any song in his catalogue.

Paul McCartney--at least the Paul McCartney of Ram--doesn't sound like he wants world peace or religious enlightenment or anything else the Beatles, together and separately, seemed to be reaching for at the dawn of the 1970s. (All the Important Things, perhaps, rock journalists thought they were being promised.) He just wants, simultaneously, to live a pastoral life improvising tunes with his wife and to write, second-by-second and chord-change-by-chord-change, complex, loud songs that people will sing along with him in an arena.

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RAM's persistence, in the past 40 years, with such a bad rap, is testament to just how special an album it is, one which has been covered in its entirety several times in recent years by young turks of various musical persuasion and held in high esteem by many more. Of course, like the other albums in the excellent 'Archive' resissue project, McCartney was comforted back in the day by the high-volume sales which somewhat offset his critical standing. In a way, it's somehow poetic justice that he sold sold sold right through all of that flak and that the deluxe repackages (and who has EVER done a package better than McCartney?) are now claiming critical glory. Certainly, the Archive story so far shows just how many of these dissed albums were loved by music lovers and music makers. Like you, I'm looking forward to quite a few more of these, the upcoming Wings Over America being a sensational live album, one of the best and 'Back to the Egg' one of his worst sellers (unless you're judging by contemporary standards!) being another of the gems. I wonder if other titles like Wild Life and Pipes of Peace will manifest hidden fandom and reassessment, though. But in general, it seems that McCartney, asked on an early 90's MTV special about his bad critical standing, was prescient when he reckoned that all of his 'bad' stuff would grow on people. That it has.


Yes! BTTE is brilliant! Nice review.

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