It may never have been out of stock, but Paul McCartney’s back catalogue has now been reissued three times since the dawn of the CD age. As he approached 70, someone at EMI clearly decided it was finally time for cardboard boxes, double disk editions and inaudible attempts at remastering. Last year, there were new boxes for ‘McCartney’ and ‘McCartney II’ – the home-made solo albums that marked a change of tack after the respective break up of his two groups. Now comes ‘Ram’, a curio in the sense that it is the only album credited to Paul and Linda McCartney.
'Ram' was his second solo album. It came after 'McCartney', written and recorded while he was still a Beatle, though released alongside an announcement of the band’s split, and clearly not designed as a major work. Most of it is a series of instrumental doodles, while several of the songs were actually rejected for 'The White Album' (‘Junk’ and ‘Teddy Boy’ are both now available on 'Beatles Anthology 3').
‘Ram’, therefore, was McCartney’s first major statement as a solo artist. Or, at least, it should have been. His old bandmates were all taking things seriously – Lennon offered his most personal material and clearly worked harder on his first solo album than he had on latter Beatles albums; Harrison worked even harder and made a triple album while even Ringo jetted off to work with a crack Nashville band for ‘Beaucoup of Blues’.
McCartney, however, opted for an album of seemingly throwaway pop – most of it seemingly tossed off with minimal effort. Even if he hadn’t courted derision by crediting Linda on the sleeve, McCartney – now publicly derided as the maker of ‘granny music’ by the mean spirited Lennon – would never fully recover his artistic reputation after 'Ram'. Even today, admitting to a fondness for Wings remains, in some circles, akin to liking Sting or Phil Collins.
Luckily for me, my parents are both firmly in the pro-McCartney camp, which meant that – having first explored all the Beatles albums – it was a short step to ‘Band on the Run’ and then this before I’d even left primary school. Though I have no children myself, I have to offer this piece of invaluable parental advice – get your children started on 'Ram' as early in their lives as you possibly can. They’ll never be short of a tune to hum again.
Having recorded his first solo album at home, McCartney was back at Abbey Road this time. This meant full use of a string section and a full compliment of skilled engineers, as McCartney reached for the unabashed melodic inventiveness of his friend (and rival) Brian Wilson. On the beautiful ‘Dear Boy’ and the epic ‘Back Street of My Car’, you get beautiful harmonies, sweeping crescendos and the kind of gorgeous tunes McCartney and Wilson both became famous for.
Meanwhile even the less adventurous songs are executed perfectly. ‘Ram On’, featuring just Paul and a ukulele, probably took less than an hour to write and record, but it is hard to imagine a better song for rambling through the countryside. Except, perhaps, ‘Heart of the Country’, a throwaway ditty as infectiously catchy as anything he ever wrote. We also get ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’, a rare example of a song that is very famous, yet rarely recognised as being by Paul McCartney. Here he shows the same cheeky musical genius that made side two of 'Abbey Road' so much fun, albeit without the drama of ‘The End’. The critics hated it, but you won’t.
'Ram' can never be described as a hidden gem – millions of households already own a copy after all, and the people buying this reissue are probably surprised to find they didn’t already own it. And yet, too many don’t know how good it is – here you find Paul McCartney at his most tuneful, being recklessly inventive and producing a consistently enjoyable album. Freed from the weight of history, today we can enjoy 'Ram' solely on its own merits. No record collection is complete without it.