Released in 1971, Ram was the only album credited to Paul and Linda McCartney.
Ram was Paul McCartney’s second post-Beatles album, and was intended to contrast the homemade feel of his debut album, McCartney. Recorded in New York and Los Angeles, it featured a range of session musicians including future Wings drummer Denny Seiwell.
I remember driving up to Liverpool at some point and deciding that Ram would be a good title for the album, then the picture came, and you can “ram” a door down, and a “ram” is a male, like a stag. It just seemed like a good word.
Mojo, July 2001
Critical and public reactions to the McCartney album had been mixed, with many being disappointed that, after the sumptuous glories of Abbey Road, it had an unfinished, makeshift feel. Ever mindful of his public perception, McCartney decided to raise the ante and deliver a set of carefully crafted songs.
More than 30 songs were written ahead of the sessions. Of the ones chosen for Ram, six – ‘Dear Boy’, ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’, ‘Heart Of The Country’, ‘Monkberry Moon Delight’, ‘Eat At Home’, and ‘Long Haired Lady’ – were collaborations with Linda.
Linda was responsible for lifting Paul’s spirits during the break-up of The Beatles and the subsequent legal action to dissolve their partnership. McCartney later spoke of suffering physical and mental exhaustion.
I was going through a bad time, what I suspect was almost a nervous breakdown. I remember lying awake at nights shaking, which has not happened to me since. I had so much in me that I couldn’t express, and it was just very nervy times, very difficult.
As so often in his life, McCartney found solace in the familiar: his Scottish farmhouse, family life and songwriting. Several of the songs written for Ram documented – in often oblique terms – the feelings held against his former musical partners, most notably John Lennon.
Lennon and McCartney had been conducting a rather public feud in 1970 and 1971, with interviews and letters in the British music press making it clear that their personal and creative relationships were no more. Unsurprisingly, both turned to songwriting to express their mutual antagonism, with Ram carrying the opening salvos.
The album opens with the words “Piss off,” which McCartney later admitted was aimed at Lennon. “Yeah. Piss off, cake. Like, a piece of cake becomes piss off cake, and it’s nothing, it’s so harmless really, just little digs.” Indeed, the whole song Too Many People was written about Lennon and Yoko Ono.
I remember there was one little reference to John in the whole thing. He’d been doing a lot of preaching, and it got up my nose a little bit. I wrote ‘Too many people preaching practices’ I think is the line. I mean, that was a little dig at John and Yoko. There wasn’t anything else on it that was about them. Oh, there was ‘Yoko took your lucky break and broke it in two.’
Although McCartney altered the reference to Ono, the “little dig” didn’t go unnoticed. Lennon also felt ‘3 Legs’ and ‘Smile Away’ were about The Beatles and Apple, that ‘Dear Boy’ was written about him, and the closing lines of ‘The Back Seat Of My Car’ – “We believe that we can’t be wrong” – amounted to pointed criticism of him and Ono. A further blow came with a symbolic back cover photograph of two beetles mating.
It amounted to a bold move on McCartney’s part, and Lennon responded with typical fervour. The Imagine album contained ‘How Do You Sleep’, a vitriolic attack on the McCartneys, and the album came with a postcard parodying the photograph of Paul on the cover of Ram.
Oh hells, bells … listen to Ram folks! The lyrics weren’t printed, just listen to it. I’m answering Ram. When I heard Ram, I immediately sat down and wrote my song which is an answer to Ram. It’s as simple as that. It’s also a moment’s anger. But it was written down on paper and when I sang, it wasn’t quite as angry as when I sang it in the studio, because it was four weeks later and we were all writing it, you know. It was like a joke. ‘Let’s write this down.’ We didn’t take it that seriously.
This is like a secret shame. I like this album. Indeed, Paul ‘carefully crafted’ these songs. He needed to do something after ‘McCartney’ to get his credibility back. Yes, it’s goofy, frequently indulgent and there are some remnants of slop buried in the mix. And yet the sheer strength of committment to the melody is all here. The production values, even in moments of pure-plain-corn, are very slick. And those harmonies….There are touches of ‘You Know My Name…’ and ‘Because’ throughout. If I listen to a McCartney album, it is usually this one. He’s had better songs, but never one as consistently elegant as this one. And he sounds like he is actaully having fun (putting aside the Lennon slams)
Rubbish! It’s a great album. You’re just repeating the cliche nonsense everybody repeats. His first solo was pretty good though. The roughness, the garage-band feel was intentional. It was an album of self-discovery, trying to craft a new sound, something different from the Beatles and I frankly miss the emotional openness of it in his later work but the sound started in McCartney is there all through his Wings stuff in the70’s. It’s the typical Lennon zealot reaction: if John did it, it’s raw, stripped down, etc If Paul does it it’s sloppy. The interesting thing is that they both took a more direct and stripped down direction. What it does show is that they were a lot close to each other than the others. John was more direct in his lyrics and politics and Paul was usually more indirect and obviously less political. Just compare Imagine with Let it Be, two master works and both really anthems and it shows the different personalities.
There aren’t too many albums that been covered in their entirety but several of them feature Paul McCartney and ‘RAM’ is probably the most recent -at least three or four cover versions by younger musicians in the past five or six years. That alone speaks volumes of the disparity between its critical response and reputation on release and its actual long-term value to listeners, the latter already apparent in the 70’s by very strong sales and, since, remarkable in that those from recent generations discovering it must surely be doing so via something approaching word-of-mouth in the absence of a critical standing.
Poor John. He could never in a lifetime have come up with a record as musically inventive as Ram. Instead, John seemed to spin his wheels creatively — which is why his albums today sound so dated and tired, and Ram sounds fresh and modern.
The fact is: John, Ringo, and many 1971 critics were hearing something entirely new and they just didn’t understand it. And they pressured Paul to feel badly about his music for reasons that had nothing to do with the music and entirely to do with boring Beatles internal politics.
Ram is Paul’s masterpiece. And as Pitchfork’s recent review described the album so well in its spot-on review recently, Ram is an album that is the grandfather of indie pop.