When I first heard RAM back in 1971, I wasn’t too impressed. I liked “Too Many People.” While it was fun for the first twenty spins or so, I got annoyed with the endless airplay of “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.” Back then, I must have heard the rest of the LP at least once. But I didn’t listen to the full album again for 40 years, even though it was in my collection.
What was wrong with me? I don’t remember just what I didn’t like. I suspect I thought RAM wasn’t enough Beatles and too much clever cotton candy. Perhaps in 1971, Paul’s greatest crime was that he wasn’t John. Forty years later, hearing RAM again is like learning that the one-night stand you didn’t think much of could have turned out to be the love of your life. Now, what I hear is a songwriter in an exuberantly good mood. I hear an artist really pulling out all the stops to prove he didn’t need John, George, or Ringo to be a world-class act. I hear McCartney playing some of the best licks he ever laid down while building his compositions on some of the most artful studio production of any era.
My reappraisal came about because the Paul McCartney Archive Collection has added RAM to its series of remasters of Sir Paul’s back catalogue. It’s now available in seemingly every format you could ask for, from mono and stereo vinyl versions, single and double-disc editions, to the full-throttle boxed set. The two-disc edition and the box look like lovely packages, but I can only attest to the delights of the digitally remastered 12- track standard edition. It has no bells, no whistles, not even a single bonus track. Still, if you don’t want to spring for one of the classier packages, at the very least get this one. Whether you loved it all along or needed to mellow with age to appreciate it, RAM is a cakewalk of domestic happiness sprung from the Mull of Kintyre for a gloomy world mourning the death of the Fab Four.
After my old favorite, “Too Many People,” Paul’s songs seem like more fun to me now hearing McCartney’s interweaving of different parts and styles in “3 Legs” and “Ram On.” Perhaps it’s the better clarity of the instruments as produced by the same crew who re-worked The Beatles remasters. There’s a lot more going on in “Dear Boy” than I remembered and somehow I glossed over the bouncing rock and roll of “Smile Away” and “Eat at Home.”
I now have a better understanding of why some consider RAM a transitional album between The Beatles and Wings. “Heart of the Country” still sounds like an outtake from the The Beatles (aka the ‘White Album’) sessions, and that’s not a bad thing. Likewise, the scorched voice of “Monkberry Moon Delight” could have been switched out with “Oh Darling” on Abbey Road. Then, “Long Haired Lady” is perhaps one of the weaker compositions, despite its long “Let It Be”-like coda, but it’s a fine display of the musicianship of future Wings drummer Denny Seiwell and guitarists David Spinozza and Hugh McCracken. You can’t have a better closer than “The Back Seat of My Car,” which features some of the sharpest lyrics on the album. Goodness, I’m saying all this as if I’m writing about a brand new release. For folks like me, it almost is.
The only point I can make in my own defense is that the remastered RAM is likely a much better showcase for the imagination woven into the musical layers and the often sophisticated architecture of the songs than what I heard on the original vinyl. I know for certain I’m hearing subtle instrumental flourishes with much more clarity than before. So this time around, I’ll be enjoying more than a one-night stand. Now I can look forward to the opportunity to explore the full box set experience. All these years later, I’m ready.