RAM: Paul McCartney’s Most Significant Album
By Luca Perasi, author of the book Paul McCartney: Recording Sessions (1969-2013)
Both musically and from a psychological point of view, RAM represents something unique into McCartney's path as a solo artist.
He broke the ice with McCartney, true. But RAM was the first album he recorded after the Beatles. This is a key aspect to be taken in consideration when we try to understand the music and the meaning of this LP for Paul.
When Paul and Linda took over for New York City in early October 1970, McCartney was slowly recovering from a state of depression. He stated that after the split up of the Beatles, he felt like an unemployed. He started drinking heavily, and Linda saved him from hell, as Paul himself revealed.
He recruited just two musicians from the New York scene, drummer Denny Seiwell and guitarist Dave Spinozza. Tensions aroused after just one week, when Spinozza left the sessions. Paul was clear: do not book any other session. Spinozza did, and they fell apart.
An aspect that stands out clearly in the album is McCartney's raging tone in many songs. His burst of energy is coupled with rage: “Monkberry Moon Delight”, “Too Many People” and “Smile Away” are perfect examples of this side of the album. Other tracks have a dramatic vibe like "Dear Boy". The LP is full-chocked with ideas, maybe too many in some cases. Creativity and songwriting show McCartney at his best. Many songs, although McCartney denied it, seem to be addressed to John Lennon. Paul's only admission was about “Too Many People”: the original lyrics said “Yoko took your lucky break”, a verse later changed into “You took your lucky break”.
Other references are subtle: in “Monkberry Moon Delight” Paul seems to make a parody of John's vocal style in Plastic Ono Band, while "Three Legs" could easily be a metaphor about the Beatles as a group, without one of them. “Smile Away” contains some generic verses referred to a "friend of mine"; "Dear Boy" (that Paul has said is addressed to Linda's ex-husband) gives the impression of being a sort of j'accuse to John.
When he heard the album, Lennon was furious and said: “There were all the bits at the beginning of RAM like 'Too many people going underground'. Well that was us, Yoko and me. And 'You took your lucky break', that was considering we had a lucky break to be with him.”
On his side, Paul always claimed that the words are not referring to anyone in particular: “Three Legs” was inspired by a drawing by Paul's little daughter Heather. But a bitter taste remains after hearing the album, especially when put in context.
Back to the music. RAM is a little encyclopaedia of styles and genres, in the best McCartney tradition.
Paul goes from aggressive rockers like “Too Many People” and “Monkberry Moon Delight”, to lush ballads (“The Back Seat of My Car”, which combines brass band and romantic strings), passing through some George Formby-like song (“Ram On” with its ukulele), mini-operas (“Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” and “Long Haired Lady” are built by putting together different sections, tempos, melodies and atmospheres), country (“Heart of the Country”, with a terrific combination of guitar solo and scat singing by Paul) and blues (“Three Legs”).
And not to forget that George Martin took care of the orchestral arrangements, although he was not in the studio.
All in all, RAM represents a peak in McCartney's creative path. It also portrays a moment when Paul's professional and personal life was really difficult. You tried hard, you did not give up, even in hard times. You made it, Paul.