Last night I learned something I am admittedly a bit giddy about: Paul McCartney’s first “real” post-Beatles album, RAM, is being reissued in an uber-deluxe package soon. You can read about it at Macca’s website, but I’ll give you some other insights about that record and why you may want to listen to it again with wise ears (perhaps for the first time…):
RAM is arguably McCartney’s best album, in my humble opinion, and is certainly his most heartfelt and honest. It holds up well today, with a sound that isn’t dated or branded with the flavor he later crafted for his next band, Wings. Most of the records McCartney made between this and McCartney II in 1980 all bear the stamp of the sound of Wings, a sound that, while good, hasn’t aged all that well.
In many ways, RAM could have been a Beatles record, and accordingly it sounds a bit more timeless because of this independence from the formalized Wings sound.
A bit of personalized context may also be warranted here:
I liked Macca’s self-titled first album just fine, especially as a 9-year-old kid who was freaking out over the fact that The Beatles had split up and the future of music-as-we-knew-it seemed uncertain; so when McCartney released a track like “Maybe I’m Amazed” made entirely on his own, it gave one pause that that, “hey, maybe we’re going to be okay and get through this split up just fine.” Lennon gave only tough love to fans seeking post-Fab salvation:
“And so dear friends
You’ll just have to carry on
The dream is over ”
By early 1971 — Hendrix and Joplin dead, Nixon in power, Vietnam war still raging — we were eager for the comforting blanket of more Beatle music in any fashion we could get. George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass was a brilliant indication of what a solo Beatle could really do if they tried (Lennon had not yet released Imagine). McCartney had only put out the hit single “Another Day,” which was undeniably catchy, but even I as a 10-year-old couldn’t help but think it sounded like some sort a commercial jingle for a new brand of deodorant. When RAM emerged several months later, I remember a palpable sense of excitement: the tracks I’d heard on the radio were very Beatles-sounding, especially the soon-to-be-hit-single “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” with its two distinct sections, one reminiscent of “Yellow Submarine.” A lot of the other material could have been on The White Album, Let it Be, or Abbey Road. Despite some harsh critical reception, RAM hit #1 in the UK and #2 on the US pop charts.
My dad drove me all the way down to E.J. Korvettes (the big discount retailer on Rt. 22 for you East Coast trivia buffs) because they had RAM in stock — the album had had sold out at our local stores and Korvettes had a great record department. Studying the cover on the way home in the car, I was surprised to see RAM was credited to Paul & Linda McCartney (it made sense given all of Linda’s harmonies, and there was apparently a business/legal reason the album was credited that way, I later learned). The cover itself was really kinda cool looking, all cartoony, with off-the-cuff raw paper tape and magic marker artwork on it — very pop art, really like they made it themselves (they did!). It was very much the antithesis of the care that went into covers like Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road. I immediately noticed the picture real BEETLES humping one another on the back cover, which I later recognized as a dig at the other Beatles, who at that time were embroiled in lawsuits, effectively screwing one another (if you will).
“Too Many People” opens the record with an almost angry-sounding dig at Lennon (“You took your lucky break and broke it in two.”) Side Two offers the lighter side of putting Beatle woes behind them in the “Blackbird”-meets-”Two Of Us”-flavored “Heart of the Country.”
“Monkberry Moon Delight” is one of the most raucous tracks McCartney has written this side of “Helter Skelter” in terms of weird lyrics, crunching riffs, and dense production. Along with “Smile Away,” McCartney showed the world he could still rock out (in his own special melodic way) with as much primal scream rawness as Lennon did on the Plastic Ono Band album. Dumb placeholder lyrics aside, the music is just so killer and played from the gut, you can’t help but let your head bob along with the tunes.
“Dear Boy” is a dramatic, seemingly heavy tune, a bit more driving rhythmically but no doubt cut from the same McCartney-penned cloth as tracks like “She’s Leaving Home” and “For No One.” RAM even had a reprise of the title tune à la Sgt. Pepper on side two followed by an epic sounding finale (à la “A Day in the Life”) called “The Back Seat of My Car,” featuring big Phil Spector-style production touches.
RAM was Paul’s first fully formed post-Beatles statement and it was a strong one. In fact, I argue that it remains his strongest (sorry, I was never a huge fan of the murky-sounding Band on the Run). So there you have my rationale for being excited about this reissue on a basic level.
From McCartney’s site we learn exciting specifics:
RAM will be available across a variety of different formats:
Standard Edition: 1 CD digipak Single disc, digitally remastered 12- track standard edition
Special Edition: 2 CD digipak Remastered album and 8-track bonus audio CD including rarities, b-sides and the hit single, ‘Another Day’.
Deluxe Edition Box Set: 4 CD/1 DVD box set & download Remastered album, bonus audio CD, remastered Mono album, Thrillington CD, bonus film DVD, 112 page book, 5 prints in vintage style photographic wallet, 8 full size facsimiles of Paul’s original handwritten lyric sheets and mini photographic book of outtakes from the original album cover photo shoot.
Hi-Res: 24bit 96kHz files of the remastered and bonus audio CD, accessed via a download code inserted on a card within the deluxe edition package
Vinyl: 2LP 180gm, gatefold vinyl with download Remastered album, bonus audio disc plus digital download of all 20 tracks
Limited Edition Mono Vinyl: 1LP, Remastered mono album
Digital: RAM will be available for download across a variation of digital configurations including Mastered for iTunes and High Resolution
Lets recap the really cool things here:
First, the uber rare mono mix will get its first official release! Formerly available only as an ultra-obscure radio station promo album (arguably the most collectible/rare solo Beatle release), the mono mix has been bootlegged for years, but has never been issued officially and in the format it was intended for: vinyl. Woo hoo!
This is exciting stuff for Beatle fans!!
Second: Audiophiles will rejoice that Macca is making downloads available in high 24-bit/96 kHz resolution.
A step in the right direction!
Third: the deluxe package sounds sweet: 4 CDs + 1 DVD, including the mono mix, a film, and the once-very-rare Thrillington (orchestral RAM music made under the pseudonym of Percy Thrillington). I say “once rare,” since it was reissued on import CD a number of years ago. Thrillington is fun, if you want to groove on RAM while sipping on Manhattans and Frenet Branca in your fashionable downtown hipster spacage bachelor pad…
For me… well… RAM is a favorite album, so I am probably going to go a bit bonkers on this release and get the box set and the mono LP — I have nice US and UK pressings of the original LPs, so I’m not sure I need to get the 180-gram 2-LP set just now. If the 96/24 download is available as part of the box set package, I will get that version — of course — just to hear how it compares with the LP and CD versions. And especially after watching the teaser video McCartney put out on YouTube, I am intrigued and would really like to learn more of the back story about what went into the making of this album.