When McCartney’s second solo album, Ram (credited to Paul and Linda McCartney), came out in 1971 I ignored it.
The single that hit big in America, Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey came across as a lazy pastiche, a collection of bits that McCartney apparently couldn’t resolve into individual songs, or blend into a compelling whole, as he had been able to do with the long medley on Abbey Road.
The song played like a piece of catchy nonsense that, in addition to the inanity of its music-hall tribute Admiral Halsey section, also misappropriated the signature John Lennon echo-y funny-toff voice from Yellow Submarine.
I was also influenced by the campaign of vituperation orchestrated by Rolling Stone magazine (yes, it is amazing to recall that Rolling Stone actually possessed pop/rock cred back in the previous century).
Rolling Stone was firmly in the John Lennon camp and aggressively advanced the noble artist John/silly hack Paul dichotomy, as Wikipedia helpfully reminds me:
Upon its release, Ram was poorly received by music critics. McCartney was particularly hurt by the harsh reviews − especially as he had attempted to address the points raised in criticism of his earlier album, McCartney, by adopting a more professional approach this time around. In his review for Rolling Stone, Jon Landau called Ram “incredibly inconsequential” and “monumentally irrelevant”, and criticised its lack of intensity and energy. He added that it exposes McCartney as having “benefited immensely from collaboration” with the Beatles, particularly John Lennon, who “held the reins in on McCartney’s cutsie-pie, florid attempts at pure rock muzak” and kept him from “going off the deep end that leads to an album as emotionally vacuous as Ram“. Playboy accused McCartney of “substituting facility for any real substance”, and compared it to “watching someone juggle five guitars: It’s fairly impressive, but you keep wondering why he bothers.” Robert Christgau, writing in The Village Voice, called it “a bad record, a classic form/content mismatch”, and felt that McCartney succumbed to “conspicuous consumption” by overworking himself and obscenely producing a style of music meant to be soft and whimsical. Writing some four years later, Roy Carr and Tony Tyler from NME suggested that “it would be naive to have expected the McCartneys to produce anything other than a mediocre record … Grisly though this was, McCartney was to sink lower before rescuing his credibility late in 1973.”
His fellow ex-Beatles, all of whom were riding high in the critics’ favour with their recent releases,were likewise vocal in their negativity. Lennon famously hated the album, dismissing his former songwriting partner’s efforts as “muzak to my ears” in his song “How Do You Sleep?”. Even the affable Starr told Britain’s Melody Maker: “I feel sad about Paul’s albums … I don’t think there’s one [good] tune on the last one, Ram … he seems to be going strange.”
Lennon and the other Beatles apparently found much to offend them in Ram. Given the breakup related acrimony (McCartney had sued to officially dissolve the Beatles, destroying the band in order to save it, as he saw it, from the depredations of Allan Klein) and McCartney’s barely suppressed bitterness (the cover art for Ram shows two copulating beetles, indicating how McCartney felt he was being treated by the rest of the band), it is understandable that Lennon camp was totally uninterested in cutting McCartney any slack for some of the oblique jabs that careful and hostile listening detected on the album.
Even so, the disproportionate vitriol over McCartney’s purported anti-Beatle jibes in Ram reminds me of those communist show trials in which the accused’s desperate and disingenuous professions of innocence are never sufficiently abject, and provoke even more bitter condemnation than the original transgression.
Actually, Ram is a profoundly musical and inventive album that, in my opinion, goes interesting and worthwhile places and takes the listener along.
Here’s one of the songs, Dear Boy. Paul McCartney persuasively claimed that it was written largely as a rebuke to Linda Eastman’s first husband for his blindness in not appreciating what he had in Ms. Eastman. However, aggrieved Lennonists chose to interpret the song as an assertion of McCartney’s supposed musical supremacy in the Beatles. Modern listeners may be less interested in the supposed triteness (or condescending viciousness) of the sentiment than the awareness that McCartney has his Brian Wilson on and is intent on out-smiling Smile in two minutes and sixteen seconds of impeccable composition, arrangement, and performance.
Once again, my apologies to Paul McCartney, who is undoubtedly languishing in undeserved obscurity and poverty thanks to my failure to give Ram the attention it deserved upon its release.