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Released on this day: Ram, the first and last album credited to Paul and Linda McCartney as a duo. And there are all sorts of cheap jokes I could make about that cover art — which seems almost to be begging for it — but out of respect for the still-living Beatle and his late beloved wife, I shall refrain.

I have a fraught relationship with Paul’s Seventies work. I find McCartney lazily charming and, like all the earliest solo Beatle records, still dusted with a little sprinkle of that Fab Four magic. I think Band on the Run is a borderline masterpiece. But I also have unpleasant childhood memories of being tortured by dreck like “Silly Love Songs” and “Listen to What the Man Said,” which I hate in that special way you can only hate songs that were played on AM radio again and again when you were in the back seat and had no control over the radio.

So it is with trepidation that I approach anything on the more syrupy side of the McCartney 1970s Spectrum — which is, let’s be honest, a lot of it. As a result I have never to this day listened to Ram in its entirety, so I decided to join an online listening party beginning at 10 AM Pacific Time, and I will try to document it in something like real time.

Too Many People
I know that this song is supposed to have pissed John off and inspired him to write “How Do You Sleep?” And sure, some of the lyrics could be interpreted as veiled shots at Mr. Lennon…

Too many people going underground
Too many reaching for a piece of cake
Too many people pulled and pushed around
Too many waiting for that lucky break
That was your first mistake
You took your lucky break and broke it in two
Now what can be done for you?
You broke it in two
Too many people sharing party lines
Too many people ever sleeping late
Too many people paying parking fines
Too many hungry people losing weight

Too many people preaching practices
Don’t let ’em tell you what you wanna be
Too many people holding back
This is crazy, and baby, it’s not like me
That was your last mistake
I find my love awake and waiting to be
Now what can be done for you?
She’s waiting for me – yeah

…though some of it (“preaching practices”) could just as well be aimed at George, and I’m not sure what parking fines have to do with it. Musically “Too Many People” is solid enough, propulsive, not overly saccharine. I don’t hear much evidence of Linda.

3 Legs
I thought this might be a song about Paul’s penis, but it seems to be a slice of life from the farm. A horse, a fly, and a three-legged dog. Not exactly “Working Class Hero,” is it? Still don’t hear Linda really.

Ram On
The uke strumming is painful. Maybe that’s Linda? Her background vocals are audible and on-key, though. But overall there is very little to this, which suggests that three songs in, Paul is already running a little thin on material.

Dear Boy
Not unpleasant, but there’s not a whole lot going on here either, is there?

Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey
“Uncle Albert” seems to show a little ambition, finally. In fact Paul seems to have written a melody that he has trouble singing. But it doesn’t go much of anywhere, which Paul seems to be aware of: “We’re so sorry, Uncle Albert/But we haven’t done a bloody thing all day.” “Admiral Halsey” brings in a super-catchy refrain, but those goofy falsetto scat vocals… I dunno.

Smile Away
Nice crunchy guitar there, and fuzz bass, and surf vocals that sound a bit like John’s in “Revolution.” The lyrics are nonsense, but why quibble? All the people in the listening party seem to love this album and have nothing but praise for every song on it, which is making me feel a bit churlish. Of the six so far, I’ll take this one on my playlist for sure.

Heart of the Country
We’re on to side 2 of the record here, but we’re back where we started, on the farm. Horses, sheep, and grass. Genius.com says, “In an attempt to duck out of the public eye, Paul, Linda and her daughter Heather moved to Scotland, inadvertently fueling more ‘Paul is dead’ rumors. This song is a lovely tribute to that style of living.”

Monkberry Moon Delight
“Robert Christgau, writing in The Village Voice, called [Ram] ‘a bad record, a classic form/content mismatch,’ and felt that McCartney succumbed to ‘conspicuous consumption’ by overworking himself and obscenely [over]producing a style of music meant to be soft and whimsical.” —Wikipedia

Eat at Home
Wink, wink. The gist of this seems clear enough, but what does Paul mean when he says “Lady, now don’t do that”?

Long-Haired Lady
In a similar vein, this one seems weirdly ambivalent for a purported love song. The first verse says:

Do you love me like you know you ought to do?
Or is this the only thing you want me for?
Well, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about it for some time

This suggests some dark undercurrents to the apparently idyllic McCartney marriage, but it goes no deeper than that, ending with:

Win or lose it, winter, summer, love is long, love is long
(Ah, sing your song, love is long, love is long)
Ah, love is long, love is long, love is long

And so is this song. Six minutes is at least two more than necessary.

Ram On (Reprise)
This apparent nod to Sgt. Pepper is an insult to that record and invites unfavorable comparisons to the present work. It should have been avoided.

Back Seat of My Car
“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 [sic], 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.’” —Wikipedia

And just like that it’s over. There’s nothing on Ram that triggered my 70s PTSD. Nor will I likely be inspired to listen to it again anytime soon. I note that there’s a whole second disc on the Deluxe Edition, including the contemporaneous single “Another Day” and something called “The Great Cock and Seagull Race.” But that will be a subject for… wait for it… another day.

In the meantime, here’s Al Green, also from 1971. Peace and love until we meet again.

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