May 172021
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

Ram

As album reviews go, Rolling Stone writer Jon Landau’s take on Paul & Linda McCartney’s Ram in 1971 was exceptionally brutal. Its opening barb, “Ram represents the nadir in the decomposition of Sixties rock thus far,” was a mere taster for what was to follow. Landau asserted that Ram was a “very bad album… unbearably inept… unpleasant.” He ended the review with a direct kick to Paul’s (apparent) hubris; “McCartney (the first solo album) and Ram both prove that Paul benefited immensely from collaboration and that he seems to be dying on the vine as a result of his own self-imposed musical isolation” (translation: you suck without the band that YOU broke up).

Landau was by no means alone in his disdain. Joining the pile on were NME’s Alan Smith, who declared Ram to be “the worst thing Paul McCartney has ever done,” and his own ex-bandmate John Lennon, who stated that it was “awful.” Speaking of the latter, even Ringo, our sweet beloved Ringo, weighed in with a “I don’t think there’s a tune on it.”

Oh boy. These assessments have not aged well, to put it mildly. The 21st century has seen Ram’s  homespun charm endlessly lauded everywhere from Pitchfork to, yes, Rolling Stone. The album’s seeming lack of concern for shiny sonic commerciality has led many folks to refer to it as the one of the first real “indie” albums (debatable, as its self-titled predecessor went even further in that direction, but you get the idea).

What led to the critical sea change? Well, the simplest answer is that enough time passed that people stopped looking at Ram through the fog of despair over The Beatles’ break-up. It’s no longer characterized as an album by the villainous Beatle destroyer, but is instead regarded as prescient masterpiece by one of the greatest artists of all time. For maybe the truest sign that humanity has come full circle in terms of recognizing the merits of Ram, look no further than arguably the world’s biggest pop star.

In 2019, Harry Styles was asked by writer Rob Sheffield to describe the recording process and inspiration for his soon to be platinum album Fine Line and offered up this little nugget:

We’d do mushrooms, lie down on the grass, and listen to Paul McCartney’s Ram in the sunshine.

There you have it. This muddy Wellington sporting, wet dog scented, Fair Isle sweater wearing album from 1971, the album that everyone hated, helped inspire a #1 retro pop album recorded in sunny southern California in 2021. “Monkberry Moon Delight” begat “Watermelon Sugar.” Yup.

Ram is endlessly, welcomingly weird. It is the absolute scream-iest album in the whole McCartney discography, and home to his most bizarre lyrical turns (“a piano up my nose,” the whole of “Admiral Halsey,” “tomato tomato”). It somehow manages the feat of sounding charmingly, shambolically loose whilst being completely radio-friendly. And while it is a celebration of home and family, it is liberally dotted with hints of rebellion and revenge (primarily related to you know what/who). So it’s weird–but like, really good weird.

Despite Ram‘s latter day acclaim, its songs haven’t inspired the typical stampede of cover attempts you’d expect for an album that’s so well-regarded. Maybe it’s here that the “weird” part gets in the way, especially in regards to the lyrical content. But while there aren’t a ton of covers out there, there are some unequivocal stunners amongst the existing ones. Join us now as we rumble through some of the coolest Ram covers currently on offer. Within their ranks you will hear gender-flipped vocals, inventive new chord additions, shred-the blueprint reinventions, and a few faithful valentines. Best of all, you’ll feel the palpable love for Ram in every single one of them.

All right, cats and kittens, time to ram on…

Finn Brothers–Too Many People (Paul and Linda McCartney cover)

In an interview included within the 2012 deluxe Archive Collection of Ram, Paul stated that “Too Many People” was meant as a “direct message to John over the airwaves,” especially the line “too many people preaching practices,” an obvious dig at Lennon and Yoko Ono’s penchant for publicity seeking during that era. The 2001 tribute album Listen To What The Man Said: Popular Artists Pay Tribute To The Music Of Paul McCartney was generally a pretty spotty affair, but it was home to Tim and Neil Finn’s pleasingly manic cover of “Too Many People.” Sweet-voiced older sibling Tim takes the lead on vocals and the brothers capture the original’s sloppy spontaneity pretty darn well.

Frankel–3 Legs (Paul and Linda McCartney cover)

“3 Legs” is arguably the weakest track on Ram, the most rough at the edges, the hardest to listen to, but like a sheep with two different colored eyes, even though it’s not quite up to the standard of the rest of the herd, it’s still a sheep… meaning it still fits in well with Ram‘s muddy vibe. It’s a somewhat thankless song to cover, but Frankel weird it up pretty nicely, utilizing a cool trippy vocal effect. And that big fat bass bottom is pretty nifty too.

Found Wandering–Ram On (Paul and Linda McCartney cover)

Back when they were known as The Silver Beatles, the group decided to give themselves cool stage names because in those days, that’s what show biz folks did. Thus Paul McCartney became Paul Ramon. Yeah, you get it. Ram on. (Years later, The Ramones adopted-adapted the pseudonym as their own utterly perfect band name.) Pennsylvania-based trio Found Wandering recast Paul’s sweet and infectious ukulele ballad into an exceptionally handsome and sultry piece of folky bluegrass…or is it bluegrassy folk? Either way, it’s lovely.

Death Cab For Cutie–Dear Boy (Paul and Linda McCartney cover)

During an episode of Ben Gibbard’s acclaimed 2020 streaming show series Live From Home, the Death Cab for Cutie leader was asked what his favorite post-Beatles album was and who his favorite Beatle was. The answers were, you guessed it, Ram and Paul. During their 2009 pledge drive, radio station WFMU offered an exclusive gift to those who donated; a multi-artist cd tribute to Ram. The disc is long out of print, and the majority of its tracks are nowhere to be streamed (officially). Fortunately, one of its absolute best covers, Death Cab’s version of Ram‘s most overtly Beatle-esque track “Dear Boy,” was findable. It’s not fancy or adventurous, just straight up sweet and loyal, and it features a typically fine candy-coated and keening vocal from Gibbard. By the way, Gibbard is not the only Death Cab member who loves the Ram; stay tuned…

Foster Sylvers–Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey (Paul and Linda McCartney cover)

Paul McCartney did have an actual Uncle Albert. According to Macca, he lived “respectfully” during the day but would get blindingly drunk at family gatherings and proceed to hop atop tables and recite bible passages. He inspired “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” part rainy day ballad, part bouncy castle singalong, and unquestionably one of the most peculiar #1’s in pop music history (with Paul’s spoken delivery of the line “The butter wouldn’t melt so I put it in the pie” acting as exhibit A in the case of “this song is crazy”).

Based on all this you’d think it would be impossible for “Uncle/Admiral” to get any more bizarre than it already is…but you’d be wrong. Meet 11 year old Foster Sylvers’ 1973 cover of the song. Though Foster is most famous for being part of of family group The Sylvers (of 1976 #1 “Boogie Fever” fame), he released a solo album prior to joining the group officially. The closing track on this 1973 debut album was a medley of Brahms’ “Lullabye” and “Uncle Albert.” You’ll notice I did not mention “Admiral Halsey.” That is because he is not present on Foster’s cover. But you will never guess who is here in his place. Jude. As in “Hey Jude.”  This cover so disorienting and fascinating that it’s kind of hard to explain. Let’s just say that had it appeared over the closing credits of an early ’70s horror film, it would not have sounded remotely out of place.

Dave Depper–Smile Away (Paul and Linda McCartney cover)

Where were we… yes, so Ben Gibbard is not the only Death Cab member who loves Ram. In 2011, Dave Depper, the band’s guitarist and keyboardist, released The Ram Project, a solo recording of the entire album. Depper explained “The Ram Project was meant to be a simple exercise in learning how to finish something I’d started, an effort to improve my skills at home recording, an attempt to better myself as a musician and singer, and finally a celebration of one of my favorite records. It ended up becoming something that profoundly affected my life in ways I could have never predicted.”

For the album’s version of the chunky, sludgy rocker “Smile Away,” Depper gets out his sonic scrub brush and applies a bit of shine to the song, adding some crystalline guitar as well as a swell, sweet ‘n’ sunshine-y vocal. It sounds good, as does the rest of The Ram Project. Listen to it in its entirety right here.

Martha & Tena–Heart Of The Country (Paul and Linda McCartney cover)

If any song on Ram could be said to embody where Paul’s head was at in 1971, it’s his goofy blissful tribute to life on the farm, “Heart Of The Country.” Forget fame and fortune; all Paul wants is a horse, a sheep and to get himself a good night’s sleep. The song is heartfelt and genuine to be sure, but it’s definitely a bit silly too (like a more adult “All Together Now”). Let us now bow to sisters Martha and Tena Elefteriadu, who have somehow managed to make “Heart…” sound cool. Conjure in your mind a downbeat ABBA singing The Association’s 1966 megahit “Along Comes Mary” in Czech and you will have a pretty good idea where Martha and Tena take “Heart.” Yes, it is very, very cool. The track comes from their 1973 album The Blue Kingdom, which, by the way, is also blessed with a staggeringly fabulous cover of Badfinger’s “Without You.” And for the record, as of 2021 the duo are still still out there performing. Ram on, sisters.

Nikolai Rastorguev “Monkberry Moon Delight” (Paul and Linda McCartney cover)

Welcome to the scream-iest of all the screamers on Ram, the certifiably batsh*t “Monkberry Moon Delight.” Naturally, as Ram‘s craziest confection, it is also the recipient of the album’s most madcap cover attempt. While there is a more famous recording of the song by one of Paul’s actual inspirations for writing it, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins from 1973 (listen here), it doesn’t compare to Nikolai Rastorguev’s version.

I should make clear that Nikolai’s version is as much a visual experience as it is an aural one. It is both kaleidoscopically weird and completely faithful. I swear this is not a contradiction. His vocal delivery is so on point and earnest, is so perfectly suited to the song’s arrangement that if you didn’t know better you’d think “Monkberry Moon Delight” was actually a Nikolai Rastorguev song that Paul McCartney covered. When he rasps out “soup and puree” whilst staring with disturbing intensity at his duet partner, it’s clear he means… something. Why are the dancers dressed as late ’60s style hippies, you ask? Alas, I do not know, but when it comes to this cover it’s best not to think too much, it’ll just get you more confused. Just join the party, throw shapes, breathe in the confetti, and bask in its eternally fabulous hallucinogenic Monkberry flavored charm.

Kensuke Sudo–Eat At Home (Paul and Linda McCartney cover)

When it comes to “Eat At Home,” Paul’s laid-back but rockingly groovy tribute to home and Linda, there aren’t a lot of covers to choose from. But of the existing versions, one man band Kensuke Sudo’s is by far the most embraceable and endearing. While he generally plays it pretty straight and faithful, Sudo does put his own idiosyncratic stamp onto the song by adding some pretty tasty guitar flourishes. And his homespun drum kit is just so, so Ram.

Tim Christensen w/ Tracy Bonham, Mike Viola & The Damn Crystals–Long Haired Lady (Paul and Linda McCartney cover)

Singer-songwriter Tim Christensen and power-pop virtuoso Mike Viola both cite Ram as their favorite album. So to celebrate Sir Paul’s 70th birthday in 2013, the two decided to arrange a tribute concert in Copenhagen (Christensen’s hometown) to perform Ram in full, plus a handful of their other Macca solo favorites. They then recruited the awesome Tracy Bonham to participate along with Tim’s band The Damn Crystals, and ultimately ended up releasing a recording of the sold-out show as an album called Pure McCartney (yes, fellow nerds, that’s the same title Paul gave to his 2016 self-curated compilation album). Their version of “Long Haired Lady” is virtuosically good in no small part to Christensen’s fabulously elastic and emotive vocal. Bonham not only adds some quality bonus sneer to the Linda McCartney vocal part but she and Viola offer up some extremely handsome harmonizing along the way too. And this isn’t the only track they absolutely nailed at the show, as we’ll soon see….

The Parson Redheads–Ram On (Reprise) (Paul and Linda McCartney cover)

Lasting a mere 55 seconds, “Ram On (Reprise)” is less a song than it is an interstitial. It’s most notable for featuring a snippet of a track that was to open a future McCartney album (“Big Barn Bed” on 1973’s Red Rose Speedway). The Parson Redheads add a whole extra minute to the proceedings, cut out the “BBB” bit and craftily shape the “Ram On (Reprise)” into a sundown sweet Allman Brothers-Jeff Beck hybrid.

Tim Christensen w/ Tracy Bonham, Mike Viola & The Damn Crystals–The Back Seat Of My Car (Paul and Linda McCartney cover)

It’s a shame there aren’t more covers of Ram’s closing (and best) track, the swoon-some, plush and lustful “The Back Seat Of My Car.” Beyond its obvious melodic attributes, it also showcases one of Paul’s most fabulous songwriting party tricks to perfection, i.e. featuring one of those “songs within a song” codas that no one is more masterful at creating. But while we are not spoiled for choice when it comes to covers of the track, the Bonham-Christensen-Viola “Back Seat” version would be very hard to top. The trio act as a kickass carnal choir, turning up the volume and delivering an eminently beautiful love letter to the song that perfectly captures its passionate, living in the moment spirit. Raucous and gorgeous.

Hey, all you long haired ladies, uncles and admirals, if after reading this you still crave more obsessive, hyperbolic Macca-related musings, please head to my blog Picking Up Rocks for “The Wonder Of It All,” a four-part (!) breakdown of the entire Paul McCartney solo discography. It’s deep, deranged and completely devoted and you can check it out here. Ram on…

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  4 Responses to “Full Albums: Paul & Linda McCartney’s ‘Ram’”

Comments (4)
  1. Bloody gorgeous writing. I loathe Ram and will neither be listening to many of these, but the piece really had me beaming.

  2. Love the original Ram album, and love this article. My daughters were born here in Australia and when they were young mistakenly thought Paul was singing ‘Heart of the Gumtree’ From then on ‘Heart of the Country’ was renamed in our house and car and remains one of my fave Macca solo tracks for very sentimental reasons! But what about his scatting vocals anyway….?!

  3. I love Ram…it was the soundtrack to my youth. Thank you so much for this! P.S. I always thought the lyric in Monkberry Moon Delight was “A kilo up my nose” i.e. a whole lot of drugs… which, if you listen to the other lyrics, makes sense…

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