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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.