Ruth and Martin's Album Club
By Martin Fitzgerald
The official book of the acclaimed music blog where guests listen to great albums for the first time
Week 51 - Ram by Paul McCartney
Guest listener - Martin Carr
Who’s Martin Carr when he’s at home?
Daydreamer. Writes songs but has still to write a really good one, tick tock tick tock.
Martin’s Top 3 albums ever?
Gza - Liquid Swords
The Aggrovators - Johnny In The Echo Chamber
The Violent Femmes - The Violent Femmes
What great album has he never heard before?
Ram by Paul McCartney
Released in May 1971
Before we get to Martin, here’s what Martin of Ruth and Martin’s Album Club thinks of Ram
It’s September 1969 and McCartney tries to cajole them into one last hurrah.
He suggests a tour of small clubs, their first live dates since 1966, in the hope they’ll rediscover their confidence and reignite their spark. He even floats the idea of a pseudonym, that they could turn up unannounced and play under the worst name ever - Rikki and The Redstreaks.
It’s unclear who was down to play the part of Rikki.
Lennon looks at him like he’s mad.
“I think you’re daft”, he says, “I’m leaving the group. I want a divorce"
And that was that - the beginning of the end for The Beatles.
They’d played over 800 hours in Hamburg, 292 times at the Cavern, and recorded 13 albums in 7 years - the majority of which took place in just one room. One room that saw virtually everything from Please Please Me to Abbey Road - with barely a pause in between.
But now it was over. Lennon had his own Plastic Ono Band to get on with and McCartney had been spat out of the whirlwind. Remarkably, he was only 27 when it happened - The Beatles done and dusted and he’s not even technically in his late twenties yet.
It’s worth noting that for all the documentation and analysis of this part of McCartney’s life, that his perspective is entirely different - completely unique. He was the other side of the lens, living the life that was being captured and all the bits in between that weren’t. By all accounts his memory of these years is sketchy, his knowledge lacking compared to the fans that have pored over the record since - his own recollection different to the snapshots or lost in the living.
I once read an interview with him where he was asked about meeting Muhammad Ali and the famous photo where Ali appears to knock out The Beatles. McCartney couldn’t even remember it and the interviewer had to show him the photo as evidence that it happened.
As I said, a whirlwind life up to this point - so much so that he kind of forgot the time he had a bit of a laugh with Muhammad Ali.
But back to 1969. The Beatles had run their course but decide to keep it a secret untilLet it Be is released further down the line.
For the first time in years - a pause in the action.
McCartney, in a state of depression and anxiety, takes his wife and children to High Park Farm - a rundown farmhouse on a hill, in the middle of a misty Scottish nowhere. With the rarity of nothing to do, he hits the bottle, the drugs, and ends up playing rhythm gardener to Linda’s lead. And, in time, it’s Linda that starts to pull her husband together - taking his mind off The Beatles’ split and occupying him with household chores and projects of renovation.
For Christmas, 1969 Linda buys Paul a tractor which must have been the hardest present in the world to wrap.
For Christmas, 1969 Paul buys Linda 12 pheasants which must have been the hardest pheasants in the world to wrap.
Still, they grew into their countryside selves and put their troubles behind them - Paul making use of his tractor to plough a vegetable patch where he grew runner beans, turnips, potatoes, and spinach. He also builds a basic four track studio in the farmhouse which he names The Rude Studio and starts writing songs again. Imagine an early episode of Grand Designs but the subject has a drink problem and has just left the biggest band in the world.
However, just as everything was starting to go well it was then reported that Paul McCartney was actually dead.
A rumour that had started in a student paper in Iowa in September had, bizarrely, taken hold amongst people that were enjoying the ‘60s too much. According to the "legend”, McCartney had stormed off from a Beatles session in November 1966 and crashed his Aston Martin - decapitating himself in the process. Rather than just admitting that McCartney had died, the normal course of affairs when someone dies, the surviving Beatles apparently staged a secret Paul McCartney lookalike contest which was subsequently won by a Scottish fella called William Campbell. He then underwent some plastic surgery, because it turned out he didn’t look that much like Paul McCartney after all, and joins the band. Of course he did.
Now, as luck would have it, Campbell turns out to be something of a genius and writes most of Sgt. Pepper, comes up with the idea for Magical Mystery Tour, and more than shares the load on The White Album, Let it Be, and Abbey Road. An unbelievable result for everyone involved, not least Campbell who thought he was just entering a lookalike contest rather than finding an outlet for his burgeoning talents. In fact the whole enterprise is so successful, The Beatles so improved by Campbell’s introduction, that it makes you wonder why they didn’t stage a Ringo lookalike competition straight away.
Maybe they did.
In short, the “Paul is dead” stuff is the worst/best conspiracy theory ever. The worst because it’s obviously total nonsense and none of the supposed “clues” are clues at all; the best because I read about a bloke once who studied McCartney’s bass playing after November 1966 and he convinced himself, and me for 10 minutes, that it wasn’t the same man who was playing bass before November 1966.
Notwithstanding the obvious flaws in the theory, though, it was prevalent enough in late 1969 for Life magazine to dispatch one of their reporters to the Scottish highlands to see if McCartney was dead after all. They found him, somewhat dishevelled and surprised, strolling across the land with his family - his stepdaughter Heather looking like she was about to attack anyone that came near them.
McCartney agreed to an interview whereupon he declares the “Beatle thing is over”, a huge scoop that somehow gets lost in amongst the bigger news - I.e. that he isn’t actually dead. It’s one of the strangest aspects of the whole Beatles story - the first public announcement that they’ve split up doesn’t even make the front page.
Feeling recuperated, almost back to his old self, McCartney decides to travel back to his home in London to start recording his first solo album, with a four track the size of a fridge that he wheeled to his house from Abbey Road. The resulting album, brilliantly titled McCartney, is scheduled to be released in April 1970 via Apple.
And that’s when his problems with the rest of The Beatles go from bad to worse.
Lennon and Harrison write a letter and make Ringo hand deliver it to McCartney. The letter states that they won’t be releasing McCartney in April because they want to release Let It Be first, and there’s also a Ringo Starr solo album to consider.
The letter ends with - “We’re sorry it turned out like this - it’s nothing personal. Love, John and George”.
For McCartney, though, it’s the final straw and he mentally breaks with the rest of The Beatles for good, telling Ringo Starr to fuck off out of his house in the process. He also stands his ground on the release date, ensuring that McCartney is released in April 1970 as planned. It’s Let it Be, the Beatles’ final album, which actually gets pushed back. With the release of McCartney comes an accompanying press release in the form of a Q & A where he again reiterates that the Beatles are over and he has no interest with working with Lennon again.
And this time the story catches on.
Front pages everywhere - “Paul quits The Beatles”.
Despite Lennon quitting nearly a year before, despite Harrison and Starr having previously walked out on the group on separate occasions, it was McCartney that was set in stone as the villain of the piece - as the man responsible for the break-up of the Beatles.
Haunted by his part in the drama, McCartney then starts to have weird dreams about Allen Klein, the new Machiavellian Beatles manager and actual villain of the piece. In the dreams, Klein is a demented dentist chasing McCartney around with a massive hypodermic needle - trying to “put him out” for good. And when he wasn’t dreaming about Klein and big needles, he was reading interviews with the rest of the Beatles where they tore into him and his new album.
Lennon, in an interview with Rolling Stone, said McCartney led the Beatles round in circles after Epstein’s death, that McCartney was rubbish, and that his former partner was all form and no substance.
An image is formed of McCartney as the sly operator, the control freak who took his ball because he couldn’t get his own way. A long list of macho rock critics also pillory his domestic bliss in contrast to Lennon’s domestic violence and status as “King of the Counter Culture”. History gets re-written, battle-lines are drawn. Lennon was the true “genius” and McCartney the teacher’s pet with an unhealthy obsession with vaudeville and classical middle eights. Most bizarre of all, though, a man who literally had more sex, drugs, and rock and roll than almost anyone somehow gets painted as a square - the very opposite of that most tiresome of clichés.
McCartney had left The Beatles and, in the eyes of many, had suddenly become a dark version of Rodney Bewes out of The Likely Lads.
So he goes all in.
He files a law suit to dissolve The Beatles partnership once and for all and flies to New York to start work on Ram, his second album - with a bunch of musicians hired in secret by Linda. The resulting album again gets slaughtered by critics and ex Beatles alike. Lennon admits that he likes bits of Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey but the rest of the album is awful. Even Ringo weighs in, giving the following review -
“I don’t think there’s one tune on Ram. I just feel he’s wasted his time. He seems to be going strange”
Worth noting here that this is the same Ringo Starr who had just released an album called Beaucoups of Blues.
But never mind, as I said battle-lines had been drawn and McCartney couldn’t get a break. It’s tragic really. The ganging up, the accusations, that awful scene in Lennon’sImagine when the rest of the Beatles get together and sing How Do You Sleep? about their former bandmate. It would have been hard enough following The Beatles with a fair wind, but under these circumstances?
He didn’t stand a chance.
Everyone reviewed the context and a genuinely great album was ignored, an album of total joy and optimism - a joyride of drunken newlyweds on the run. It stretches and it yawns, it springs into life and takes you everywhere but ultimately nowhere. For all its flights of fancy it remains rooted - pinned down by the familiarity of its sheer “McCartney-ness”. Because that’s what Ram is, the triumphant sum of its one individual part - the glorious result of pure, uncut McCartney.
He seems happy here. He seems at his very best.
After Ram is released he returns to England and wins the first battle in court to formally end The Beatles. The day after the verdict Lennon, Harrison, and Starr drove round to McCartney’s London home in a white Rolls Royce and threw bricks though his window.
It had come to this. The greatest story ever told had reached the grubbiest of ends.
The 800 hours in Hamburg, the 292 gigs at The Cavern, and the 13 albums in 7 years that were mostly recorded in one room.
All that was over and the only one who seemed free, if only for 43 minutes, was Paul.
Martin Fitzgerald (@RamAlbumClub)
The Critics on Ram
Despite being savaged at the time, it’s had more generous treatment since.
In a retrospective review, Pitchfork gave it 9.2 out of 10 and described it as “a domestic bliss album, one of the weirdest, earthiest, and most honest ever made.
Uncut gave it 8/10, David Quantick saying it was “occasionally brilliant and historically fascinating”
So, over to you Martin. Why haven ’t you listened to it? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?????
It came out when I was two and a half. I was living in Thurso and everybody was more interested in the new lifeboat. I do have a memory of being in a big old pram outside my nan’s house in Manchester and Hey Jude being on the radio and my Uncle Christopher’s voice saying 'Beltin’ song, is this’. I might have made that up but, if I did, I made it up when I was very small so it’s the same thing.
At the age of twelve, me and my friend Sice were Beatles daft. It wasn’t cool but who needs cool when you’re in love? His next door neighbours were a young couple with a baby and sometimes we would watch the baby while they popped out and did fuck knows what. They had a record player and records and one of those records was the first Paul McCartney album, the enigmatically titled McCartney. On it went, we didn’t like it and the baby cried. Once the neighbours had returned from doing fuck knows what we went back to Sice’s and I decided there and then that I wasn’t interested in the solo careers of John, Paul, George or Ringo. My mum bought me Tug of War for Christmas a year later, I had really liked Take It Away and I played the album to death, not because I loved it but because it’s what you did then. I haven’t listened to it since then but I can remember all of it. Here Today is the best track, but you know that. Somebody played me McCartney II once, didn’t like it much.
“But what about Temporary Secretary?
What about it?
Never liked Wings, Sice used to play Band On The Run a lot on the tour bus. I would go to my bunk and listen to something else. I love The Mull though, The Mull rules. Confused? Me too.
My Uncle Chris had the Lennon comp Shaved Fish and I would listen to that when I was at my Nan’s house. It’s pretty good, I’ve got his first two albums and they have their moments but I’ve never made it through any of his others. There’s something missing. I don’t listen to George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, it’s too long, most of the songs aren’t that great and I hate the way it’s mixed. Also, there’s something missing. One day my dad brought home his 1979 album, the enigmatically titledGeorge Harrison. It’s awful, I didn’t play it to death. I’ve never listened to a Ringo album, I like It Don’t Come Easy but who doesn’t?
What is missing on those albums are the other three, it took four men to make that magical and spiritualistic brew, Mouth of John, Eye of Paul etc On their own, they have no hold over me. I will always love them for the pleasure they bring me, even now, but I can’t be bothered to listen to their albums. A friend of mine took me to see McCartney a couple of years ago (I don’t like gigs at the best of times, I like records) at the 02, the tenth circle of Hell. I was charged twelve grand for a large whiskey and had to sit next to Kasabian. Then Paul McCartney came on and systematically and with malice aforethought, brutalised his best songs, right there in front of me, on my bloody birthday. 'WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?’ I screamed* He took those dreams, those precious jewels and turned them into meat 'n’ two veg clogalongs. 'THEY’RE NOT ROCK SONGS, YOU IDIOT’ I yelled* I hated it, all sixteen hours of it. The next day a few of my friends texted to say they’d seen me on the big screens looking really miserable while everyone else sang and clapped.
Kasabian loved it.
So, the short answer is I haven’t listened to it because I don’t think I’ll like it. Because it’ll probably be full of rubbish like Teddy Boy and Mrs Vandebilt. Because life’s too short and if it was any good I’d have heard it by now.
*later, into my pillow
You’ve now listened to it, at least 3 times, what do you think?
I was going to listen to it while I tidied my studio, it’s a proper tip. But I spent most of the album looking through a box of old photographs that once belonged to my Grandfather, Jim. I don’t listen to records the first time I play them, I put them on and do something else. I let them breathe. I introduce them to the room and the room to them, see how they get on. I was calm, sober and straight. It seemed to go on a bit but nothing stood out as being particularly unpleasant, I remained calm and happy with my photographs and the room was pulsing good vibes. I recognised Dear Boy from Simon Love’s (excellent) album It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time and the single Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey but, to my surprise, nothing else. Uncle Albert is a song that has always annoyed me, I love the beginning and the arrangement but it goes somewhere else and kills the mood. In my twenties I used to take acid and listen toBitches Brew but in my late forties I’m getting a powerful kick out of listening to Uncle Albert while looking at faded photographs of long dead members of my family.
I listened properly the next morning, I sat in front of it and played it loud. My god, what a fool I’ve been, what a joy this record is. There’s hardly any of the 12 bar I was expecting and there isn’t a twee moment to be found. I adore the first bars of Too Many People, his beautiful tramp voice over those fab four chords into Pet Soundssnare hits. Honey to my bee. Lyrically he sounds like he’s kicking some demons around, eating apples, settling scores and having a ball doing it. Ram sounds like it was recorded at 9.12am amidst a sea of sunflowers under a hazy sun. It’s high as monkeys, full of itself and oh my, what a fool I’ve been. Ram On sounds like the whole of the Department of Eagles album In Ear Park (which I love) and Uncle Albert is fine as it is, all of it. I’m not that bothered about Eat At Home. The Back Seat Of My Car is like a track off the Beach Boys album Friends except better, much better. It’s one his best songs and I’ve never heard it.
Third time, I take it downstairs. I light candles. I dress smart and bring gifts. I’m in love and o’ what a fool I’ve been. I’m uplifted, uploaded and upended. His singing is great, the musicians are right on the money and the sound is perfect (it is a truth that all records made in the early 1970s sound fantastic). I buy an original German pressing off Ebay, I wrestle the cat to the ground by the ears and get one of the kids to take a photo. I grow a beard and wheel around the room. I wonder about all the other old records I’ve never listened to, the treasures I’ve denied myself. Monkberry Moon delight is a screamer, is it about weed? I buy some, just in case. There’s not as much Linda as I thought but I like everything she does. There’s so much going on I still can’t take it all in. It’s the kind of record I should have been playing to death in my teens when the days stretched out and things-to-do were for other people. It’s a fist clenched cry of emancipation, an epic blast. He’s unapologetic, free to be himself without anybody sneering or asking why? He’s confident, swaggering, unbowed. I love him. Ram is so far up my alley, he could reach into my mouth and sign the sleeve.
What a fool I’ve been.
Would you listen to it again?
A mark out of 10?
Knock a couple of tracks off and it’s a 10 so 9, but I don’t know which tracks I'd knock off so let’s call it 9 and a bit.
RAM Rating – 8.75
Guest Rating – 9 and a bit
Overall – 17.75 and a bit, divided by two
So that was Week 51 and that was Martin Carr. Turns out he’d never listened to Ram before because there was a new lifeboat in town when it came out. So we made him listen to it and he loved it. He even put a suit on, lit some candles, and went on a date with it. I must admit I didn’t see that coming.
Next week, Daniel Maier listens to something from 1968 for the first time. Until then, here’s Heart of the Country from Ram
Ruth and Martin
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