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Paul and Linda McCartney’s Ram Still Shines Brightly at 50

It may be an overly lofty thing to say, but Paul McCartney was born to compose popular music. There is no better living document to his gift for concocting pop confections than Ram, his 1971 album with wife Linda. Coming on the heels of his eponymous debut LP with the classic “Maybe I’m Amazed” as its centerpiece, Ram provided a vivid showcase for the Cute Beatle’s wide-ranging, seemingly effortless talents.

For the second time in a decade, McCartney has dusted off Ram for reconsideration. The 2012 deluxe remastered edition was a triumph, reminding us why Ram has come to enjoy a much-deserved place among the entirety of the solo Beatles’ wares as an indie masterpiece. Indeed, the record stands out from all of the former Beatles’ post-disbandment LPs because there’s simply nothing else like it.

In its latest incarnation, Ram has been issued in a limited-edition half-speed mastered pressing. And vinyl aficionados won’t be disappointed. The LP is a wonder to behold and worthy of all of the extra attention that it has received of late. Ram’s sonic palette is so rich and varied, so utterly filled with whimsy, that each new cut sizzles with virtuosity and drama.

That’s right—drama. Take the opening track, “Too Many People,” which showcases McCartney’s unparalleled pop organicism. Ram absolutely drips with melodic experimentation, with Paul and Linda leading their band through one adventurous song after another. With “Too Many People,” McCartney herds his musicians through a slow burn that culminates in a dramatic, power-pop explosion.

And it doesn’t end there. Songs like “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” brim with the creative caprice inherent in McCartney’s pop-music storytelling, merging standard rock combo structures with orchestration and a panoply of vocal and studio-inflected nuances.

There may be no better example of McCartney’s pop-music mastery on Ram than “Monkberry Moon Delight.” As a much younger person, I remember being put-off—even slightly frightened—by the song’s utter strangeness, especially McCartney’s daunting lead vocal. In its vinyl incarnation, the remastered track brings these elements to the fore, heightening the drama, and sacrificing none of the darkness that left me cowering beneath the bedclothes.

If the album has a masterpiece, it’s “The Back Seat of My Car.” Following the closing strains of “Ram On,” which weaves in and out of the LP like a mantra, “The Back Seat of My Car” finds McCartney trying on yet another vocal texture. Indeed, in his vast catalogue—including both his Beatles and solo work—there may be no better platform for gleaning his breathtaking vocal range and knack for improvisation than Ram.

As with “Too Many People,” “The Back Seat of My Car” has everything and the kitchen sink, climaxing in a cacophony of musical drama, competing tonalities and melodies, and, in the best sense of the word, noise. As compositions go, the song is just as exquisite and inventive today as it was back in May 1971. And with the vinyl remaster bringing Ram into full bloom, McCartney’s pop-music virtuosity has never shone brighter.

This essay was originally published in Salon.

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