24 June, 2012

The Bonus Discs - RAM

Now hear this...
There’s no denying that RAM is well deserving of the deluxe treatment.  Along with London Town, Back to the Egg, Off the Ground and Chaos and Creation, it’s been one of Paul McCartney’s most underrated albums.  Even so, this is the most lavish edition yet in the ongoing Paul McCartney Archive Collection series.

The remastering job is pristine and if you’ve been persevering with old vinyl copies as I have, you’ll definitely hear new things in there.   Beyond that, there are 40 years worth of reviews of RAM, some of which have even learnt from their earlier mistakes, so let’s look at the additional material:

The second disc starts with Another Day, Paul’s first post-Beatle single, recorded at the same time as the RAM sessions but released separately.  This is followed by its B-side Oh Woman, Oh Why, and Little Woman Love, also recorded during these sessions but not released until a couple of years later on the B-side of the Mary Had a Little Lamb single.  Both tracks have interesting moments, like the New Orleans style piano riff on Little Woman Love, but on the whole, they are B-side material.  

The rest of Disc 2 is all previously unreleased.  A Love for You stayed in the vaults for 30 years and was eventually used in the film The In-Laws, but the version presented here is a remix which gained overdubs in 1981 and was mixed in 1986.  As such, it sounds a bit more modern than the rest of the pieces here.   Hey Diddle was first officially heard on Wingspan and because it was just a home jam, we kind of wished it wasn’t.  The version presented here though is the full studio version and it’s gorgeous with some lovely fingerpicked guitar making up for the rather twee lyrics.  
Great Cock and Seagull Race is a pretty standard 12-bar blues jam which features Henry McCullough before he joined Wings.  Rode All Night is another jam, this time featuring only Paul and drummer Denny Seiwell.  It’s overlong and half-baked but even so, it rocks like a beast and could have been great if they developed it into a complete song.  The disc concludes with Sunshine Sometime which is a sweet, lounge-y instrumental which shows that for every piece of substandard noodling in Macca’s archive, there’s something else that makes you think, “Why on earth was that not released until now?”

Disc 3 is the entire RAM album in mono.  Unlike The Beatles’ mono mixes, which they spent far more time on that the stereo versions, this should not be considered the definitive version of RAM.  The mono mix was created specifically for AM radio and not intended for release, although Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey was released as a mono single in the US.  The most noticable difference is that the vocals cut through the mix a bit more on the mono version.  

Then, there’s Thrillington.  For those who haven’t heard the story already, Thrillington was a mysterious album of jazz-influenced orchestral arrangements of every song on RAM, credited to the fictitious London socialite, Percy “Thrills” Thrillington.  Released in 1977, Paul denied all knowledge, but came clean when asked about the album at a press conference in 1989.  Prices for original copies of the record skyrocketed.  The book reveals that Paul had the idea of making the album as a bit of a joke and shortly after RAM was released, hired Richard Hewson to arrange and conduct Thrillington with no brief other than that there be no lead vocals.  Paul does stop just short of admitting he was high when he had the idea for the album, which was shelved for six years.  He was possibly high too when he thought a pseudonymous orchestral album with teaser advertising through newspaper classifieds might chart during the year punk broke.  Then again, he had his biggest hit in the same year with a Scottish waltz, so what do I know?

Even the notes in the book tend towards dismissing Thrillington as an inconsequential curio but that’s rather unfair.  As orchestral arrangements of pop records go – and the market was awash with them in the early 70s – it’s really very good, and played by some great session musicians, including Herbie Flowers and the Swingle Singers.  It may be cheesy, but it’s top quality cheese and the arrangements generally suit the songs very well.  The only time when the song seems to say, “Ooh, don’t do that to me,” is during the sudden rhythmic changes on Back Seat of My Car and even then, it’s not too bad.
There’s an excellent history of all the Thrillington sessions HERE.

RAM is also available as a two-disc special edition, RAM in mono has been released on vinyl as part of these reissues and the 1995 CD release of Thrillington isn’t too hard to find, so the only content that’s exclusive to this edition is the DVD.  
It features an 11-minute audio interview with Paul discussing the making of the album, which is illustrated Ken Burns-style with photographs from the period and, as with the McCartney DVD, some rather clever animation.  Film clips for Heart of the Country and 3 Legs are included.  These clips were specifically made at the time, but assembled from footage of Paul and Linda on their farm as with the Maybe I’m Amazed clip.  The same material could just as easily be used for Long Haired Lady, Ram On or Eat at Home if they had felt like it.  As with the clips from the McCartney DVD, the audio in the film clips has not been remastered, giving it a period authenticity.  Also included are Hey Diddle as featured in the Wingspan film, and a live version of Eat At Home from the 1972 European tour with film shot by Denny Seiwell.
It’s a perfunctory DVD, mainly because there’s so little visual material from the time.  Perhaps the most desirable part of the DVD is the menu music, which features various selections from a record called Brung To Ewe.  This was a disc which was distributed to radio stations and featured chatter from Paul and Linda plus several versions of a fanfare-like theme, “Now Hear This Song of Mine,” which was intended to introduce songs from RAM.  It’s quite a shortcoming of this release that they did not include the complete Brung to Ewe record.  

That’s the content, but mention must be made of the packaging of this edition.  The previous deluxe editions of Band on the Run, McCartney and McCartney II stayed just the right side of sensible, coming in a hardcover book.  This release comes with three books (count ’em!) a period style envelope of photographic prints and replicas of hand-written lyric sheets, complete with stains.  Mercifully, the front dimensions of the box that houses it all are the same as the others in the archive series so it won’t look too uneven on the same shelf.  It’s an incredibly luxurious package but at this point, you have to ask, what gives, Paul?  Did you get a look at the Pink Floyd reissues and decide that cloth-bound hardcover books just weren’t ostentatious enough?  As with the rest of the Archive Collection, the deluxe edition comes with access to high resolution, 24-bit, 96kHz downloads of the music, and RAM also has a voucher for 1 year’s “free” access to premium content at www.paulmccartney.com, the value of which is not immediately apparent to me. 

To say that this is a fans-only release is completely redundant.  Of course it’s for fans only.  No teenager or twenty-something is going to think, “I really should check out this Paul McCartney geezer.  I think I’ll spend $100 on one of his more obscure albums.”  Even so, there are more than enough cashed-up baby-boomers to make the box with all the trinkets sell well while still making all the actual content available for less than the price of a decent microwave oven.  It’s not immediately apparent why RAM includes all the lagniappe and not the others.  It could possibly be a tribute to Linda, since RAM is the only album credited to Paul and Linda McCartney.  It’s never been made clear exactly what Linda’s contribution was, and nor should it.  She is credited with co-writing six of the songs on the main album and three of the bonus tracks.  Beyond that, if Paul says she was there, then that’s good enough for me.  If it’s not good enough for you, then you try singing some of the harmonies on Dear Boy or Ram On and get back to me.

Worth paying extra for?  Undoubtedly, but how much more will have to be up to you.

Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey from Wings Greatest
Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey from RAM (1993 Remaster)
Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey from Wingspan
Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey from RAM (2012 Remaster)
Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey from RAM in Mono (2012 Remaster)

Too Many People from Thrillington (1995 Remaster)
Too Many People from Thrillington (2012 Remaster)


  1. Thanks for the lavish detail on this reissue and the album’s backstory. I’m inclined to agree with you re Linda’s vocal harmonies – at the 1976 Wings Melbourne concert from just outside the fence at the Myer Music Bowl Linda’s singing on I’ve Just Seen a Face was very well-received - and deservedly so.

    1. Linda was never the greatest singer, and often wavered off key, but if you try to sing some of her harmonies on Paul's records (and I must confess, I have), it ain't easy.

  2. Remember when albums were 15 songs, usually 1 disc and only cost $6?

    1. I remember two out of three.
      Although in fairness, I bought a lot of Wings albums second hand so they probably did cost around $6.