It was 50 years ago today (May 17th, 1971), that Paul McCartney released his second solo album, the legendary fan-favorite Ram. The set was the first solo Beatles album recorded in New York City, and was co-billed to his late first wife, Linda McCartney. In celebration of the anniversary, the album has been reissued as a limited-edition half-speed mastered vinyl pressing.
Although it sailed to the top of the UK charts, in the States it topped out at Number Two due to the massive success of Carole King‘s Tapestry, which blocked Ram from hitting Number One. Among the highlights on Ram are McCartney’s first solo chart-topper “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” “Too Many People,” Ram On,” “Dear Boy,” “Heart Of The Country,” “Eat At Home,” and “The Back Seat Of My Car,” among others.
Several unreleased songs from the Ram sessions appeared on future McCartney albums, such as “Dear Friend” (Wild Life, 1972); “Little Woman Love” (B-side, 1972); “Get On The Right Thing” and “Little Lamb Dragonfly” (Red Rose Speedway, 1973); “Mama’s Little Girl” (B-Side, 1990), and “A Love For You” (The In-Laws soundtrack, 2003.)
The sessions for Ram featured drummer Denny Seiwell and guitarists Dave Spinozza and Hugh McCracken, marking the first time he had recorded new, original music with outside musicians since the Beatles’ split. The album produced McCartney’s first solo single — “Another Day” — which was released prior to the album as a teaser, scoring him a Top Five hit.
Drummer Denny Seiwell was McCartney’s right-hand man during the Ram sessions and went on to co-found Wings with him. He recalls George Martin helping out on the string charts before McCartney directed the classical musicians himself: “All the tracks were done at Columbia (Studios). The stuff that was done at A&R (Studios) was the sweetening dates with the orchestra — George wrote the arrangements. They were doing a track; maybe it was ‘Uncle Albert,’ or something. And Paul spent about 45 minutes tuning the orchestra. And they all kept looking at each other — this is the David Nadien string section that played with the New York Philharmonic, and stuff like that. And they’re all looking at each other: ‘What’s this guy doing, tuning us?’ He had some very specific ideas on how he wanted the orchestra to sound. And the first playback, half of ’em came into the control room to hear the playback and they said, ‘Oh my God it sounds like the London Symphony!'”
Paul McCartney shed some light on one of the main inspirations for “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”: “I had an Uncle Albert, yeah. He was an Uncle who died when I was a kid and he was a good lad. Just a nice bloke who used to get drunk and stand on the table and read passages from the bible at which point, people used to laugh (laughs) — a lot. It was just one of his things — ‘Oh Albert, don’t get up and read from the bible again! Oh, shut up, sit down!’ But he always insisted on doing it — y’know, one of those uncles? And he was very nice.”
Denny Seiwell told us that McCartney leaving material off of Ram had more to do with physical space and audio dynamics that any sort of “quality control” on his part: “Well, we cut 23 tracks, I think, in that period of time, and you could only get so many — y’know, in those days, record albums, anything over 18 minutes made the grooves tighter and the record sounded smaller.”
It was during the Manhattan sessions for Ram that McCartney returned to London to formally file suit against John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr to officially dissolve the group’s partnership, after the three had put their business in the hands of manager Allen Klein: “I was fighting the other three guys, who were my lifelong buddies — but it was the only way. I said, ‘No, I want to fight Klein.’ They said, ‘He’s not party to any of the agreements’ — so it made no sense to fight him. So, after long soul searching and stuff, I decided I had to do it, or he would take all — everything that the Beatles had ever earned and stuff — so I did. And now — that goodness — people say, ‘Thank you,’ y’know?”
Denny Seiwell told us that McCartney was open to all the players suggestions and rarely recorded late into the night. He remembered that McCartney had only one stipulation for the players during the Ram sessions: “But he asked us not to book (other) dates, and as soon as Dave saw that some days we were gonna get let go, he was taking a couple of (session) dates — if there was a big jingle, or something, that he knew was gonna pay a lot of money. So one day, he said, ‘Y’know, Paul, I gotta go, I got something else I gotta do’ — and Paul didn’t want him to go that day. And that happened twice, in a very short time.”
Seiwell, who’s still close with Spinozza — and remained so with McCracken until his 2013 death — recalled that although there was mutual respect on the studio floor, Spinozza’s personality and McCartney’s didn’t gel: “Spinozza’s great. I mean, I love ’em both, but Spinozza is, I mean, they’re apples and oranges. They’re totally different heads. But Spinozza’s the kind of (guy) — he’d goose ya on the way into the control room. He was a little too loose for Paul, y’know, he had a little too much fun.”
Although the late, great Phil Ramone was officially the “engineer” for many of the 1970/1971 sessions for Ram — he served as his chief studio sounding board, both musically and sonically. We asked drummer Denny Seiwell why Ramone never sought the production credit he obviously deserved on the album: “Phil’s way too cool. I mean, he produced those sessions — or co-produced. Nobody ‘produced’ Paul.”
Paul McCartney admitted when listening back on some of his earliest post-Beatles compositions, he was shocked at how scaled-back they seem musically: “I mean, I look back on some of them now and I think, ‘I forgot to finish it!’ — But I don’t know why. But just ’cause of the mood of the moment, and I probably sort of said, ‘It doesn’t need finishing’ or made some kind of great excuse, like, ‘Y’know, it’s artistic, it doesn’t need finishing.'”
In 2012, McCartney released a super deluxe edition of Ram as part of his ongoing “Paul McCartney Archive Collection.”
Just released is Ram On: The 50th Anniversary Tribute To Paul & Linda McCartney’s Ram by drummer Denny Seiwell and Fernando Perdoma. Among the guest artists on the set are Dave Spinozza and Marvin Stamm — who played flugelhorn on “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” Elton John guitarist and musical director Davey Johnstone, Ken Sharp, Carnie Wilson, and David Letterman bassist Will Lee, among many others.