The Paul McCartney Archive Collection reissue series has zigzagged chronologically since its 2010 introduction. First up was McCartney’s most popular album, the 1973 classic Band on the Run. In 2011 both of his do-it-yourself, one-man-band albums, McCartney (1970) and McCartney II (1980), received the deluxe treatment. Now the album many consider to be his very finest, RAM (1971), has been remastered for the first time since 1993 and supplemented with a variety of extras, depending on which configuration you chose.
In a way, RAM (officially billed jointly to Paul and Linda McCartney) was the former Beatle’s true solo debut. As an album, McCartney was seemingly ripped directly from the artist’s subconscious. Some songs were fully formed (“Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Every Night”) while others were wispy, first-draft sketches (“The Lovely Linda”). Though commercially well received, few would argue that McCartney wasn’t outdone by the debuts of John Lennon (Plastic Ono Band) and George Harrison (All Things Must Pass) that same year. His former partners had defined themselves as artists with those releases. So after the entertaining but scattershot McCartney, he pulled out all the stops with RAM.
The album manages to capture, from start to finish, McCartney’s unfettered joy in making music. The songs, which positively radiate warmth, are unpredictable, stuffed to the brim with brilliant ideas. After some low-key auditions, drummer Denny Seiwell was chosen to participate, along with guitarist David Spinozza. Hugh McCracken stepped in as guitarist mid-way through the sessions. McCartney played guitar or keyboards, dubbing his bass only after the basic tracks had been recorded. Linda McCartney provided harmony vocals under her husband’s strict tutelage. The combination resulted in nothing short of a pop masterpiece.
The most popular track, a complexly structured mini-suite loaded with hooks that became McCartney’s first Billboard number one single, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” exemplifies the album’s overall feel. But every song sparkles with musical invention, from the straight-ahead rock of “Too Many People” and “Smile Away” to the ultra-melodic ballad “The Back Seat of My Car.” McCartney shreds his vocal chords on “Monkberry Moon Delight,” an unashamedly nonsensical lyric set to a churning, rhythmic piano pattern (the song was later covered memorably by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins). Among the most ambitious tracks is “Long Haired Lady,” the album’s most underrated gem. Like “Uncle Albert,” it’s another multi-part song overflowing with infectious hooks.
As with previous Archive Collection reissues, consumers have several choices. The most basic option is the remastered RAM as a single disc with no bonus material. The remastering, while perhaps not revelatory, is quite satisfying, with a deeper bottom end and crisper highs than the previous editions. While the original mix was utilized, there is greater definition among the various components of each song. Listen to the enhanced depth of “Ram On” and its reprise for a great example. The guitar part that enters “Dear Boy” mid-way through has real sizzle and distinctiveness on the remaster.
The better choice is the two-CD set, which includes the album plus an eight track bonus disc. Both sides of McCartney’s debut single, recorded during the RAM sessions, are included, “Another Day” and “Oh Woman, Oh Why.” The latter is a relatively little-known rocker with a searing McCartney vocal. “Little Woman Love” became the B-side of the 1972 Wings single “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” but was initially recorded during RAM. Outtakes include the superb “A Love for You” (presented in an entirely different, stripped-down mix than the version available on The In-Laws soundtrack), “Hey Diddle,” and the instrumentals “Sunshine Sometime” and “Great Cock and Seagull Race.”
The very best reason to get the bonus disc is the previously unreleased, nearly nine minute jam “Rode All Night.” This blast of unfiltered rock energy is perhaps the best track to play someone who claims McCartney never really rocked out. Just Denny Seiwell on drums and McCartney on electric guitar and vocals, “Rode All Night” is an outrageously inventive series of rhythmic variations on a very simple theme. Seiwell alternates between following McCartney’s lead and pushing him to new heights. Don’t miss this one.
For the hardcore fans, a four-CD/one-DVD box set is available with a 112-page book and additional printed extras (including facsimiles of handwritten lyric sheets, outtakes from the photo cover shoot, and more). This set isn’t cheap, but in addition to the standard album and bonus audio discs, it includes the previously unavailable mono mix of the full album. This version has always been commercially unavailable until now, having been provided only to radio stations back in ‘71. It isn’t a fold-down of the stereo mix, but rather a totally unique mono mix. The fourth CD is a reissue of Thrillington, an orchestrated instrumental version of RAM, originally issued under the pseudonym Percy “Thrills” Thrillington (which McCartney produced, but didn’t play on). My advance promo copy didn’t include any of the above extras, so I can’t comment.
I did get to delve into the deluxe edition’s DVD, which is a nice — if somewhat slight — accompaniment. The “Ramming” featurette is a nice overview of the making of the album, narrated by McCartney. I would’ve preferred some video interviews with McCartney and other principles (such as Seiwell). The best piece is “Eat at Home On Tour,” a montage of home movies of Wings on the road. The footage is set to a previously unreleased 1972 live version of “Eat at Home.” It’s kind of a strange inclusion, chronologically speaking, since it plunges us into the Wings era. I’d love to hear more of the live material. In fact, I wish that the live “Eat at Home” had been included on the bonus audio CD.
Music videos for “Heart of the Country” and “3 Legs” are also included, along with home movie footage of the McCartneys performing “Hey Diddle” at home. A kind of audio Easter egg appears during the DVD menu, in the form of numerous “Now Hear This” jingles, originally released on the promotional single "Brung to Ewe By." Total DVD running time is about 28 minutes.
The deluxe edition box also includes a download code for hi-res 24-bit 96kHz files of both the stereo album and bonus audio CD. This digital download is also available as part of the 180 gram vinyl double-LP version of RAM. Speaking of vinyl, in addition to all the other formats, the mono mix of RAM is available as a separate limited vinyl edition as well.
Clearly a great deal of time and care went into the preparation of this classic album, available May 21 in the U.S. and May 21 in the U.K. While the details of the deluxe book and other materials are unfortunately beyond the scope of this review, the remastered RAM sounds excellent and the bonus disc includes numerous obscure gems.
Watch for my interview with drummer Denny Seiwell, who discusses making RAM, playing in Wings, and much more — coming soon to TMR.