Graded on a Curve:
Paul and Linda McCartney, Ram

You can grouse all you want about how Paul McCartney graduated from the Beatles only to become one of the world’s biggest purveyors of pure treacle, but that’s being unfair. Sure, I would gladly dunk my head in a pail of skunk piss to avoid hearing “Let ‘Em In” and “Silly Love Songs,” and that goes double for “Ebony and Ivory” and “Listen to What the Man Said.” You’re free to disagree, but I am of the belief that all four of the aforementioned songs are enough to disprove widely held assumptions about the continuing progress of the human species.

But. But! During the course of his long post-Beatles career the most lachrymose member of the Fab Four has bequeathed us some of the catchiest songs—I’m talking about “Band on the Run,” “Jet,” “Smile Away,” “Rock Show,” “Live and Let Die,” “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” etc.—you’ll ever hear. All of them may be lightweights, but they can knock out just about anything in their class.

Bottom line? I am of the opinion that Sir Paul’ genius resides in his amazing ability to overcome his natural predilection towards producing pure pap for soft rock people. There’s no denying that the old boy has demonstrated an uncanny capacity for recording horseshit, but he’s simply too talented to let his worst instincts completely overwhelm his facility at turning out irresistible melodies. And it could be his love for pot, but he also has a strange but likeable tendency towards the downright surreal.

Take Ram, his 1971 collaboration with wife Linda. True, Ram may not be representative of McCartney’s overall output, as it doesn’t include a single insufferable song, although “Long Haired Lady” comes flirtatiously close. On the other hand, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” is a brilliant pastiche and predecessor to the landmark “Band on the Run,” and while I laugh at it I also love it more than I did my dear old grandma, the insufferable prick. Just listen to it! The falling rain! The sound of thunder! That wonderful megaphone! That posh English accent! The inimitable Marvin Stamm’s magic flugelhorn! The talk of pies! And I could go on! But you get the idea.

And then there are Ram’s fab rockers: “Smile Away” (great Chuck Berry guitar, cool backing vocals, a nice spoken delivery by Paul, who bequeaths us the wonderful lines, “I met a friend of mine and he did say/Man, I could smell your feet a mile away” and the even more splendid line, “Smile away horribly now”); “Eat at Home” (dumb conceit transcended by great vocals, lovely melody, and short but sweet guitar solo by David Spinozza); and “Too Many People” (which is said to contain digs at John Lennon and serves as the basic template for every Guided by Voices song ever written).

As for the weird and wonderful “Monkberry Moon Delight,” it demonstrates once again that McCartney was the Beatles’ best screamer. And his vocals! He sounds like he smoked 10 packs of Players to coarsen ‘em up, just to sing this baby. And while that great musical hall piano bangs out the melody, Paul’s adopted daughter Heather McCartney provides some neat backing vocals. A revelation, this one, to all you McCartney haters out there.

I’ve never been a huge fan of McCartney’s ballads, except the ones with big endings (i.e., “Hey Jude,” “Let It Be”) and this holds true for Ram’s “Dear Boy” and rustic “Heart of the Country.” They’re not particularly galling, either of them, although McCartney’s attempt at scat singing on the latter number does grate on my pate. Nor does the acoustic blues number “3 Legs” make me ever want to hear it again. But I enjoy the “Beach Boys” half of the title track, which is to say the half of the song that doesn’t feature Paul on ukulele. As for “The Back Seat of My Car,” it’s okay, but in my opinion it’s Brian Wilson who should be earning royalties on it. And the frickin’ New York Philharmonic adds nothing to the song, as it does on “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.”

I would not harp so on Paul McCartney’s strengths and weaknesses if I didn’t feel he has been harshly dealt with, and unconscionably so, both by hardcore Lennon fanatics and sundry others, yours truly included. True, I would sooner gargle dog spit than listen to “Silly Love Songs.” But how many pop music artists continue to produce great music past a certain indeterminate age? My own expiration date for Mr. McCartney is 1975’s Venus and Mars LP by Wings; after that, I’m down the gangplank and off the frickin’ boat. But “Band on the Run” will always make me happier than John Lennon’s “Imagine,” or any other Lennon tune for that matter. Not making comparisons, mind you—just stating my humble opinion. In the end, they’re both great artists in their way. So let it be, my friends. Let it be.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
(LET IT)
B

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