After the breakup, Beatles fans expected major statements from the three chief songwriters in the Fab Four. John and George fulfilled those expectations -- Lennon with his lacerating, confessional John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, Harrison with his triple-LP All Things Must Pass -- but Paul McCartney certainly didn't, turning toward the modest charms of McCartney, and then crediting his wife Linda as a full-fledged collaborator on its 1971 follow-up, Ram. Where McCartney was homemade, sounding deliberately ragged in parts, Ram had a fuller production yet retained that ramshackle feel, sounding as if it were recorded in a shack out back, not far from the farm where the cover photo of Paul holding the ram by the horns was taken. It's filled with songs that feel tossed off, filled with songs that are cheerfully, incessantly melodic; it turns the monumental symphonic sweep of Abbey Road into a cheeky slice of whimsy on the two-part suite "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey." All this made Ram an object of scorn and derision upon its release (and for years afterward, in fact), but in retrospect it looks like nothing so much as the first indie pop album, a record that celebrates small pleasures with big melodies, a record that's guileless and unembarrassed to be cutesy. But McCartney never was quite the sap of his reputation, and even here, on possibly his most precious record, there's some ripping rock & roll in the mock-apocalyptic goof "Monkberry Moon Delight," the joyfully noisy "Smile Away," where his feet can be smelled a mile away, and "Eat at Home," a rollicking, winking sex song.
All three of these are songs filled with good humor, and their foundation in old-time rock & roll makes it easy to overlook how inventive these productions are, but on the more obviously tuneful and gentle numbers -- the ones that are more quintessentially McCartney-esque -- it's plain to see how imaginative and gorgeous the arrangements are, especially on the sad, soaring finale, "Back Seat of My Car," but even on its humble opposite, the sweet "Heart of the Country." These songs may not be self-styled major statements, but they are endearing and enduring, as is Ram itself, which seems like a more unique, exquisite pleasure with each passing year. [The deluxe version of Ram offers a wealth of riches: a second side containing non-LP singles and B-sides plus outtakes, the very rare mono mix of the album, the Percy "Thrills" Thrillington instrumental version of the album, and a DVD, all housed in a handsome hardcover book. There is also a two-disc reissue containing just the non-LP bonus material, which includes not only the "Another Day"/"Oh Woman, Oh Why" single and the B-side "Little Woman Love" but also these unreleased cuts: the terrific little pop tune "A Love for You," the charming ditty "Hey Diddle," the ramshackle blues instrumental "Great Cock and Seagull Race," the pummeling hard rocker "Rode All Night" that stretches out for eight minutes, and the pretty instrumental "Sunshine Sometime." Hardcore fans will definitely find the big set to be a worthwhile investment, though: the Thrillington album may be little more than a curiosity but it's fun enough and the mono mix is a delight, a punchier version of the familiar tunes with a few minor variations in the mixes. These extras, combined with the gorgeous book and DVD, do make this a necessary indulgence for fanatics.]