Happy birthday RAM! Paul and Linda McCartney’s iconic 1971 album celebrates its 50th anniversary this month, which means we’ve been dreaming of starting a new life in the ‘heart of the country’ for half a century. Crazy how the time flies when you’re ramming on, eh? As well as releasing a limited edition half-speed mastered vinyl of RAM, we’ve been celebrating with remastered music videos, behind-the-scenes clips and more.
Over the years RAM has become a cult favourite, with celebrities like Harry Styles and Dakota Johnson among its fans and many indie artists citing it as an influence. When we announced on social media that it was the #RAMiversary this month, the Twitter timeline exploded with people sharing their favourite tracks and posting the questions they had always wanted to ask one of its makers.
It’s clear to see how much this album resonates with people, so for this month’s ‘You Gave Me The Answer’ Q&A we thought we would pass the mic over to you guys, and select some questions from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to put to Paul. Here’s what happened when we asked you to ‘Tweet At Home’ (sorry)…
Locutus on Twitter: In another interview you mentioned (when composing songs) "you know when it's a good one". When making RAM - a now highly acclaimed record - did you know it would be a good one?
Paul: I thought it was a good one, and enjoyed making it, and felt like I’d made a good album. What ruined it for me was that it was not well received critically, and that kinda put me off. Which is weird, it’s sort of weak of me to be put off by a review, but these things happen. The adverse reviews made me think ‘oh, maybe it wasn’t such a good album, I better try and make another one’.
But the saving grace in all of this is that years later people would tell me RAM was their favourite album, and that made me go back and listen to it and think again. The critics put me off it, and the fans put me on it! I remember my nephew Jay said to me ‘oh, my favourite album of yours is RAM’, and that was especially nice to hear because he grew up with it. Whenever I had a new album I’d want to play it for my family, so the kids got to hear it, which means he’s probably got nice memories of listening to it at home.
I actually did an interview the other day with a guy called Lou Simon from the Beatles channel on Sirius XM in America, and he said that it’s not only his favourite album of mine, it’s his favourite record of all time. Wow! Considering what great records there have been over the years, that was a pretty big compliment. But yeah, there are people who really like this. So, it’s really nice to rediscover something like that, particularly when you weren’t sure whether it was good or not.
PM.com: Does that change how you think of reviews now?
Paul: Yeah. Obviously, you’re always trying to make the best record so you only put records out that you think are good. The first person I need to please is me. You start there, and you think ‘if I like it, there’s a good chance that other people who are going to like it’. And then when you talk to the fans and they say they like it, or you see them writing in or tweeting in.
Paul in Scotland, 1971. Photo by Linda McCartney.
Steve on Instagram: Whilst McCartney had been recorded over three months, mostly at home in London, RAM was recorded over a seven month period. Did it feel like you were making a very different album compared to McCartney?
Paul: Yeah, we knew we would be travelling around, and because Linda was a photographer she was as able to move around as I was. We went out to New York and it was great finding people we could work with like Denny Seiwell, Hugh McCracken, and Dave Spinozza. I spent a little bit of time there auditioning musicians, and then went into the studios in CBS, and then went into A&R Studios with Phil Ramone. And then after that we went out to LA, and I did some work with another great producer Jim Guercio who had done Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears. So, I knew it was taking time, but I wasn’t in a hurry. I was enjoying myself! We actually did the cover in LA, me just sitting around in the sunshine doing little drawings and things.
PM.com: Did you do all the sketching on the cover?
Paul: The cover photo was Linda’s and the surrounding border was something I did. It was all very homemade and quirky, but I think that added to the charm of it. I remember when we were doing the layout for the gatefold, we put a little piece of grass from the garden and stuck it on. There were all sorts of little things that just came from our lifestyle at that moment. Linda took a photograph of two beetles copulating, or ‘havin’ it off!’ Of course, this got totally misconstrued, because for us it was just an amazing wildlife picture. How often do you see beetles, and very colourful little iridescent beetles too? Linda just took it as a photo and we liked it, so we put it in. Of course, then people said ‘oh, The Beatles are screwing each other – what’s this mean?’, and all sorts of hidden meanings got attached to things. But yeah, all in all it made it quite a long record to make, because we had the time and weren’t in a hurry.
RAM album cover, 1971.
Pintaadaptor on Instagram: How was writing on your farm in Scotland different from writing at studios such as Abbey Road etc?
Paul: Because of the lifestyle we were living, it was very free. The Beatles had been great, and I’d loved it, but I couldn’t say it was free, personally. I couldn’t exactly go to Scotland for a few months. If you were in The Beatles, you had to make records and work. But when we went to Scotland, we had a very free, sort of hippie lifestyle. It meant I could sit around in the kitchen in the little farmhouse we lived in, with the kids running around and me just with my guitar, making up anything I fancied. ‘Three Legs’ for instance was me jamming around with a blues idea, and then with no particular relevance I sang ‘my dog, he got three legs, but he can run’, meaning that everything doesn’t have to be perfect, it can still work. And then I added the lyric ‘a fly flies in’, and I’m sure that happened, with the window open in Scotland! I’m sure a fly actually flew in and I went ‘okay – you’re in the song! Fly flies in, fly flies out’. So yeah, it was a very free period and I think that found its way into the record.
I always think that the way we were living then was the way a lot of young people would like to live. We were escaping the constrictions of society. It’s why people move out to the country, or do a lot of gardening, all of those sort of things. It’s a great opportunity in your life to do something different.
Fleur on Facebook: How did the writing partnership with Linda work? Did you sit down formally together like you did with John?
Paul: No, it was much looser. I would be writing something mainly, because Linda didn’t really play a guitar and we didn’t have a piano knocking around, so it would be me messing around with a guitar and I might say to her ‘sing along!’ and then ‘ah that’s good, we’ll put it in’. She’d make suggestions as we went along, or sing a harmony or something, but it wasn’t a formal thing like John and I where you had two people sitting down with the intention of writing a song. With Linda I’d be sat in the kitchen making it up, and she’d throw a suggestion in and that made her a co-writer.
Brendan on Twitter: Linda’s harmonies on this album are exceptional. Did it take a long time to get right or was she naturally brilliant from the start?
Paul: Well, we worked at it. Because that’s what you do when you work on a record, you want it to sound right. Linda told me that she used to be a member of a glee club in America, when she was in college. Like the TV series ‘Glee’! I’d never heard of a glee club before, because in Britain we didn’t have that, and she explained that they would sing together and they used to go to a bell tower at the school because it had a good acoustics. She knew certain things about it, so when it came to writing and recording, she would naturally just sing a harmony or I would suggest one and we’d harmonise at home. Then when we would get into the studio, we’d work a little bit harder to try and get it right.
Looking back at the records we made together, I think our harmonies were a really individual sound, and a very special sound. Probably because she wasn’t a professional singer, that gave her an innocence to her tone that comes through on the records. I’d be singing ‘hands across the water’ and she’d echo ‘water, water’ and do this funny little American accent, and we’d put it in! We were having fun.
Paul during the recording of RAM at Columbia Studios, New York, 1970. Photo by Linda McCartney.
Mellifluousbird on Twitter: ‘Monkberry Moon Delight’ is one of my favourites. You’ve mentioned that Screamin' Jay Hawkins was an influence on that song. Were there ever any other influences on the album?
Paul: I’m sure there were, as there are so many artists that influence anything I do. ‘Three Legs’ would have been influenced by blues artists, and ‘Smile Away’ would have been influenced by people like Jerry Lee Lewis. The vocals are always influenced by someone, that’s just the way it is, but Screamin' Jay Hawkins definitely on ‘Monkberry Moon Delight’. I mean, when we first heard that record ‘I Put A Spell On You’, we couldn’t believe it, because he starts off relatively sane and then he totally just loses it! You can imagine us young kids hearing that and thinking it was fantastic.
Nick on Instagram: What inspired ‘Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey’ to have two sections? Was it originally meant to be two songs or was it always meant to be that way?
Paul: I like that format. There was an album that came out in the sixties called A Teenage Opera and it had a couple of songs where there were different sections all put together, it wasn’t a usual rock ‘n’ roll record. This was more operatic in its form and I always liked that. You sometimes want to change something, you want to write a ballad, or you’re feeling a rocking thing, or sometimes a folk thing and then you want to put them together. It’s a format that I really enjoy writing, because it allows you to stretch. It’s something that I use quite often, like in ‘Band On The Run’.
‘Uncle Albert’ was a little message to my real Uncle Albert - it was symbolising my family, basically saying ‘I’m so sorry I don’t live up there anymore, and I’ve got a completely different lifestyle to all you guys. I’m sorry, Uncle Albert!’ Like a tongue-in-cheek apology, and then with Admiral Halsey, well, it just all went mad after that when he entered the picture. Again, we come back to the word free - it was very free and that made this record very enjoyable.
What are your favourite memories of listening to RAM? When did you first hear the record, and what’s your favourite track? Let us know in the comments or share your thoughts on social media using the hashtag #RAMiversary.
On Monday 17th May, exactly 50 years since RAM was first released in the US, we’re hosting a very special Listening Party which everyone is invited to! Simply visit the page at 6pm BST / 10am PT and sync with your Spotify or Apple Music account (or play your vinyl copy, if you’re feeling retro!) and join the conversation. Visit the countdown page here!
The limited edition 50th anniversary half-speed mastered RAM vinyl is out now. Get yours here.