On 31st December 1970, Paul McCartney filed a writ at the London High Court which requested that The Beatles contract of 19th April 1967 should come to an end since The Beatles were no longer functioning as a band. At the time, all the money that each Beatle earned as an individual recording artist was split four ways. In addition, the other three Beatles had appointed Allen Klein as manager against Paul McCartney’s wishes and he felt that his artistic freedom was restricted.
The legal complexities of Apple meant that The Beatles paid for a huge number of lawyers to send their children to fee paying schools. A partnership which had started as a way of making music and having fun had degenerated into unpleasant meetings and a tearing apart of all the friendships formed over the previous decade. During the months leading up to 31st December 1970, Paul McCartney, tired of all this unpleasantness had a brainwave about how to manage. He decided not to attend the meetings and, instead, he went to Scotland with his wife, Linda McCartney along with her daughter, Heather, and their daughter, Stella. Whilst in Scotland, he wrote a plethora of songs, many of which appeared on “Ram”.
Was this behaviour irresponsible? Was it the “right” thing to do – to avoid the unpleasantness and leave it to other people (lawyers) to sort out the mess associated with the dissolution of The World’s Greatest Band? Is it a proper way to behave – to avoid difficult decisions in order to immerse yourself in work which produced music that would last forever? Put like that, the answer is a resounding “yes”.
How many TV or film dramas have I seen where there is a relationship breakdown and one person (normally the female) requests that they sit down and talk things through at which point the other person (normally the male) says that they can’t even think about it, at which point he goes to the pub with his mates and drinks too much? Classic avoidance behaviour. I’ve just googled “classic avoidance behaviour” and come across a website called “verywellmind” which states that “Aside from restricting your life, avoidance behaviors often have the opposite effect than what is desired. While in the short run you may experience a temporary sense of relief, in the long run, avoidance actually leads to increased anxiety.” I don’t know. Sometimes, I need time to process my thoughts and taking my mind off things can lead to a clearer self-view in the long run. On the other hand, talking about strong feelings rather than bottling them up is mentally very healthy.
The result of Paul McCartney’s avoidance behaviour was this brilliant collection of 12 songs. It is the only album credited to Paul and Linda McCartney. By giving Linda McCartney co-writing credit on half of the songs, he hoped to avoid having to give the other three Beatles some of the songwriting royalties. “Ram” was released a year after his first solo album, “McCartney” on which he played all the instruments himself. This time he used Denny Seiwell on drums and Hugh McCracken or David Spinoza on guitar.
The cover of the album includes a picture of two beetles copulating. The first words on the first song (“Too Many People”) are “piece of cake” which sounds like “piss off, cake”. The song lambasts people who go underground or preach practices or wasting a lucky break. These were interpreted as being addressed to John Lennon.
Another song that was directed at the other three Beatles is “3 Legs”, the second song on the album. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were feuding in public, with each writing vitriolic letters to Melody Maker, criticising each other and refusing to accept pressure to reform the band. One of the letters that Paul McCartney wrote said “In order to put out of its misery the limping dog of a news story which has been dragging itself across your papers for the past year, my answer to the question, ‘will the Beatles get together again’…is no”. In “3 Legs”, Paul McCartney sings about a dog with three legs that can’t run. He has been let down by someone who he thought was his friend.
However, other songs were mistakenly described as being about John Lennon or the Beatles or Apple etc. “Dear Boy” addresses someone who never knew how lucky he was, who didn’t appreciate what he had. This was aimed at Joseph Melville See who was Linda McCartney’s first husband and father of Heather McCartney. Their three year marriage ended in 1965. There is some internet discussion that he was the inspiration for “Jo Jo” in “Get Back”. He shot himself in March 2000.
In 1960, Allan Williams managed to get The Silver Beetles on a tour of Scotland providing the backing for Johnny Gentle who was a member of Larry Parnes’ stable. Johnny Gentle’s real name was John Askew but Larry Parnes liked to give his artists names like Billy Fury, Marty Wilde, Vince Eager, Duffy Power and Georgie Fame. This was the first time that the former Beatles had been on a tour and they decided to give themselves stage names. John Lennon was Long John, George Harrison was Carl Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe was Stuart de Staël and Paul McCartney was Paul Ramon. (Drummer Tommy Moore was, er… Tommy Moore). 11 years later, Paul McCartney named a simple song on his second album “Ram On”. It is a lovely melodic song on which he accompanies himself with just a ukulele.
“Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” was a single in the USA only and it reached Number One in August 1971, three months after its release on the album. It’s a brilliant song which uses the “Abbey Road” medley as a template, piecing together several fragments of songs. Uncle Albert was based on a real uncle of Paul McCartney’s and Admiral Halsey was based on Fleet Admiral William “Bull” Halsey. There are contrasting emotions on the song. Paul McCartney apologises to the older Uncle Albert on behalf of the younger generation but he suggests that we should ignore authoritarian figures like Admiral Halsey. At times on this song, Paul McCartney adopts a mock upper class accent, reminiscent of Vivian Stanshall.
“Smile Away” is much more up tempo and in some ways is a 50s rock’n’roll pastiche. The versatility of Paul McCartney’s writing and vocal style continues to astonish me every time I listen to one of his albums. On “Smile Away” and “Monkberry Moon Delight”, he uses his “Long Tall Sally”/”Helter Skelter” voice to generate genuine excitement.
By contrast, “Heart Of The Country” is a simple song, with restrained percussion and a lovely acoustic guitar. Melodically, it’s brilliant and his voice is much more pure and mellow than on the rockier songs.
“Long Haired Lady” starts with Linda McCartney’s voice and, at six minutes, develops a sound which ungenerous critics describe as MOR but, to my mind, achieves the feel of “Rumours” six years before Fleetwood Mac. It may not be to everybody’s taste but his genius shines through.
Peter’s favourite song on the album is “The Back Seat Of My Car”. It was released as a single in October 1971, five months after the album’s release and it was the first single by The Beatles (as a group or individually) that failed to reach the Top 30. That’s a shame because it is fantastic. Paul and Linda McCartney used to frequently visit Scotland and the car journeys inspired a number of songs (e.g. “Helen Wheels”, “Two Of Us”, “The Long And Winding Road”). Once again, there are many sections to this song which is never dull, despite lasting for four and a half minutes. The main part of the song is a ballad played on a piano but other sections are orchestral or rock’n’roll. The song builds to an emotional finale, leaving me to marvel at yet another example of the restless genius of a man who was using his creative energy to forget about the hurt that he was feeling.