One has to wonder what was going through Paul McCartney's mind as he was recording Ram, possibly the most homemade and low-fi recording to bear his name, as the winter of 1970 bled into 1971.
With The Beatles gone for nearly a year, the most visible presence any of the Fab Four had on radio came not through McCartney but from George Harrison's sublime All Thing Must Pass. You almost have to surmise that McCartney was fed up enough with pop stardom to retreat to "the wee hills of Scotland" with then-wife Linda to fashion a record of splintered but gloriously unadorned beauty.
How curious then that a new edition of Ram, the latest in a gradual reissue program of McCartney's post-Beatles recordings, comes to us on the heels of a largely demo-style Harrison set titled Early Takes, Volume 1. The artistic aims of the two artists probably were light years apart. Yet when listened to back to back, these albums abound with an appealing though somewhat weary innocence. They have music made by two mates who had seen the world and went in search of something less.
Early Takes isn't going to take any prize for insight or generosity. It is poorly annotated, cheaply packaged and is less than 35 minutes long. But then you slip on the music — all of which was unreleased until now — and that brilliant Harrison contentment, that soft-spoken mix of pop tradition and spiritual yearning, pours out in heartfelt demo versions of My Sweet Lord, Run of the Mill and All Things Must Pass's title tune.
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Not all of the music stays locked in the early '70s. A cover of the pop standard Let It Be Me delivered by an older Harrison — again, no recording dates or info are provided — reveals how the Beatle continued to walk the tightrope between the spiritual and material worlds with unassuming grace.
Ram, in contrast, remains brash, electric and a whole lot of sloppy fun. There is hardly a tune here that 41 summers after its initial release makes complete sense, although a genuine pop poignancy emerges during the two Ram interludes and the album-closing Back Seat of My Car.
But as rough-hewn as much of Ram seems, the still-wonderful Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey remains an elaborate pop creation that gives an obvious nod to Beatles producer George Martin. Essentially a cartoon brought to life, the tune is both bittersweet and cheery. It stands as lasting proof that the Beatles' pop magic still thrived during the early '70s, even if it was through a series of fractured, fascinating solo adventures.