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We believe that we can’t be wrong.

May 22, 2012

Ram is back. And it’s high time you start loving the album if you haven’t already.

My first exposure to Paul (…OK, and Linda) McCartney’s Ram came when I was about 11 years old. My dad had acquired a Chrysler LeBaron convertible, which was the first vehicle to come into our family bearing a tape deck. To christen the tape deck the previous summer, he’d bought a cassette copy of the Beatles 20 Greatest Hits, which set my 10-year-old imagination on fire. That was the best music I’d ever heard. I became a Beatles obsessive, and started poring through my father’s old record collection at my grandparents’ house. It went beyond obsession for me, I had to know EVERYTHING about the Beatles. Every useless trivia factoid, every line of dialogue in their films, who actually played what on each track, so on and so forth. By the time I was 12, my dad once said to his own mother, “You know, I thought I was a fan. Goddamn, I’ve created a monster.”

Anyway, with the acquisition of the convertible, my father now had an ample reason to dive back into a box of cassette tapes that he’d had since the 1970s. Because he had a perfectly good turntable and speakers set up in our living room and a pristine record collection, there was little if any need to make use of the cassette deck with musty old dubbed cassettes with handwritten labels that had long-since worn off.

So the soundtrack to our family’s roadtrips became the music my dad listened to in his teens and early 20s. That meant a pretty constant rotation of Steely Dan’s Greatest Hits, Ray Manzarek’s The Golden Scarab (seriously, the solo debut from the Doors’ keyboardist … how hipster WAS my father?), a horribly worn down copy of the Beatles’ White Album, and rounding it off, Ram.

Now, among the Beatles records that I devoured at my grandparents’ house, there was an original Apple 45 of “Another Day,” which was the first solo Beatles record I ever listened to. And I loved it, it honestly seemed as good and catchy as most late-period Beatles stuff, just with a woman on backing vox instead of John. So given that that McCartney had released that single as a precursor to Ram 11 years before I was even born, it seemed like Ram would easily find its way into my favor.

(Quick aside: OF COURSE I picked up the reissue of the “Another Day”/”Oh Woman, Oh Why” 45 on Record Store Day. The copy that first introduced me to the song has long since disappeared after my grandparents made their run of old people moves, from Florida and then to Iowa after a particularly nasty hurricane and then to assisted living. And while it’s great to have the songs on vinyl again, I was really disheartened by the hot pink sleeve and record label. McCartney really couldn’t commission a reprint of the Apple label? Didn’t he basically drive all three Beatles in 1970/71 to hate him because he was the only one willing to SAVE the Apple label? OK. End of rant.)

But Ram proved to be a bit of a slow-grower for me. I vividly remember Dad using “Smile Away” to hook me because he thought his 11-year-old son would find the line “Man, I can smell your feet a mile away” funny in the same way his 11-year-old thought fart jokes were funny. And because fathers know this kind of stuff, he was proven right. I did think “Smile Away” was funny, but I actually liked the guitar part more than I thought stinky feet (or breath or teeth) were funny.

And I liked the sound of “Too Many People,” I liked how big and pretty “Dear Boy” was, I liked “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” for the same reason I liked “Octopus’ Garden” and I liked “Monkberry Moon Delight” because I had no clue what any of it meant but it sounded ominous in a cool way.

But the rest of the album didn’t really find much favor with my 11-year old psyche. The more acoustic numbers were boring, “Long Haired Lady” was kind of scary and way too long and “The Back Seat of My Car,” well … for a boy still approaching puberty, the thought of sneaking away anywhere with a girl in the back seat was just kind of boring. If not a little disgusting.

But the thing about Ram was that it remained a constant in my father’s car. And as you age and your brain develops and you learn to appreciate things, you find yourself liking things that previously put you off. The way McCartney scats along with the guitar solo in “Heart of the Country,” the unabashed pop beauty of the “Bring the love that you feel for me…” bit in “Eat at Home,” and the undecipherable vamping on “Back Seat of My Car.” Year by year, the songs that I’d written off previously found favor in my psyche. All because my dad kept the album in rotation road trip after road trip.

A few years later, when I was a senior in high school, I was talking to my friend Brian about “Dad” albums. That is, albums that everyone’s father is into. I think the surefire choices were Steely Dan’s Aja, Supertramp’s Breakfast in America and either something by Yes or the Moody Blues. Late-era, mystic Moody Blues too, unfortunately. Not the good, Denny Laine-inclusive R&B stuff from the early years.

But we never counted Ram as a “Dad” album, because of its Beatle link. Anything Beatle-related couldn’t be considered “Dad,” because by the time we were 17, 18, it wasn’t our parents telling us how great the Beatles were. It was our favorite modern artists. (Seriously. Mine was Oasis.)

But for people like me, who were born more than a decade after Ram was first released, it is a “Dad” album. And it has to be. The reason we’re here celebrating a reissue campaign that features a 4-CD, 1-DVD and 112-page book box set is because this album has been handed down to all of us by the people who were there and loved it when it first came out. If we’d left it to Paul McCartney or any of the critics who slated it the first time around, the album would forever be consigned to all the bad/hokey stuff that we use to paint the stereotypical picture of McCartney.

My favorite Ram story has nothing to do with me personally listening to the music or having a connective moment to the album (like when I was learning guitar and I found out it was a C minor under that last “well…” in “Long Haired Lady”).

It goes back to my senior year of high school and my final year in the Youth in Government program. Every spring, the group would get on a stinky, closer-to-breaking-down-than-you’d-like-to-know school bus, and endure a 4-hour trip to Springfield, IL and pretend to be senators, representatives, lawyers and judges for the weekend. Now, as cool as that sounds (I say that with sarcasm), it actually was pretty cool (I say that with no sarcasm). The group of kids that went down was actually a mildly intelligent bunch who possessed a shared sense of humor and a great friendship founded on not quite being good enough to be in Model U.N. or some other academic powerhouse.

In addition to the minor academic insecurity posed by being in Youth in Government, the people who were part of it were also of that middle-to-lower-upper tier of popularity on the high school social totem pole. None of us were anywhere near attractive (or vapid) enough to be part of the platinum/athlete/cheerleader elite, nor were we brainy or antisocial enough to be part of the nerdy/awkward bottom dwellers. We were smart, we could be funny, but we were nice too. And let me tell you, that made the girls in the group even more attractive than they already were.  Some of the girls were under dating consideration for football players and wrestlers in that elite social stratosphere, and in that they were poachable, you kind of felt that much more elevated if they talked to you, let alone laughed at your joke.

So even though I was a senior and only a couple months away from leaving the high school social ladder and all the insecurities it brings with it behind, I was taken by surprise when one of these girls  came over to my seat on the bus ride back from Springfield.

“Can I see what CDs you brought?” she asked.

This was in the day and age of CD walkmans and CD wallets that maybe held 24 CDs (the people who brought the 60-CD wallets on those trips were helpful, but also kind of smug about it). The fact that this girl was going to look through my collection was a big moment. I was a Britpop kid and in middle America at the beginning of 2001, that didn’t mean I was anywhere near the center of cool. Titles by Oasis, Travis, Stereophonics and Ocean Colour Scene might send her away just as quickly and unexpectedly as she’d arrived. Then again, what if she too was a fan of OCS? My God, we’d share something that no one else in suburban Illinois would! The mind raced.

“Oh my God,” she said.

I looked down at my CD wallet fearing I’d forgotten to remove my Classic Sinatra CD and would have to make an impassioned defense of Sinatra to defend my grandmother’s honor from the dismissive (and ignorant) chortles of a high school girl. I didn’t see the Sinatra CD.

“What?” I asked.

“You have Ram?!”

From the way she asked, I couldn’t tell if I was in line for a pat on the back or a “My waste of a stepfather listens to that, you loser!”

“Y-yeah …” I stammered, mentally preparing the arguments to defend Paul McCartney against yet another likely passionate (but misinformed) bout of Lennon canonization.

“I love Ram!”

Wa-hey! Another unexpected surprise.

“Oh my God!” she continued. “My dad used to make my sister and I listen to this on road trips when we were little. I haven’t heard this in years! Can I borrow it?”

“Of course,” I said, in my best approximation of how Justin Timberlake would respond to a pretty girl’s request to sign her boobs.

She took the CD back to her seat, and began smiling uncontrollably. “OH! ‘TOO MANY PEOPLE!’ HOW GOOD IS THIS?!” she called out to me, in the upper-level volume that people who sport headphones playing music have to talk in.

I nodded in approval and watched her for a second as she played a bit of air guitar and moved from a lip-synch into a quiet singalong by the time “That was your first mistake…” came around.

STREAM THE REMASTERED VERSION OF “TOO MANY PEOPLE” HERE.

When she finished listening to the album, she gave it back to me. We never said another word to each other. I can’t remember her last name and once I got off the bus, I never saw her again in my life.

But for that moment, we shared something pretty cool. A piece of music that both of our fathers loved 30 years prior. Our fathers didn’t care what the critics said, about John Lennon calling it awful or Ringo Starr (where he ever got the f*cking nerve, I don’t know) dismissing it entirely. They knew it was great and once their kids started showing an interest in halfway decent music, they slipped it into our subconscious too. I hope someday I have a kid to pass it on to as well, because frankly, I can’t f*cking wait to play “Dear Boy” for him or her and go “Now, listen to this!”

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