Paul & Linda McCartney • RAM (50th Anniversary Half-Speed Master) [LP]

Not necessarily one of Macca’s best-known or best-selling albums, 1971’s RAM by PAUL & LINDA McCARTNEY is a critics favorite for reasons that aren’t always clear. This new reissue – a limited edition half-speed mastered pressing – may just be the best-sounding version of it that any of us with limited resources are ever gonna get, assuming we don’t own a mint original UK or German pressing. I don’t. I mean, I DO have more copies of this album than anyone in their right mind would have, but guys like me aren’t really in our right minds in the first place, so…

It was Paul’s second solo outing, barely a year after The Beatles officially broke up and not long after his first record, McCartney. Both were subject to lots of criticism, true, but when you look back to that time period every Beatles solo record was panned by a majority of reviewers who stupidly hoped/expected the Fab Four’s records without each other would be as good as the ones they did together. Plastic Ono Band: Panned. All Things Must Pass: Pass. Sentimental Journey? Please. Of course, we know now that all three of those albums – yes, even Ringo’s! – are classics if not at least pretty damn good for a drummer. (Ha ha!) Anyway, as tempting as it is to go into what makes RAM so great – you know, “gritty,” “unpolished but charming,” “inventive,” “‘Smile Away’ is awesome and I don’t care how silly it is or what you think” – I feel like if you’re reading this you probably already have a real good clue.

This album, like most of Macca’s, has been reissued near-countless times so it’s gotta either be one of your favorites or you’re a Beatles completist who buys every single reissue you can get your hands on. I’m – believe it or not, friends and family – somewhere in between. I do have multiple vinyl copies of this one: an original US issue on Apple with a mislabeled side 2 (sounds dismal), the 2012 2LP version on Hear Music that sounds very nice, the later Capitol reissue on see-through yellow vinyl that was supposedly pressed from the same master as the Hear Music release, and this brand new half-speed master. Oh yeah, and the awesome 2012 mono reissue (it was actually released to radio stations in ’71 as a promotional copy in a dedicated [not fold-down stereo] mono mix). Not counting that mono copy, this RAM is hands-down the best one I’ve heard. Just like the McCartney half-speed master that came out last year, this one just kills in every way. Things are clearer, the fuzz bass is wild ’n’ woolly like it oughta be, McCartney’s vocals growl or croon when they should, the strings on “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” and “The Back Seat of My Car” sound lusher than ever, and the acoustic guitars throughout glimmer like ripples on the water on a lovely spring day. (Did I just write that?!) Not only that, but there are backing vocals I’ve never really heard as clearly as they are here, and the lead vocals sometimes linger at the end of a line where you didn’t know they actually did. I probably know RAM better than every McCartney album save Band on the Run and Venus and Mars (I’ll take those half-speed masters toot-suite!) and I can tell you that this version beats not only the superb 1993 DCC Compact Classics gold CD, but the 2012 Archive Series version, too.

So, to wrap this up: If you can get a hold of one of these RAMs without having to go to epic lengths to do so, do it. You read this far; you should need no further convincing. Ram on! – Marsh Gooch

5/5 (Capitol/UMe 00602435577234, 2021)

Here’s a pretty good description of how half-speed mastering can make for a better record. (And no, you don’t have to play the record at half speed!)

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