By Gillian G. Gaar
The year 1970 was a rough one for Paul McCartney. The release of his first solo album, “McCartney,” was overshadowed by the news he was leaving The Beatles. He ended the year by suing his fellow Fabs, trying to dissolve their business partnership. He later admitted he’d fallen to depression during this period. But his wife Linda helped shake him out of his doldrums, and in November 1970, he and Linda were in New York City, ready to start work on a new album.
Taking a completely new approach to finding musicians, Paul held anonymous auditions. Drummer Denny Seiwell thought he’d been booked for a demo session, and he was surprised when he arrived at “this burned-out building on 43rd Street. It had no electricity. I said, ‘Geez, I’m gonna get mugged here!’” He nervously headed downstairs, only to be astonished to find Paul and Linda sitting by a battered drum kit. “Paul said, ‘We’re just looking at some players. We want to do a record here in New York. Do you mind playing for us?’” Denny recalls. “I said, ‘Sure! I’ll be glad to! What would you like to hear?’ ‘Just play some rock ‘n’ roll.’ So I had some tom-toms with me, I set ’em up and just went to it. I guess he liked my vibe, my attitude, as well as my playing, because a few days later I got the call; he said, ‘Do this recording with me,’ and I just about dropped the phone.”
Paul found guitarist David Spinoza the same way; guitarist Hugh McCracken was later used on sessions Spinoza couldn’t make. The musicians (with Linda on backing vocals) went straight to work, laying down basic tracks for more than 20 songs by the end of the year; overdubs were completed the following year in L.A. Though the song ideas were Paul’s, he generally allowed the musicians to create their own parts.
“He’d just play us the song and we’d make a part that would go with it, and as soon as it sounded right, we’d just start recording it,” Denny explains. “We’d get a magic take, and that was it! And a couple of times he came up with incredible ideas for me, where I was playing a normal drum part, and he’d say, ‘That’s great, but I’d like you to try something like this,’ and it would be the kind of part that a drummer just wouldn’t think of.”
Paul was also open to experimenting with new sounds. For “Too Many People,” Denny drummed on a telephone book. On “Heart of the Country,” he made a drum set out of a plastic wastepaper basket and a piece of sheet metal.
“I was stealing my ideas from Ringo, and the “McCartney” album,” he says. “What a great place to steal from! Just making up nice little sounds, and doing stuff off the wall. The creative door was wide open, which was what was so nice about it.”
He also took note of Paul’s unusual approach to his main instrument: “He used to tune his bass out of tune. He used to tune the A-string a little flat, which gave him the distinct sound that he always had. He’d play it in tune, but it gave it another quality that no other bass player on the planet could get. He had his own way of doing things.”
“Ram” was released in May 1971, reaching No. 2. The critical reaction was harsh, “Rolling Stone,” describing it as “incredibly inconsequential … monumentally irrelevant.” John Lennon took umbrage at “Too Many People,” believing it was directed at him (Paul admitted that it was), responding in kind on “Imagine” with the acerbic “How Do You Sleep.” Paul was also sued by his publishers for the “Paul and Linda McCartney” credit, not believing that Linda made any songwriting contributions.
“I tried so very hard and I really hoped people would like it,” he told “Melody Maker.” “I thought I had done a great album.”
From here on, Paul would largely restrict his quirky side to his side projects. But over the years, the album’s friendly, homespun charms have worn well, and many fans single out “Ram” as their favorite Paul McCartney album.