Could Sir Paul McCartney be considered a genius? Whether it be his pioneering work with The Beatles, the countless creations as a solo artist, or the fact that he had the ability to simply dream up astonishing hit songs, McCartney’s vast and unrelenting impact on popular culture as we know knows no bounds.
Although I’m not a royalist (how could I be, I’m Irish!), if anyone has proven worthy of their title, it is the fab bassist himself. Indeed, the bass playing on Revolver alone earned him that knighthood, lest we forget the gorgeous melodies he crafted for ‘For No One’, ‘Here, There and Everywhere’, and ‘Got to Get You into My Life’. And then there’s the small matter of Ram, McCartney’s second solo album, and arguably his richest in sound.
The album celebrates melody, from the whimsy of ‘Ram On’ to the turbocharged rockabilly heard in ‘Smile Away’. It’s McCartney’s most expansive work, continuing the narrative of Abbey Road and Sgt.Pepper to its next logical thread. And it just might be his finest work as a solo artist.
Such was his confidence in the work that he hired Richard Hewson to record an instrumental version of the album. It sounded tremendous, but McCartney sat on the tapes for more than half a decade before releasing them in 1977. Against the backdrop of punk, the vignettes sounded quaint, woolly, and decidedly middle-aged. Weirder still, McCartney decided to release the album under a pseudonym, a move that baffled Hewson.
“It’s a mystery that I’ve never quite figured out why he did it,” he told We Are Cult. “I wasn’t totally for it. Maybe he felt it was a better way to show his crazy ideas, but if he’d released it as Paul McCartney Orchestral or something, it might have sold much better, because it didn’t sell very well, a lot of people didn’t know about it that I’ve spoken to. Some people knew, some people didn’t. They never tell me anything anyway, I knew they’re reissuing it on vinyl from reading about it on Facebook”.
Considering the effort he put into the album, Hewson has every right to be disappointed, but the tapes belonged to McCartney, so he had every right to put them out as he best saw fit. It wasn’t the first time McCartney concocted a persona for his work (see Sgt.Pepper) nor would it be the last, as he came clean in 2008, and revealed that he was indeed responsible for creating the ambient group, The Fireman. McCartney went as far as to hire a model in Ireland for the album, but decided they weren’t “Percy Thrillington enough”.
Nonetheless, the album is credited to ‘Percy Thrillington’. It’s doubtful anyone was fooled by the concept considering there is a picture of McCartney on the record’s gate-sleeve, but it amused him. Unlike George Harrison, McCartney wasn’t convinced that truthfulness was key to good art, especially when he had an album as gorgeous as Ram. If anything, the album proved that McCartney should record more instrumentals, which might explain why much of McCartney II was recorded without lyrics.
Enough gossip. Thrillington is a worthwhile accompaniment to Ram, and some of the work embellishes the themes from the original. ‘Eat At Home’ plunges further into the waters of reggae; ‘Back Seat of My Car’ is soaked in brass, making for a riveting listen; ‘Monkberry Moondelight’ just sounds monstrous. No, the album doesn’t work without Ram for context, but why would anyone want to live in a world without Ram?
“I didn’t know it was so popular to be honest,” Hewson elaborates. “I know Matt Hurwitz wrote a brilliant piece about it for GoodDay Sunshine, I don’t know if that’s still around. But besides that, I don’t think it was a very popular album, even though I agree with you that Ram is one of Paul’s best. But maybe now if they publicise it as Paul IS Thrillington, it might be more popular and it might sell better”.