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Do You Need Paul McCartney’s New Half-Speed Mastered Vinyl Version Of RAM?

Mark Smotroff digs deeper still into one of his favorite solo Beatle albums…

About 50 years ago my father drove me down to E.J. Korvettes, a discount department store on Rt. 22 in New Jersey. It seemed like we drove for an hour or more to get there but it was the only place we could find that had copies of Paul McCartney’s RAM album in stock. It had just been released and was selling out everywhere we called. Me being the major Beatle fanatic kid, Dad wanted to support my interest in music and made the extra effort to get this album for me. 

Thanks again, Dad!

So here I am on the flip-side, older than my Dad was in 1971 writing this review about RAM, which has gone on to establish its place in my heart as not only my favorite Paul McCartney album but also one of my favorites of all the individual Beatle solo albums.

I’ve long worn out my original copy and gone through a number of replacement pressings over the years. The one I have kept around is an original German edition which has some remarkable clarity at points (so much so I felt I didn’t need the generally mediocre original U.S. edition). I still have hope for getting a U.K. pressing one of these days. 

But in a way, it is oddly fortuitous that I have the German pressing since the new half speed mastered version of RAM was pressed in Germany! And unlike the recent colored vinyl edition of the album, it is on an Apple Records label. So, in a curious way I have the opportunity to compare… Apples to Apples… if you’ll pardon the inherent bad pun. 

Revisiting my original German pressing of RAM with fresh ears — as it has been a while since I listened to it closely — I was taken with some of the levels of crisp detailing going on. Compared to the etched-in-my-brain memories of the U.S. pressing, certain tracks felt so fresh, as if they might be alternate mixes, particularly “Three Legs.”  

Diving into the new half-speed mastered issue of RAM, there is a brightness to the new edition which is compelling, especially in comparison to the 1971 edition I have. On one hand I like this remaster but I have to admit it has taken me some time to get used to it because of the additional shimmer. Is it perhaps too bright? I haven’t really decided. There are parts of this I like very much. 

Macca’s extra fuzz bass on “Smile Away” is particularly clear on this new half speed master. 

I love how “Heart of the Country” sounds on this new remaster with a very nice feel to the acoustic guitar parts to a point where you can feel the resonance of the instrument and the woody air around it. The bluesy jazz electric guitar in the other channel is likewise rich and warm.  Lots of great detailing evident on “Monkberry Moon Delight,” particularly these little guitar and vocal texture overdubs which are usually buried in the mix but are now quite apparent…

The pressing itself is generally excellent, thick, dark 180-gram and generally dead quiet vinyl as it should be.  

I put the word “generally” in italics twice however because there is an anomaly after the first or second verse on “Too Many People” on my copy. It lasts maybe a second and sounds like a “srrrucnnnch” crackly type sound (as opposed the shsshing of a typical non-ill issue — I didn’t see any of the tell tale dotted-line “pearl necklace” type marks in the grooves so it may be some sort of pressing anomaly that may work itself out. I may try to wash the album soon.

The question remains: do you need to own this half-speed mastered edition of RAM?  That, Dear Readers, depends on your needs. If you love RAM and don’t own an original European pressing, you’ll probably like this. If you were disappointed with the yellow vinyl special edition from several years back (as I was) you’ll probably like this. If you’ve only had a U.S. pressing you’ll probably want this too. I never got around to buying the 2012 “archive series” version on vinyl and didn’t want to compare this to the CD or downloads in that boxed set (which I did get!). I also didn’t compare it to the Hi Res and MQA streams on Qobuz and Tidal, respectively.

But, now you are probably still wondering: did I really like this edition?  Once I got used to the brighter sound, I can generally say: yes, but with caveats. 

This version of RAM is probably a bit less compressed than the original pressing, so the recording is a bit quieter in the grooves and thus I had to turn up my amp a bit. There is a distinct brighter sensibility about the recording here but with that it also delivers increased details, such as the jaunty acoustic guitar finger picking parts on the verses to “Long Haired Lady” which sound… well… jauntier than ever! If I have any complaint it is that the bass is a little lighter than my original pressing. It is clear and distinct, but not quite as resonant. There are tradeoffs. 

Ultimately, I don’t feel this version of RAM is definitive. I think I prefer my original German pressing overall. And I still plan to keep looking for a decent quality original UK edition. 

Maybe someday we’ll get a 5.1 remix of RAM. It is always good to have things to look forward to in music and in the world of The Beatles, there are literal lifetimes of music to explore there. Keep ‘em coming, Sir Paul. We’re all ears! 

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