The Horrible Sound of Tomato

50 years ago today, Paul and Linda McCartney released Ram and more or less invented indie-pop which, as origin stories go, seems definitionally impossible given that Paul was arguably the most famous member of the most famous band of all time,1 but if you disagree, go and listen to the catchy, weird, aggressively lo-fi Ram and come back to me.

Ram was McCartney’s second post-Beatles album and it got absolutely trashed by critics at the time of its release. Rolling Stone called it “incredibly inconsequential,” The Village Voice called it “a bad record,” and NME called it “the worst thing Paul McCartney has ever done.”2 John Lennon would later mock the album’s cover—Paul holding a ram by the horns—with a postcard inserted into Imagine that depicted Lennon holding a pig by the ears. Yeesh.

But critics are idiots. Today, Ram is widely regarded as one of McCartney’s best post-Beatles albums, maybe his single best. “Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey”3 and b-side “Another Day” were the big hits, but when I think of Ram, I think of two consecutive but very divergent tracks nestled in its center: “Heart of the Country” is about as pure an indie-pop song as you could hope—if you listen closely, you can actually hear The Decemberists forming during the outro—and then there’s “Monkberry Moon Delight” which is absolutely absurd and equally wonderful.

The lyrics for “Monkberry Moon Delight” are fruity, delicious nonsense. Most, including the titular delight—which turns out to be a (fictional) milkshake—are based on inside jokes and the misspoken words of the McCartney children. Not only does my toddler say goofy shit all the time, but I absolutely sing a lot of it back at him in equally goofy songs. I get it. I mean, I’m no Paul McCartney, but I’ve never felt more like him than when I realized that this is what he’d done on “Monkberry Moon Delight.”4

Aside from its childish turns of phrase, this song is a total jam. Paul, who was always the best singer in the Beatles, flexes his massive vocal talent and manages to make lines like this sound urgent and aggressive and, fittingly, insane:

So I sat in the attic, a piano up my nose / and the wind played a dreadful cantata / sore was I from the crack of an enemy’s hose / and the horrible sound of tomato / ketchup! / soup and puree! / don’t get left behind

Paul’s singing is so tremendous and versatile that if he had been born in 1992 instead of 1942, he could have won The Voice and become a pop star5 or he could have turned up the growl and sung with Mastodon. The man could sing, is what I’m saying.

Maybe it’s all that monkberry moon delight he was sucking down.

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One thought on “The Horrible Sound of Tomato

  1. A well written commentary on my all time favorite post Beatle release from any of the four lads! ☮️

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