For some reason I had convinced myself that Paul McCartney himself had arranged Thrillington, an instrumental version of Ram, recorded in 1971 simultaneously with the great album, but not released till April 1977 as Percy “Thrills” Thrillington . I figured it was Paulie thinking about orchestration, even though the orchestration itself was just a mix of brass and jazz frills, it could have functioned as a getting his feet wet before his eventual plunge into classical composition. Actually, Richard Hawson who had been responsible for arranging material like “The Long And Winding Road” for the Beatles and “Carolina On My Mind” for James Taylor did the honors.
Paulie’s ninth album is a genre exercise which works entirely as a genre exercise. Ram was an excellent album with which to remove the lyric (but not the voices, lots of background harmonies by Mmmbers of the Swingle Singers and the Mike Sammes Singers, and it’s lovely), and while you might not appreciate the Kenny Gish flute on “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”, the song improves without Macca’s affected vocals. The brass band “Smile Away” takes a funny little ditty and makes it a marching band moment. The opening “Too Many People” echoes and very intentionally the start of Sgt Pepper’s, and the harmonies that blend you in before the brass are exquisite,strings are used for the bridge and the song becomes a typical pace changing Sir Paul mood piece, if you don’t like it Paul McCartney is probably not for you. The smooth jazz easy listening “The Back Of My Car” is not the greatest idea but the track is one of Paul’s greatest moments and anything you do to it feels like an intrusion, in segments it almost rocks, and it is willing to drift itself from segment to segment in a dream that awakens and sleeps with a glorious easiness.
If Thrillington is a little of a one trick pony, the entire concept is a cool one trick. Released under the Thrillington moniker, it saw no action till McCartney admitted it was him. Which shows, just the way Eric Clapton learnt with “Layla”, that names sell. And yet it serves its time and place, sure it is easy listening of sorts, but it is well played, well arranged and well produced, it is(again: RECORDED SIMULTANEOUSLY with Ram) perfect for the enterprise: you can’t imagine Paul getting away with Band On The Run as a muzak wallpaper vaguely ambient dreamscape. But there has always been something dreamy about Ram, and there is something so oddly other about Macca turning his masterpiece into inspired elevator music.