This is an album I have wanted to hear for years, but high collector’s prices have kept it out of my reach for all this time. That situation has finally changed with the new Real Gone Records release of McGough & McGear, which is appearing for the first time ever in the U.S. The album was released in 1968, and features a number of uncredited superstars of the era. One element in the duo’s favor in soliciting these contributions had to have been their excellent connections. For example, it probably helped that Mike McGear is actually a pseudonym for Mike McCartney, whose brother’s name is Paul.
Over 40 years after the fact, the list of guest stars can be revealed, and it is impressive. Besides brother Paul, contributors to the album include Jimi Hendrix, Graham Nash, Dave Mason, Paul Samwell-Smith, and even Paul’s girlfriend at the time, Jane Asher.
McGough & McGear is not just a Beatle-brother’s vanity project however. These two had real talent, and even though the album was overlooked upon release, it is quite adventurous. Roger McGough and Mike McGear began their careers in a musical/comedy troupe called Scaffold. When they decided to strike out on their own as a duo, they decided to incorporate some of the comedy into their music, as well as straight poetry, and some ringing pop.
The lead track, “So Much” should have been a hit. It has everything going for it, but never caught on. Because of record label restrictions in the sixties, they were not allowed to list the people who played on it. But even without the credit, it is very clear that the great psychedelic guitar solo is played by Jimi Hendrix. Paul’s harmonies are very much in evidence as well.
Things get mighty strange after that. McGough and McGear “head toward the ditch” (as Neil Young might put it) over the course of much of the rest of the record. There is a lot of spoken-word material, as well as that curious British phenomenon called “music-hall,” and some comedy bits that follow. Perhaps the most adventurous is the two-part “From Frink” which practically defies description. According to the new liner notes by Richie Unterberger, this section, which incorporates “Summer With Monika,” was specifically produced by Paul.
As for radio-friendly late-sixties pop, in addition to “So Much,” there is “Yellow Book,” a wonderfully wistful ballad. “House In My Head,” “Living Room,” and especially “Do You Remember” are fun goofs, and would have been right at home on Sgt. Pepper, in my opinion.
The 13-song collection comes to a close with “Ex Art Student.” Paul McCartney’s bass is unmistakable in the opening bars, it is almost identical to that great run he does in “Paperback Writer.” At 6:29, this was the big track, the one they really went wild on. According to the liner notes, Hendrix is responsible for the cool wah-wah guitar, and Traffic’s Dave Mason adds some notable sitar flourishes. I’m very surprised that this song never really received much attention beyond the hardcore fans, because it is a great slice of psychedelia.
The release of McGough & McGear is a real treat for those of us who have heard about this album, but have never actually had the chance to hear it. McGough & McGear is definitely not for Beatle completists only, it stands as a really fun and interesting sixties relic all on its own. Thanks to the Real Gone label, it is finally available after a long time on the shelf.