After the massive success of BAND ON THE RUN (reIeased 12/5/73) I was so excited for the next release from McCartney and Wings. And in a era where artists released albums every 6 months to a year the wait seemed way too long.
To ease the anticipation, October 25th of 1974 brought me just the single “Junior’s Farm/Sally G.” VENUS AND MARS would come out on May 27th, 1975. So it was such a surprise that sometime in 1974 I heard that Paul was working on a new album, this one he was PRODUCING for his younger brother, Michael McCartney (changed it to McGear at the height of Beatlemania to avoid the insanity of trying to follow his brother into anything).
McGEAR, was started initially in 1973 as just a one off-single (with Paul, Denny, Linda and Denny Seiwell on drums) by recording the Paul written “Leave It.”
They must have had a great time as in early 1974, as accolades and sales for Band started rolling in, the three remaining Wings and Michael decided to make it a complete album.
Paul flushed out Wings with a new drummer in Gerry Conway and guitarist Jimmy McCulloch, and in an era of Paul’s massive output of creativity, he wrote or co-wrote 11 more tracks and they all headed into the studio.
All tracks lead vocals are sung by McGear (McCartney can be heard singing the ending of “What Do We Really Know?“, on “Givin’ Grease A Ride” and occasional yells and harmony vocals on other tracks).
At the time, McGear had just left his group Grimms, and McCartney was waiting for his Apple Records contract to expire.
Because of Apple contract issues, McCartney was originally not credited as a performer.
The album was recorded at Strawberry Studios, except for “Leave It“, which was recorded at Abbey Road Studios. “Leave It” reached #36 in the UK singles chart.
The front cover shows Mike captured like Gulliver, surrounded by little black and white people. Included in the people are pictures of the band members, as well as a childhood picture of Paul and Mike.
When Warner Brothers signed McGear and Badfinger to quite a bit of fanfare, coinciding with McCartney’s Apple contract nearing expiration, there was quite a bit of rumor at the time suggesting that Warners was trying to interest McCartney in signing with them.
So, on September 24th of 1974 I excitedly purchased McGEAR and was amazed at the quality of what I was listening to.
BEFORE WE BEGIN REVIEW
The cover is a take off on “Gulliver’s Travels,” with Mike as the giant, strapped to a large wooden sled, pulled by a team of horses. Off to the side stand a small group of little people, who actually are players associated with Mike or this production. As best as I can I see Paul’s mom and dad, holding baby brother Mike, A man on the moon, Linda on a horse, Denny Seiwell, young Paul and Mike flying a plane, other members of Wings, and Paul in the lower right corner.
Paul went all out on this album, production wise. So much care and tenderness and effort to make this a success for Michael. To this day I still wish that this was a Wings album, with Paul handling all of the lead vocals, with hardly any changes to the final record, but for Mike’s lead vocals.
Mike does not have a BAD voice, he just does not have Paul’s voice. He has a very limited range, and while his voice is sweet, there are only a few songs on here which call for sweet. Mike’s voice is very Irish, and so for that reason there is NO WAY he can sing rockers. He does fantastic on the opening track, because his voice is very much like Bryan Ferry, lead singer of Roxy Music. He does very well on the sea shanty, “The Casket,” because his voice is so suited for that. He does very well on “Simply Love You,” because that is a sugary sweet love song.
So, my biggest regret is not the music, which is played and recorded as well as any McCartney project, or the songs, which are for the most part, excellent and lyrically interesting (Mike helps on that end I think on his co-writing).
Mike is not new to doing music. He was in a music/novelty band called The Scaffold who had hit records in the U.K. with “Thank You Very Much” and “Liverpool Lou.”
He also had released a solo album two years prior in 1972 called, WOMAN, and had a hit with the title track, written and produced by McCartney.
I think when they got together in 1973 and did Paul’s pop gem “Leave
It” it was a shock to see how good it sounded and so they pushed on in early 1974, and again, Paul knocked off an album of songs, aided by Mike, and a little help from Linda, and on one song by former partner, Roger McGough on another.
In the days before the internet, and Mike material not being available to young me, I had never heard his voice before, as I gently place the needle on side one, song one…..
“Sea Breezes” The only track not written by a McCartney, this one a Roxy Music track written by Bryan Ferry. A dramatic track, with wonderful orchestration by Paul, and Wings perfect/rock pop sound. But the vocals stunned me for a bit. But I knew of Bryan Ferry and so I went with it. I know how an album Paul can sound like 12 different singers with his amazing range and production ability so I bought in.
The reggae shift in the middle was a nice touch, and the tender and exciting ending failed to let me down.
I still have never heard Ferry’s version of this song, so this is the definitive version for me.
While I was let down that Mike would not sound like Paul, the sound of the band (Jimmy McCulloch’s guitar is amazing in his debut), which was a Wings album 100% thru and thru.
The strong song writing and selection, together with Paul’s amazing touches here and there that had me longing for more of them, made this song and all of the album much easier to fully digest.
Rating – 8.0
“What Do We Really Know?” Opens with backwards guitar and Paul’s moaning voice….nice. Amazing guitar, backing vocals and bass lines…. A fantastic rocker, so again, we needed Paul, to take the lead, but he comes into the mix very strongly at the end on his backing vocals. Rating – 8.5
“Norton” A odd little song, perfect for Mike. A military march tempo, that feature spoken parts in the break by Laine, McCartney and former Beatles public relations man, Derek Taylor. It all breaks loose at the end, with perfect Wings harmony to end it…. Rating – 7.5
“Leave It” The best of the best. Brian Jones, an old Liverpool pal musician form back in the Hamburg days, and his sax drives this amazing track that still gives me goosebumps. The first single off the album. One of the best Paul written songs that he gave away. Pop magic at it’s best. Love the coda at the end…. Rating – 9
“Have You Got Problems?” Another nice shuffle, with Linda more in background vocal mix. Mike handles the vocals nicely. More help from Brian Jones. A tempo change in the middle makes this a tough one to dance to…hahaha…. There’s a loud shout out by Paul at the long play out. Rating – 7
“The Casket” Co written by McCartney and Roger McGough (Mike’s former partner in the Scaffold) Again, perfect for Mikes voice. Features the pipe work of Irish legend Paddy Moloney (of The Chieftains). A sea shanty about crabs, and things that have washed up from the sea around and inside the casket. Yes, you read that right. Initially I didn’t like it, but now like how it eases us into side two of the album. Rating – 7
“Rainbow Lady” The brothers wrote this bouncy little pop number. Great synth work by Paul or Linda give this song an ethereal feel. Paul vocals on the middle eight are mixed nice and high, as they are at the end. The song ends on an odd off note… so.
Rating – 7.5
“Simply Love You” A slow love song that is the weakest track here. This could have been from The Lawrence Welk Show…. Then we get to the middle eight and Paul melts me. Back to the main verse. Heavy Denny and Linda on backing vocals. A bit too light for my taste, back in the day, and today. But that middle eight is sweet. And a Wings flourish at the end… Rating – 6.5
“Givin’ Grease A Ride” A get in the car and drive too fast while this blasts. All is fine except the vocals… Would have love to hear what Paul could have done with this one. Lots of car sounds and eventually the crash the lyrics set up. McCulloch’s guitar is up to the task. Paul can’t help yelling out at the end on the play out…. He teases us again. Rating – 6.5
“The Man Who Found God On The Moon” Another gem. Outstanding song by the brothers, which always reminded me of George Harrison, even on the first listen. Then he even has Mike’s two little girls do the Hari Krishna chants we hear in the middle and on the play out. Again, Paul teases us with a co-lead vocal at spots and his “Oh Oh Oh all right now go now now…” at the end….
A wonderful ending to a wonderful, underrated album. Rating – 8.5
“Dance The Do” A track that came out with the 1992 CD re-release. Odd little dance track featuring Mike in falsetto. A nice little harmless toe-tapper. Rating – 7
“Sweet Baby” The b-side of “Leave It.” Interesting get up and go song, well suited for Mike. Just a bit too thin musically, but has a McCartney II feel to it. Rating – 6.5
The overall album (not counting bonus tracks) rates as a 7.2/10, but I would have added another 5-10 more on the ratings if this had been a Paul led Wings album, and that would have driven this one into RAM and BAND ON THE RUN territory and a wonderful follow up to BAND.