The magic of some albums is predicated on obscurity. Take the self-titled 1968 release by McGough & McGear, newly reissued by Real Gone. If you were to stumble upon a beat-up vinyl copy of this patchwork of British psychedelic pop, quaint music hall- and folk-inspired tunes, and spoken-word pieces in a used record store, you’d probably treasure it for its unique place in pop history. That still doesn’t mean you’d listen to it much.
Roger McGough and Mike McGear were two-thirds of ‘60s Liverpool music/poetry/comedy act the Scaffold. Performance poet McGough remains a popular figure in the U.K., and McGear went on to a brief solo career and acclaim as a photographer. He’s also Paul McCartney’s brother, which brings us to the key to McGough & McGear‘s popularity among record collectors: the famous contributors who went unmentioned in the original liner notes due to contractual restrictions. In addition to McCartney, who sang, played piano, and co-produced with McGear and Yardbirds bassist Paul Samwell-Smith, other notables include Dave Mason, Graham Nash, John Mayall, and Jimi Hendrix, responsible for some Jimi-by-numbers psych-blues on two songs.
Naturally, this is all documented in the reissue’s liner notes, which is part of the problem. Minus the thrill of uncovering the album’s secret contributors and the cultist pride of owning a weird piece of ‘60s pop history on rare vinyl, McGough & McGear just isn’t all that exciting. Hearing McCartney’s harmony vocal sharing space with Hendrix’s guitar (for example) may be intriguing in theory, but the rock songs on McGough & McGear are forgettable variations on swirling pop that bands like the Small Faces and the Creation did better. The lion’s share of the album is taken up by spotty spoken word pieces (including McGough’s legitimately touching, funny and out-of-place “From Frink, A Life in the Day Of And Summer With Monika”) and cloying, repetitive in-jokes disguised as old-timey pop.
You have to admire Real Gone for making McGough & McGear widely available for a niche audience of classic British pop completists that may still eat it up. At the same time, easy availability makes it far easier to hear it as a curiosity that was probably lots of fun to record, but isn’t particularly fun to listen to.
// Notes from the Road
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