It was 48 years ago Saturday (September 24th, 1974) that Mike McCartney teamed up with older brother Paul McCartney and released the longtime fan favorite McGear album. McGear — which was the younger McCartney’s stage name since the early ’60s when he co-founded the legendary British comedy trio the Scaffold — was Mike’s second mainstream rock release following his 1972 solo debut Woman, which featured a portrait of the McCartney’s mother Mary on the cover. Woman, like McGear, continues to be a global cult favorite garnering new fans with each new generation.
To many, McGear was a Wings album in all but name, especially seeing as how Paul didn’t release a new album that year. The main difference was that Mike and Paul co-wrote most of the material between themselves with Mike taking the lead vocals and Paul handling production duties. Fans were amazed at the quality of Mike’s singing, which at times sounded like a perfect amalgam of his brother and old friend Ringo Starr. Mike’s wit and comedic touch is evident all over the album.
The album’s lead single “Leave It” was one of only two songs on the set solely written by Paul. Mike explained that the song set the tone for the entire album: “It wasn’t gonna be an album. It started, our kid (Paul) was sayin’ ‘What are you doin’?’ And I said ‘I left Scaffold, Scaffold have finished so I’m writing a few kids ideas for children’s books and a few song ideas.’ And he said, ‘Oh, why don’t you come down and we’ll see if we can knock something out? You could do a single. Just sit ’round and see what comes out.’ So he brought his guitar out, and he started strumming, and this song evolved from the evening and then Lin stared to do little harmonies on it. It just came into the room.”
In January and February 1974, the McCartney brothers, Linda McCartney, drummer Gerry Conway, and Wings guitarists Denny Lane and the late Jimmy McCulloch recorded the album at Strawberry Studios in Stockport, England — which was owned by 10cc.
Mike recalls that the sessions at times were magnets for other pop hitmakers: “People would come while we were there. One day we went in, and sitting there — mild as sheep — sitting in the corner of the control box were the Carpenters! Just sittin’ there. Two lovely people. I said, ‘What the hell are they doin’ there?’ ‘Oh, they were in a concert in Manchester tonight and they heard that your kid (Paul) and you are here, and they just wanted to come and say ‘Hello.'”
The album’s standout track, “Leave It,” is one of only two songs on the album completely written by Paul McCartney himself. Mike shed light on his older brother’s record making prowess when he was unsure of his own vocal talents: “He said, ‘Don’t worry, it’ll be there. We’ll sprinkle some magic fairy dust on it — don’t worry.’ And so, I kept hearing it, and slowly — he kept doing it over and over in the mix. Over and over and over. And slowly, this magic song started to appear, until the end — ’cause he did it all himself — this great singer, called ‘Mike McGear’ was suddenly singing, and the music was right, and the sax player was right, the harmonies were right. And this wonderful single suddenly appeared.”
Although McGear was a commercial flop, the album is revered as being a pop masterpiece regardless whose brother produced it. Sadly, Mike McCartney has never committed himself to another full album of solo music since then.
The 2019 deluxe reissue of McGear featured an additional 21 bonus tracks, including 13 previously unreleased out-takes and tracks alongside singles appearing on CD for the first time.
The set also includes a DVD featuring Mike McCartney reminiscing at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, another at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool, and the 1974 promotional film for the single “Leave It.”