The Story and Meaning Behind “Junk,” a Paul McCartney Leftover with Staying Power

In his haste to release his debut solo album, Paul McCartney needed to utilize some material that was already somewhat tested. One of those songs, the lushly melodic “Junk,” turned out to be one of the highlights of the McCartney album.

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What is “Junk” about? When did McCartney first write the song? And how was it typical of the material he gathered for that record? All the answers and more ahead as we check out thus underrated gem in the Macca catalog.

Paul Goes It Alone

The unofficial breakup date of The Beatles was September 1969, which is when John Lennon told his fellow group members he was leaving. Although Paul McCartney had long suspected that a breakup was imminent, the news still hit him hard. Usually upbeat, he started dealing with feelings of depression and drinking heavily to cope with them.

His wife Linda helped him to shake it off. She encouraged him to do what he’d always done before, which was to make music. But McCartney didn’t want to attract attention to the recordings he was making. After all, the news of The Beatles’ breakup was still supposed to be on the q.t.

Thus, he utilized a simple four-track recorder at his home to begin recording what would become the album McCartney. He essentially did it all by himself, playing all the instruments. Perhaps because he didn’t want to second-guess himself, he committed to recording the album quickly without a lot of embellishment. That meant he’d need songs in a hurry, which caused him to reach back for some unused material from his past.

Repurposed “Junk”

McCartney first wrote “Junk” when The Beatles were on their retreat in India in 1968, studying meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. McCartney, John Lennon, and George Harrison were all busy writing during that time away, and when they came back they used many of those songs to make up the White Album.

“Junk” was demoed for possible inclusion on the White Album, but it didn’t make the cut. McCartney also fooled around with it during the Let It Be/Get Back project. Thus, this one was a natural to be revived once McCartney was going it on his own, as he had been honing it over a period of almost two years.

He liked the song so much that he essentially used it twice on McCartney. There’s the vocal version, and then there’s an instrumental take on the song entitled “Singalong Junk.” It was almost as if Paul was anticipating the karaoke craze many years in advance.

What is the Meaning of “Junk”?

If you take it literally, “Junk” imagines what it would be like if all the inanimate objects that you use during your lifetime and then throw away had feelings of their own. Everything from bicycles to parachutes (must have been an active protagonist) end up on the scrap heap, much to their chagrin: “Why? Why?” says the junk in the yard.

But the song is really about the humans who tend to attach significance to these objects and feel time elapsing more intensely when those objects outlive their usefulness. Memories for you and me, is how the narrator describes them, and that delicately sad melody suggests those memories will be more than a little bittersweet.

“Junk,” like much of the McCartney album, seems to be appreciated much more by fans now than it was then. If nothing else, it’s a song that will make you think twice any time you pass a yard sale with a dismissive attitude.

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Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images

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