For an album that signaled such a bombshell, though, McCartney's musical touch is very light, and frankly, what you take away from it is that Paul remains unsure of where he'd like his musical career to go. He experiments with unfinished fragments and nonsensical splicings thereof in tracks like "The Lovely Linda" and "Hot as Sun/Glasses" right alongside complete freaking blissed-out masterpieces like "Maybe I'm Amazed." I'm of the camp that sometimes wishes Paul would apply himself a little more and just FINISH those unfinished bits, and then put out an album full of tracks as strong as "Maybe I'm Amazed," which might have spared him a bit of mockery over the years. But, whatever. The thing with Paul's unfinished fragments is that, since he wrote them, they have no small degree of merit.
And "Junk" strikes me as one of those strong unfinished fragments that I have a kind of frustrated affection for. The version I'm mainly talking about, by the way, isn't the one from McCartney, but the demo version from Anthology 3, though you could be forgiven for getting the two versions confused. See, Paul actually composed this on their trip in India in 1968. A lot of songs were written on that trip, and after they all got back they got together at George's home in Esher to lay down demos of what's they'd written, several of which made it onto Anthology 3 (which is why this one has made it onto my list for the year). Here's that demo version of "Junk."
And here, for the sake of comparison, is the McCartney version, released about two years after the demo was made.
So, in those intervening years, he didn't do any revision or anything to drastically change the song, except to change the key very slightly and to add some minimal drumming and percussion on the later track. Well, okay, and he wrote another verse. I mean, look, I'm not saying I require Mellotron and a twelve-piece string section on every single song, but it's a bit striking how the album version sounds so much like the demo, isn't it? The other Beatles found "Junk" too weak for the White Album, and then too weak again for Abbey Road, but clearly Paul thought it was so fantastic in demo form that it didn't really need to be changed at all. And that is maybe a little conceited. Especially considering that the melody is really, really gorgeous, and it could have been put to use in something that felt more substantial, more finished.
But then I always start to disagree with myself. I listen to the lyrics and they sound like a miniature, pointillistic version of "Two of Us," though the ambiguity of the refrain gives the whole thing a more tentative vibe than in that song. And gees, that melody is really so pretty. The way Paul is singing it, all sweet and breathy into the mic, makes you feel as though he's sharing something secret with you-- like he's speaking in a code only you understand. And, damn it, maybe Paul was right after all-- maybe "Junk" DOES work best this way, because when Paul whispers about brokenhearted jubilees to me I want to nod sagely and tremble girlishly all at the same time.
And yet-- and yet-- even when I quite like "Junk" (which truthfully is most of the time), it never sounds like a Beatles song. This aesthetic of intimacy is just not a mode the Beatles really worked in very much. It's interesting that both Paul and John released initial solo albums that are so very intimate, as if they needed to peel off the Beatles veneer and remind everyone of how human they really were.
"Junk," released in the U.K. disc 1 track 7 of Anthology 3, October 28, 1996; in the U.S. October 29, 1996.