Search by Keyword
"MAXWELL'S SILVER HAMMER"
(John Lennon – Paul McCartney)
One of the reasons for the popularity of the music of The Beatles was their ability to appeal to such a wide range audience. Young and old alike, no matter what genre of music that appeals to you, The Beatles had something you could relate to. To this day, The Beatles are heard on radio stations that cater to harder-edged Classic Rock, lighter Easy Listening, as well as pop oriented Oldies formats. If you like country music, that is touched on at various times on their albums. Even songs that harken back to the 30's and 40's find a place within their catalog.
It was Paul's habit to keep the children in mind at times when composing songs for Beatles albums, resulting in songs like “Yellow Submarine” and “All Together Now” among others. Even “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” had the sing-a-long quality that generally appeals to youth, a song that became the primary focus of the “White Album” when it was initially released.
John and George, however, were never too keen about including songs of this nature on their albums. When “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” was released in some countries as a single, for instance, and Paul expressed a desire to similarly release it that way officially worldwide, the others wouldn't have it. In 1969, for their album “Abbey Road,” Paul had the same intention for his similarly 'sing-songy' “Maxwell's Silver Hammer.” “He did everything to make it into a single and it never was and it never could've been,” John explained, “but he put guitar licks on it and he had somebody hitting iron pieces and we spent more money on that song than any of them in the whole album.”
But the song's appeal was universal...at least at first. “'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' is something of Paul's which we'd spend a hell of a lot of time on and it is one of those instant whistle type of tunes which, I suppose, some people will hate and some people will really love,” George said just after "Abbey Road" was released. The song may not have been released as a single as Paul intended, but it definitely struck a chord with the youth despite the rather gruesome subject matter of the lyrics which, if any parents were paying attention at the time, their kids would probably have been forbidden to listen to anyway.
"'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' was my analogy for when something goes wrong out of the blue, as it so often does, as I was beginning to find out at that time in my life," Paul writes in his book "Many Years From Now," undoubtedly referring to current problems within The Beatles. He continues: "I wanted something symbolic of that, so to me it was some fictitious character called Maxwell with a silver hammer. I don't know why it was silver, it just sounded better than 'Maxwell's Hammer.' It was needed for scanning. We still use that expression even now when something unexpected happens."
Former Apple employee Tony King expands on the song's meaning a little further in Steve Turner's book “A Hard Day's Write,” by relating a conversation he had with John concerning his song “Instant Karma.” “John told me that 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' was about the law of karma. We were talking one day about 'Instant Karma' because something had happened where he's been clobbered and he'd said that this was an example of instant karma. I asked him whether he believed that theory. He said that he did and that 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' was the first song that they'd made about that. He said that the idea behind the song was that the minute you do something that's not right, Maxwell's silver hammer will come down on your head.”
“The song epitomizes the downfalls of life,” Paul explains in the “Beatles Anthology” book. “Just when everything is going smoothly – 'Bang! Bang!' - down comes Maxwell's silver hammer and ruins everything.”
In order to incorporate the instant karma theme, Paul needed to concoct a story for the song. “Some of my songs are based on personal experience, but my style is to veil it,” Paul continues in the “Anthology” book. “A lot of them are made up, like 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' which is the kind of song I like to write. It's just a silly story about all these people I'd never met. It's just like writing a play: you don't have to know the people, you just make them up. I remember George once saying to me, 'I couldn't write songs like that.' He writes more from personal experience. John's style was to show the naked truth. If I was painter, I'd probably mask things a little bit more than some people.”
A good example of masking, or veiling, contained within the premise of “Maxwell's Silver Hammer” is found within its very first line, a reference to “Pataphisics.” This was a word invented by Alfred Jarry, the French pioneer of absurd theater from the turn of the century, to describe a branch of metaphysics. Paul became interested in the works of Alfred Jarry in January of 1966 when, while driving to Liverpool, he heard a production of one of his plays, “Ubu Cocu,” on BBC radio. “It was the best radio play I had ever heard in my life,” Paul relates in “Many Years From Now,” “and the best production, and Ubu was so brilliantly played. It was just a sensation. That was one of the big things of the period for me.” (As a sidenote, Paul incorporated the name of this play to a 90's radio show of his own which he called “Oobu Joobu.”)
Then a few months later, in July of 1966, the Royal Court Theatre in London put on a production of a related Alfred Jarry play entitled “Ubu Roi,” which Paul attended. The lead actor cast for this play was Max Wall, a veteran vaudevillian who Jane Asher, Paul's girlfriend, particularly liked in this role. Paul continued to immerse himself in the writings of Alfred Jarry, especially the “science” created by him that Jarry termed “pataphysics,” which some describe as the science of imaginary solutions.
“I put that in one of the Beatles songs,” Paul continues, referring to “Maxwell's Silver Hammer.” “'Joan was quizzical, studied 'pataphysical science in the home...' Nobody knows what it means; I only explained it to Linda just the other day. That's the lovely thing about it. I am the only person who ever put the name of 'pataphysics into the record charts, c'mon! It was great. I love those surreal little touches. That was the big difference between me and John: whereas John shouted it from the rooftops, I often just whispered it in the drawing room, thinking that was enough.”
One can easily speculate, given these circumstances, that Paul equated “Pataphysics,” or “the science of imaginary solutions,” with what John described as “Instant Karma”: the moment you think things are going perfectly for you, that you feel invincible, a sudden disaster is the “solution” of bringing you back down to earth, a blow to the ego as a reminder of your humanity. And as far as speculation goes, could actor Max Wall playing the lead role of King Ubu in the Alfred Jarry play that Paul attended in July of 1966 influenced the main character in his song being named “Maxwell,” maybe only subconsciously? Ah, the fun of speculation!
Nonetheless, the dark comedy contained in the lyrics are obvious. George, when describing the song shortly after its release, calls our attention to this: “It's a 'Honey Pie' sort of fun thing, but this is pretty sick, because the guy keeps killing everybody...It's kind of a drag because Maxwell keeps destroying everyone, like his girlfriend, the school teacher, and then, finally, the judge.” Ian MacDonald, in his book “Revolution In The Head,” describes the song as “the cheery tale of a homicidal maniac,” adding that it “represents by far (Paul's) worst lapse of taste under the auspices of The Beatles.” Then again, if you like the British humor of, say, “Monty Python's Flying Circus,” whose very first episode aired simultaneously with the release of the “Abbey Road” album in Britain, the fact that the unlikely hero in Paul's song is a murderer while the music lends itself to a children's song fits in nicely with what was deemed funny at the time.
As to the time of writing, the November 1968 issue of “The Beatles Book” magazine reported that “Maxwell's Silver Hammer” was an existing song that had not been recorded in time for inclusion on the “White Album,” which was released that month. To be more precise, Paul included the first verse of this song in a notebook he had taken to India during their trip there to study Transendental Meditation with the Maharishi. On an opening page of the notebook he wrote, "Spring Songs, Rishikesh 1968," which would indicate that he began writing the song during his stay in India, this being between March and May of that year. When Paul introduced the song to The Beatles in January of 1969 during the “Get Back / Let It Be” sessions, he had written a little more of the song by then, the chorus and a verse-and-a-half being heard during these rehearsals. We do know, however, that all the lyrics were in place when Paul recorded the lead vocals for the song on July 10th, 1969.
When asked by Playboy magazine in 1980 if he had any part in writing the song, John replied, “That's Paul. I hate it,” another time calling it “a typical McCartney single, or whatever,” and yet another time “more of Paul's granny music.” So I guess it's safe to say that this is entirely a McCartney composition, wouldn't you think?
The Beatles in Twickenham Film Studios, circa January, 1969
The first time "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" was recorded was on January 3rd, 1969, in Twickenham Film Studios during their filmed rehearsals for what became the "Let It Be" album and movie.
This was their second day of rehearsals at Twickenham and, with John late in arriving, Paul ran through a number of work-in-progress songs on piano for the others to hear, “Maxwell's Silver Hammer” being one of them. Lyrically, Paul only had the first verse, the chorus, and the first half of the second verse written at this time, and the arrangement still needed refining. Later that day, after John arrived, Paul led them through a total of ten rehearsals of the song, which he was referring to as “the corny one.” A small segment of one of these rehearsals, with Paul on bass and calling out the chords for John and George, made it into the released “Let It Be” movie. Paul then switched to piano at George's suggestion and, with George on a Fender Bass VI, they rehearsed a little more before leaving it for another day.
The next day they worked on the song was January 7th, 1969, Paul instructing Mal Evans to bring in an anvil and hammer for him to “play” during these rehearsals. They went through the song eighteen times, working on the arrangement as they went along. They came up with an idea to whistle during certain segments of the song, such as just before the verses, and George worked out a vocal harmony for the choruses. A portion of one of these rehearsals, with Mal struggling to hit the anvil on the proper beats, appears in the “Let It Be” movie as well.
The next day, January 8th, 1969, The Beatles were generally in good spirits and, among many other things, went through thirteen rehearsals of “Maxwell's Silver Hammer.” John joined George in singing harmony during these rehearsals as Mal Evans began to improve in his anvil-hammering technique. Paul here began adlibbing lyrics in the third verse about a judge and courtroom scene, although he had yet to take the time to formally write these lyrics.
The atmosphere became much more tense the next day they rehearsed the song, which was on January 10th, 1969. After a disagreement between Paul and George in the earlier part of the day, George decided to quit the group during their lunch break, exclaiming “See you 'round the clubs” just before he walked out the door. The other three, with Yoko sitting in George's spot, let off some steam with some incoherent jamming along with Yoko wailing into George's microphone. Determined to get back to business, they then went through some of the songs they had previously been working on, “Maxwell's Silver Hammer” being one of them. They ran through portions of the song four times, Paul singing one rendition as if he were drunk and John humorously singing lead on another with an exaggerated German accent, which appeared to display his distaste for the song. And with that, the song was dropped for consideration for the “Let It Be” project.
Nearly six months later, on July 9th, 1969, the song was resurrected by Paul for inclusion on what was to be their final recorded album “Abbey Road.” They met in EMI Studio Two at 2:30 pm to start work on officially recording the song for the first time, this day going down in Beatles history as a somewhat historic day.
Eight days earlier, on July1st, 1969, John and Yoko had been in a serious automobile accident while on vacation in North Scotland. They both ended up in the hospital, John receiving seventeen stitches and Yoko being monitored more closely because she was pregnant at the time. The Beatles had been busy in the recording studio without him working on the album, but this day, July 9th, was the first day that John joined them after the accident. Yoko, while in a fragile condition, was present as well.
Phil McDonald, engineer on this session, recalls: “We were all waiting for him and Yoko to arrive. Paul, George, Ringo downstairs (on the studio floor) and us upstairs (in the control room). They didn't know what state he would be in. There was a definite 'vibe'; they were almost afraid of Lennon before he arrived, because they didn't know what he would be like. I got the feeling that the three of them were a little bit scared of him. When he did come in it was a relief and they got together fairly well. John was a powerful figure, especially with Yoko – a double strength.”
Engineer Geoff Emerick, who claims to be present on this day although not engineering this session, explains what occurred just after John and Yoko's arrival. “The door burst open again and four men in brown coats began wheeling in a large, heavy object,” Emerick relates in his book “Here, There And Everywhere.” “For a moment, I thought it was a piano coming in from one of the other studios, but it soon dawned on me that these were proper deliverymen: the brown coats they were wearing had the word 'Harrods' inscribed on the back. The object being delivered was, in fact, a bed. Jaws dropping, we all watched as it was brought into the studio and carefully positioned by the stairs, across from the tea-and-toast setup. More brown coats appeared with sheets and pillows and somberly made the bed up.”
Technician Martin Benge relates: “We were setting up the microphones for the session and this huge double-bed arrived. An ambulance brought Yoko in and she was lowered down onto the bed, we set up a microphone over her in case she wanted to participate and then we all carried on as before! We were saying, 'Now we've seen it all, folks!'”
Geoff Emerick continues about the events of that day and the next few weeks: “It wasn't as if Yoko was just lying in that bed resting quietly, either – there was a long line of visitors there by her bedside paying supplication, almost all the time. Various Beatles would be recording in one end of the room, and she would be lying there at the other end, chatting with friends, making her presence all the more obvious – and aggravating – to the rest of the band. George Martin had returned on the premise that it was going to be like the good old days, but we had never had a Beatle wife in bed in the studio with us in the old days. That probably explained why he seemed so depressed and frustrated during those weeks.” Producer Ron Richards explains, regarding the activities during that period, that “the bed was wheeled around between studios two and three, depending on where John was working.”
“I was ill after the accident when they did most of that track,” John explained in interview about "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," “and it really ground George and Ringo into the ground recording it, you know. I wasn't on 'Maxwell.'” Emerick continues: “There was a distinct change in the atmosphere after John and Yoko arrived, although personally I felt it had more to do with Lennon being there than his bedridden wife. He was grouchy and moody, and he flatly refused to participate at all in the making of 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer,' which he derisively dismissed as 'just more of Paul's granny music.'”
The first order of business was recording a basic rhythm track, which consisted of Paul on piano and guide vocal, George on his Fender Jazz Bass, and Ringo on drums. Sixteen takes were recorded and the final take, designated 'take 21' because there were no 'takes' 6 through 10 for some reason. 'Take 5' is included on the 1996 released “Anthology 3” album which shows George playing very proficient bass work, this being recorded over by Paul at a later date. We also witness on this recording Paul vocalizing what the future solos might sound like as well as him flubbing some of the lyrics in the third verse. After this take he states: “One more. It was good, you know, it had nice bits in it. It would be nice to have the nice bits and the other bits.”
The rhythm track was deemed complete by approximately 8 pm, the rest of the session being used for guitar passage overdubs, photographic evidence indicating these being played by both Paul and George, possibly being played simultaneously harmonizing the lead work as heard in various places in the song. By 10:15 pm, the session was closed as The Beatles and the bed-ridden Yoko left for the night.
The following day, July 10th, 1969, major overdubs were performed on “Maxwell's Silver Hammer” in EMI Studio Two, everyone arriving, including John and Yoko, around 2:30 pm. Paul added more piano, George Martin added Hammond organ, George Harrison added guitar run through a Leslie speaker, and Mal Evans solidified his role at hammering an anvil.
“There was no thought given to finding a way to approximate the effect,” Emerick explains. “Paul wanted the sound of an anvil being struck, so Mal (Evans) was dispatched to track one down...There was a proper blacksmith's anvil brought to the studio for Ringo to hit. They had it rented from a theatrical agency...I have a clear memory of him dragging it into the studio, struggling under its weight as the rest of us laughed our heads off. Both he and Ringo had a go at hitting it. Ringo simply didn't have the strength to lift the hammer, so Mal ended up playing the part, but he didn't have a drummer's sense of timing, so it took a while to get a successful take.”
Another overdub recorded on this day was the backing vocals. “The group were recording the backing vocals for the song,” Emerick relates, “with both George Harrison and Ringo joining Paul at the mic as an impassive John simply sat in the back of the studio and watched them. After a few uncomfortable moments, Paul strode over and invited his old friend and collaborator to join in. I thought it was a nice gesture, an olive branch. But an expressionless Lennon simply said, 'No, I don't think so.' A few minutes later, he and Yoko got up and went home. With nothing to contribute, John just didn't want to be there.”
Emerick continues: “During the first few days they were back, John and Yoko spent most of their time huddled in a corner whispering to each other, or they would go down the hall to the producer's office – the 'green room' – and make phone calls. It didn't come as a huge surprise to me; I just took it as par for the course. At one point George Martin said to me, 'I wish John would get more involved,' but to my knowledge he never did or said anything to try to get the recalcitrant Beatle to participate more. John was definitely very odd by this point, and his involvement in the 'Abbey Road' sessions would be sporadic. For the most part, if we weren't working on one of his songs, he just didn't seem interested.”
It was possibly on this day that Paul overdubbed himself on bass on this song, wiping out George's contribution on bass from the previous day. Geoff Emerick recalls: "There was a good deal of discussion about Paul wanting the bass on 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' to sound like a tuba, to make the recording sound old-fashioned. We accomplished that by having him articulate the bass like a tuba by sliding into the notes instead of hitting them spot on. A fair amount of time was expended on getting that sound, but Ringo and George Harrison made a point of absenting themselves, so there was no one to raise an objection. At this late stage of the Beatles' career, it seemed that the best way for them to approach making a record - perhaps the only way - was for each band member to work on his own."
After all of the overdubs recorded on this day were complete, George Martin, along with engineers Phil McDonald and John Kurlander, made thirteen attempts at creating a stereo mix of the song, as if they were done recording the song at this point. This was not to be the case, however. At 11:30 pm this session was over.
The next day, July 11th, 1969, The Beatles took to recording some further overdubs onto “Maxwell's Silver Hammer” in EMI Studio Two, the session beginning around 2:30 pm. Paul double-tracked his lead vocals during the choruses and George added another guitar overdub, quite possibly the acoustic guitar heard in the second and third choruses. Attention then went to other “Abbey Road” songs, “Something” and “You Never Give Me Your Money” being added to. This session ended around midnight.
However, with regards to the other band members, tensions started to mount regarding Paul's intense interest in perfecting “Maxwell's Silver Hammer.” "The worst session ever was 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer,'" Ringo complained to Rolling Stone Magazine in 2008, adding: "It was the worst track we ever had to record. It went on for f*cking weeks. I thought it was mad!" “We'd spend a hell of a lot of time on (it),” George complained, adding: “Paul would always help along when you had done his ten songs. Then, when he got 'round to doing one of my songs, he would help. It was silly. It was very selfish, actually. Sometimes, Paul would make us do these really fruity songs. I mean, my God, 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' was so fruity.”
Geoff Emerick relates in his book that Paul "did spend a lot of time working on 'Maxwell,' which irritated George Harrison a bit. One afternoon, they got into a heated argument about it and I started to think, 'Uh-oh, here we go again.' But it died down relatively quickly." Regarding the “Abbey Road” album, Paul relates in the “Anthology” book: “We put together quite a nice album, and the only arguments were about things like me spending too long on a track: I spent three days on 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer.' I remember George saying, 'You've taken three days, it's only a song.' - 'Yeah, but I want to get it right. I've got some thoughts on this one.'...They got annoyed because 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' took three days to record. Big deal!”
Geoff Emerick, in the book “The Beatles Recording Sessions,” relates: “It's a question of having patience. Paul had it and John didn't. John was always a bit fidgety and restless, wanting to get on, 'yeah, that's good enough, a couple of takes, yeah, that's fine.' But Paul could hear certain refinements in his head which John couldn't." As John stated in 1969, "We spent more money on that song than any of them on the whole album, I think.”
With this tension mounting, attention was given to various other “Abbey Road” songs for nearly a month, August 6th, 1969 being the final recording session to complete “Maxwell's Silver Hammer,” this session beginning at 2:30 and completing by 11 pm. George Harrison's newly acquired Moog synthesizer, a very large and complicated devise for its time, was set up in Room 43 at the studios in Abbey Road. The Moog synthesizer overdub onto the song was performed on this day from this room, which was fed into EMI Studio Two. This overdub was performed simultaneously with a reduction mix from 'take 21,' six reduction mixes being made with the synthesizer being played for each mix, 'take 27' being the final reduction mix.
There is some discrepancy in interviews as to who actually played the synthesizer on "Maxwell's Silver Hammer." Describing this song, George related in interview: “It's good because I have this synthesizer and 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' was one of the things I used the synthesizer on, which is pretty effective.” However, engineer Alan Parsons, as interviewed in Andy Babiuk's book "Beatles Gear," especially remembers McCartney's work on the Moog Synthesizer from Room 43 for this song. Also, documentation reveals that, simultaneous to this synthesizer overdub, George was busy in EMI Studio Three overdubbing guitar onto his song "Something." George's statement above was undoubtedly an expression of his recently purchased instrument being used to good effect on this song.
"Paul did 'Maxwell' using the ribbon," Parsons explains, which was a controller described in the book "Beatles Gear" as "a long strip which induces changes in the sound being played depending on where it is touched and how the player's finger is then moved." Parsons then continues that Paul was "playing it like a violin and having to find every note - which is a credit to Paul's musical ability." In the book "The Beatles Recording Sessions," Parsons also adds: "It's very difficult to find the right notes, rather like a violin, but Paul picked it up straight away. He can pick up anything musical in a couple of days."
This is especially interesting since, according to the book "Beatles Gear," "you could only sound one note at a time, which was a disadvantage." Upon listening to the Moog playing on "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," one easily notices that multiple notes are heard at the same time forming chords, such as during the interlude between the first chorus and second verse. Since only one note could be played at a time, George Martin and the engineering staff must have found a way for Paul to overdub multiple performances on the synthesizer during the various reduction mixes that were simultaneously being done.
After this was accomplished on this day, stereo mixes of the song were made in the control room of EMI Studio Two by George Martin and engineers Tony Clark, Phil McDonald and John Kurlander. Ten attempts were made at creating this stereo mix, numbered 14 through 26 (there were no mixes numbered 19 – 21), remix number 18 apparently being deemed the best at the time. “I got involved in the last three weeks of 'Abbey Road,' states engineer Tony Clark in the book “The Beatles Recording History.” “They kept two studios running and I would be asked to sit in studio two or three – usually three – just to be there at the Beatles' beck and call, whenever someone wanted to come in and do an overdub. At this stage of the album I don't think I saw the four of them together.”.
On August 11th, 1969, a mono tape copy of “Maxwell's Silver Hammer” was made of stereo remix 18 for some reason, this being taken away by Mal Evans to be given to Malcolm Davies at Apple for cutting of acetate discs. Paul undoubtedly listened to this mix and deemed it unsuitable, another mix being needed.
More attempts at a stereo mix of the song was made on August 12th, 1969 by George Martin, Geoff Emerick, Phil McDonald and John Kurlander in the control room of EMI Studio Two, this session beginning at 7 pm with Paul undoubtedly in attendance. Ten more attempts were made, numbered 27 through 36, Paul approving of 'take 27' for now. After two other album tracks were stereo mixed as well, this session ended at approximately 2 am the following morning.
Two days later, on August 14th, 1969, Paul oversaw yet another mixing session to finalize “Maxwell's Silver Hammer” once and for all. This session, which began at 2:30 pm in the control room of EMI Studio Two, consisted of adding an unknown edit piece to the song, which was incorporated from the previous best 'take 27' into what was now deemed 'stereo remix 37.' After this was done, among other things, 'take 34' from August 12th and 'take 37' from this day was edited together to form the released version of the song as we know it. This session ended at 2:30 am the following morning, after many other tracks were worked on as well.
At this point, the song had a seven second instrumental introduction which, according to Paul, needed to be done away with. This was done on August 25th, 1969, in the control room of EMI Studio Two between 2:30 and 8 pm. “Maxwell's Silver Hammer” now began precisely when Paul started singing on the first verse. However, Paul had the idea of adding various sound effects to the beginning of the song, this recording being done on this day. These sound effects were decided against on this day as well, Paul apparently feeling this was unnecessary after all, the master of the entire album being tape copied and taken away by Geoff Emerick for cutting and release in Britain a month later.
As indicated above, the original 'take five,' as recorded on July 9th, 1969, was mixed sometime in 1996 by George Martin and Geoff Emerick for release on the compilation album “Anthology 3.” This charming rendition of the song gives a good indication of how it transformed into the released version as we know it.
Sometime between 2004 and 2006, George Martin and his son Giles Martin returned to the master tapes of “Maxwell's Silver Hammer” to isolate Ringo's drums for inclusion in their newly created mash-up mix of “The Fool On The Hill.” This song was not included in the resulting album “Love,” which was created for use with the Cirque du Soleil production of the same name, but was released through iTunes as a bonus track for this collection.
Song Structure and Style
The structure of "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" falls to the following format: 'verse/ pre-chorus/ chorus/ interlude/ verse/ pre-chorus/ chorus/ chorus (instrumental)/ interlude/ verse/ pre-chorus/ chorus/ chorus (instrumental)/ interlude (ending),' or (abcdabccdabccd).
With an originally recorded “interlude” being edited off at the mixing stage, the song begins with a sixteen-measure verse. The elements of the rhythm track that are present are Paul's piano and Ringo's drums, Paul's overdubbed bass and single-tracked lead vocal added in to complete the picture, only two Beatles being present thus far. Ringo is relegated to only kick drum and closed hi-hat so far in the song.
Next comes the four measure pre-chorus, which consists of the same instrumentation as the first verse. Ringo is limited to a crashing cymbal and kick drum beat on the downbeat of measures one and three with hi-hat closes on the two- and four-beat on measures one through three while providing accents along with Paul's three piano chords in the fourth measure. Paul provides anticipatory chords on the downbeat of measures two and three otherwise, along with his hushed vocals that segue perfectly into the chorus that follows.
The instrumentation of the eight-measure chorus that follows has both George Harrison and Mal Evans joining the band, George providing guitar passages, presumably along with Paul, that suit the arrangement and Mal strategically hitting the anvil with a hammer on the first and second beats of the first and fifth measure. Paul's vocal is now double-tracked and Ringo plays a standard four/four time on the drums. They all stop dramatically on the fourth beat of the eighth measure. A four-measure interlude then occurs which focuses attention on the multiple Moog synthesizer overdubs Paul performed on August 6th, 1969, providing various notes that form chords during this section of the song. Instead of whistling, as they performed during the rehearsals in January, Paul plays half-note chords on the piano for the first two measures while Ringo hits the cymbal and kick drum on the same beats. For measures three and four, Paul lays off the piano and instead plays a tuba-like bass guitar run while Ringo plays a complimentary tom fill to round off this section of the song.
The second verse and pre-chorus then appears, which repeats the same instrumentation as heard the first time along with a single note Moog synthesizer melody line from Paul as a backdrop throughout the verse as well as a simple guitar figure from George (and Paul?) in measures eight and nine. Notice, also, Paul's laughing sniffle in the thirteenth measure between the lyric “writing (sniff) fifty times,” which indicates either a humorous incident in the studio at the time or a realization of the absurdity of the lyrics he is singing. The pre-chorus that appears next is identical instrumentally to the one heard previous with the exception of different lyrics.
Next comes the second chorus which is somewhat identical to the first with the addition of Ringo's triplet-like drum fill in the fourth measure, George's acoustic guitar, and Paul, George and Ringo's “doo-doo-doo-doo-doo” background vocals in the fourth measure. The eighth measure does not stop suddenly as in the first chorus but continues with another triplet-like drum fill from Ringo and moves directly into an instrumental verse with similar guitar figures from George and “doo-doo-doo-doo-doo” background vocals from the three participating Beatles. Next comes another interlude, which highlights ascending triplet-like piano figures from Paul in measures one and two and an isolated bass and drum instrumentation in measures three and four, Ringo focusing on the toms, no synthesizers in sight this time around.
The third verse comes next, which consists of the drums and piano of the rhythm track along with Paul's overdubbed lead vocal and bass, his subtle single-note synthesizer, and the guitar figure in measures eight and nine. One other addition is Paul, George and Ringo's background vocal overdub “Maxwell must go free” in measures twelve and thirteen, which appears strategically as if sung through a megaphone. The pre-chorus that appears next is identical to the previous ones with the addition of a startling synthesizer sound in the fourth measure that accentuates the lyrics “noise comes from behind” which is treated with delay, as this instrument appears for the rest of the song.
A final repeat of the chorus and then instrumental chorus appears next, both similar to the ones heard previously with the addition of an effective synthesizer melody line in the instrumental chorus which is treated to delay. This is followed by another four-measure interlude which works as a conclusion to the song. The elements heard here are identical to the previous interlude with some additions, the first being background vocals from Paul, George and, predominantly, Ringo, singing “silver hammer, yeah” in measure one through three. A synthesizer line from Paul, also treated with delay, is heard in measures three and four with the addition of two hammer hits on the anvil in measure four to end the song.
Paul brings the song to fruition as intended, playing suitable parts on piano, bass and synthesizer as well as vocals. Three cheers to George and Ringo for putting in accommodating performances on guitar and drums, even though their heart apparently wasn't in it. George Martin's contribution on organ was apparently more subtle than noticeable in the mix, but Mal Evans eventually perfected his timing on the anvil to supply the icing on the cake for the arrangement.
On October 1st, 1969, the final recorded Beatles album was released in America, simply titled "Abbey Road." The "Let It Be" album, which was released later on May 18th, 1970, was pretty much in the can at the end of January 1969 but was held up ultimately so that it could be released in conjunction with the movie of the same name that contained the music therein. "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" was the third track on the "Abbey Road" album and was the first McCartney-penned song on the LP, indicating the confidence he was placing on this favored composition.
The album took only three weeks to jump into the top spot on the Billboard album chart, raking in a total of eleven weeks in the #1 position. The album first appeared on compact disc on October 10th, 1987, and then as a re-mastered release on September 9th, 2009.
'Take five' of the rhythm track that was recorded on July 9th, 1969, as detailed above, was included on the October 28th, 1996 released compilation album “Anthology 3.” Paul, George and Ringo put in a respectable performance on this live take of the song as Yoko looked on from her bed in the studio.
Sometime in 1978, Capitol re-released the "Abbey Road" album as a picture disc. Side one had the iconic front cover while side two contained a close-up of the wall photo of the back cover minus the song title listings. This release quickly went out of print and has become a collector's item.
The above described new mix/mashup of “The Fool On The Hill,” which contain Ringo's drums from “Maxwell's Silver Hammer” as prepared by George and Giles Martin, was made available through iTunes in 2011 as a bonus track for the highly successful 2006 compilation album “Love.” This interesting new mix is available for downloading only.
The Beatles filming the "Let It Be" movie, Twickenham Studios, circa January, 1969
Neither The Beatles nor any individual Beatle ever performed the song on stage. Paul has resurrected a good amount of Beatles tracks for his numerous tours throughout the years, practically exhausing all of his own Beatles compositions. However, he'd apparently lost his enthusiasm for "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" as the years have progressed, possibly because of negative opinions expressed by many writers as well as the other Beatles themselves.
The closest one can get to a Beatles performance of the song, some will say, would be the rehearsals the band went through that appeared in the 1970 “Let It Be” movie. By the time of the film's release, most Beatles fans would have been familiar with the song because of its inclusion on the “Abbey Road” album which was released over seven months before the movie came out. In the film we see a segment of Paul, while playing bass, clumsily introducing the song to the other Beatles while singing the chord changes to them, this being filmed on January 3rd, 1969. Since this was only the second day of shooting, it is apparent that Paul thought very highly of the song at that point and definitely wanted it on the next album.
As they went through a complete verse, the movie cuts directly to them rehearsing the chorus as filmed on January 7th, 1969, with Paul now on piano and Mal Evans on the anvil. They continue through a second verse with Paul fumbling through the half-written lyrics and then another chorus and concluding instrumental chorus culminating into a schmaltzy big finish, they obviously intending to figure out a better ending at a later date.
There appears to be a general 'rule of thumb' concerning Paul McCartney's 'sing-songy' compositions during the Beatle years: When they are first released, they garnish a lot of attention, but as the years progress, they are viewed with less praise and, unfortunately, a slight bit of embarrassment.
Take for example “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” When the “White Album” was released, it practically sold the album, radio stations picking it out as a prime track which resulted in record-buyers flocking to record stores looking for the single (my brother included) which, of course, didn't exist in most countries. Likewise, “When I'm Sixty-Four” was a shining jewel on the “Sgt. Pepper” album when initially released but, after time, a good portion of enthusiasts skip over the song entirely when enjoying the album listening experience. Also, when a segment of the rehearsals for “Maxwell's Silver Hammer” was included in the “Let It Be” movie, many viewers noticed its inclusion on the “Abbey Road” album and bought it specifically for that reason.
Not to say that any of these songs are bad compositions, but they appear to have not stood the test of time. Evidence of this is that, although all three of these McCartney-penned tunes were very popular in the sixties, none of these made an appearance in the Rolling Stone Magazine 2010 edition “The Beatles 100 Greatest Songs.” The overwhelming opinion among Beatles enthusiasts these days is that “Maxwell's Silver Hammer” is a happy-go-lucky children's song about a murderer, which just doesn't sit well in this current violent age. Paul may have been trying to come across as “avant garde” or displaying a bit of dark British humor but, despite it being arranged and recorded very well, it just doesn't sit nicely in today's world climate. But if you can transport yourself back to late 1969 when this song was first released, you can attempt to see what Paul was trying to accomplish here and enjoy the song as a viable contribution to what is unabashedly viewed as a The Beatles' final great album.
“Maxwell's Silver Hammer”
Written by: John Lennon / Paul McCartney
- Song Written: March, 1968 to July 10, 1969
- Song Recorded: July 9, 10, 11, August 6, 1969
- First US Release Date: October 1, 1969
- First US Album Release: Apple #SO-383 “Abbey Road”
- British Album Release: Apple #PCS 7088 “Abbey Road”
- US Single Release: n/a
- Highest Chart Position: n/a
- Length: 3:24
- Key: D major
- Producer: George Martin
- Engineers: Phil McDonald, Tony Clark, John Kurlander
Instrumentation (most likely):
- Paul McCartney - Lead and Backing Vocals, Piano (Hamburg Steinway Baby Grand), Lead Guitar (1962 Epiphone ES-230TD Casino), Bass (1964 Rickenbacker 4001 S ), Synthesizer (1967 Moog IIIp)
- George Harrison - Lead Guitar (1968 Fender Rosewood Telecaster), Rhythm Guitar (1968 Gibson J-200), backing vocals
- Ringo Starr - Drums (1968 Ludwig Hollywood Maple), backing vocals
- George Martin - Organ (1967 Hammond L100)
- Mal Evans - Anvil
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski
Sign Up Below for our MONTHLY BEATLES TRIVIA QUIZ!