The Paul McCartney Project

Maxwell's Silver Hammer

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Album This song officially appears on the Abbey Road Official album.
Timeline This song has been officially released in 1969
Sessions This song has been recorded during the following sessions

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Song facts

From Wikipedia:

Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” is a song by the Beatles, sung by Paul McCartney on their album Abbey Road. It was written by McCartney, though credited to Lennon–McCartney. “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” is a rock song with dark, eccentric lyrics about a person named Maxwell who commits murders with a hammer, although the lyrics are disguised by the upbeat, catchy, and rather “childlike” sound of the song.

Background

The song was written in October 1968, intended for the album The Beatles, but left off because of time constraints. It was rehearsed again three months later, in January 1969, at Twickenham film studios during the Get Back sessions but would not be recorded for another six months. The film features two brief rehearsal takes compiled together showing the band’s progress on the song up to that point in time. John Lennon is shown to be participating on electric guitar despite not featuring on the recording for Abbey Road at all. Road manager and Beatles associate Mal Evans participates by providing the anvil hits.

Linda McCartney said that Paul had become interested in avant-garde theatre and had immersed himself in the writings of Alfred Jarry. This influence is reflected in the story and tone of the song, and also explains how Paul came across Jarry’s word “pataphysical“, which occurs in the lyrics.

Beatles guitarist George Harrison described the song in 1969 as “one of those instant whistle-along tunes which some people hate, and other people really like. It’s a fun song, but it’s kind of a drag because Maxwell keeps on destroying everyone like his girlfriend then the school teacher, and then, finally, the judge.” Lennon described it as “more of Paul’s granny music“. In 1994, McCartney said that the song merely epitomises the downfalls of life, being “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. 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 now when something unexpected happens.

Recording

Recording began at Abbey Road Studios on 9 July 1969. John Lennon, who had been absent from recording sessions for the previous eight days after being injured in a car crash, arrived to work on the song, accompanied by his wife, Yoko Ono, who, more badly hurt in the accident than Lennon, lay on a large double-bed in the studio. Sixteen takes of the rhythm track were made, followed by a series of guitar overdubs. The unused fifth take can be heard on Anthology 3. Over the following two days the group overdubbed vocals, piano, Hammond organ, anvil, and guitar. The song was completed on 6 August, when McCartney recorded a solo on a Moog synthesiser.

The recording subsequently drew comment from the entire band; other than the composer (McCartney), none appear to have fond memories of their work on the song: Lennon said “I was ill after the accident when they did most of that track, and it really ground George and Ringo into the ground recording it“, adding later “I hate it, ‘cos all I remember is the track … [Paul] did everything to make it into a single, and it never was and it never could have been.” Harrison characterised the song as “fruity” and commented “we spent a hell of a lot of time on it“, and later “after a while, we did a good job on it“. Starr added retrospective input on the finished result in a Rolling Stone article from 2008: “The worst session ever was ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.’ It was the worst track we ever had to record. It went on for fucking weeks. I thought it was mad.” McCartney recalled: “The only arguments were about things like me spending 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.’ It was early-days Moog work and it did take a bit of time“.

Reception

In his 1969 review of Abbey Road, John Mendelsohn of Rolling Stone magazine observed that in “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer“, McCartney “celebrates the joys of being able to bash in the heads of anyone threatening to bring you down. [He] puts it across perfectly with the coyest imaginable choir-boy innocence“. Robert Christgau referred to the song as “a McCartney crotchet“.

Paul McCartney in "Many Years From Now", by Barry Miles:

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. 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.

From The Usenet Guide to Beatles Recording Variations:

  • [a] stereo 12,14 Aug 1969. edited.
    UK: Apple PCS 7088 Abbey Road 1969.
    US: Apple SO-383 Abbey Road 1969.
    CD: EMI CDP 7 46446 2 Abbey Road 1987.

The edit added an edit piece, Aug 14, to the stereo master. A few seconds were edited out of the album master on Aug 25, so the master tape of the song differs from the album– check any future reissues.

Last updated on November 30, 2016

Lyrics

Joan was quizzical; studied pataphysical
Science in the home.
Late nights all alone with a test tube.
Oh, oh, oh, oh.

Maxwell Edison, majoring in medicine,
Calls her on the phone.
"Can I take you out to the pictures,
Joa, oa, oa, oan?"

But as she's getting ready to go,
A knock comes on the door.

Bang! Bang! Maxwell's silver hammer
Came down upon her head.
Bang! Bang! Maxwell's silver hammer
Made sure that she was dead.

Back in school again Maxwell plays the fool again.
Teacher gets annoyed.
Wishing to avoid and unpleasant
Sce, e, e, ene,

She tells Max to stay when the class has gone away,
So he waits behind
Writing fifty times "I must not be
So, o, o, o"

But when she turns her back on the boy,
He creeps up from behind.

Bang! Bang! Maxwell's silver hammer
Came down upon her head.
Bang! Bang! Maxwell's silver hammer
Made sure that she was dead.

P. C. Thirty-one said, "We caught a dirty one."
Maxwell stands alone
Painting testimonial pictures.
Oh, oh, oh, oh.

Rose and Valerie, screaming from the gallery
Say he must go free
(Maxwell must go free)
The judge does not agree and he tells them
So, o, o, o.

But as the words are leaving his lips,
A noise comes from behind.

Bang! Bang! Maxwell's silver hammer
Came down upon his head.
Bang! Bang! Maxwell's silver hammer
Made sure that he was dead.

Whoa, oh, oh, oh.
Silver hammer man

Officially appears on


Abbey Road

Official album • Released in 1969

3:28 • Studio versionA • Stereo

Paul McCartney:
Backing vocals, Guitar, Moog synthesiser, Piano, Vocals
Ringo Starr:
Anvil, Backing vocals, Drums
George Harrison:
Backing vocals, Bass, Lead guitar
George Martin:
Hammond organ, Producer
Phil McDonald:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Jul 09, 1969
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
9, 10, 11 Jul, 6 Aug 1969
Studio:
EMI Studios, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Aug 12, 1969
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Aug 14, 1969
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road


Anthology 3

Official album • Released in 1996

3:50 • OuttakeB • Stereo • Take 5 - Presented here is the previously unreleased Take 5, lacking the many overdubbed elements - the anvil for one - that would feature in the master.

George Martin:
Producer
Phil McDonald:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Jul 09, 1969
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Bootlegs


Abbey Road Sessions

Unofficial album

3:06 • Outtake • Take 5 Stereo


Abbey Road Sessions

Unofficial album

3:49 • Outtake • Take 8 Partial Stereo


Abbey Road Sessions

Unofficial album

0:49 • Outtake • Take 21 Mono


Abbey Road Sessions

Unofficial album

3:45 • Outtake • Rockband Mix Stereo


Abbey Road Sessions

Unofficial album

3:29 • Outtake • Naked Mix.


Live performances

Paul McCartney has never played this song in concert.


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