Released: 26 September 1969 (UK), 1 October 1969 (US)
Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, a jaunty McCartney-penned song about a homicidal maniac, was considered by its author to be a potential Beatles single. Instead it ended up as a track on the group’s 1969 album Abbey Road.
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.
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
McCartney wrote the song in October 1968, just too late to be recorded for the White Album. The Beatles also rehearsed it at Twickenham Film Studios in January 1969. The Let It Be film shows McCartney teaching the song to the other Beatles, who are clearly less than enthusiastic.
Sometimes Paul would make us do these really fruity songs. I mean, my god, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer was so fruity. After a while we did a good job on it, but when Paul got an idea or an arrangement in his head…
Crawdaddy magazine, February 1977
Maxwell’s Silver Hammer was particularly derided by John Lennon, who didn’t play on it. It was recorded over three days while Lennon and Yoko Ono were recuperating from a car accident sustained in Scotland. However, they both attended the Abbey Road sessions.
That’s Paul’s. I hate it. ‘Cuz all I remember is the track – he made us do it a hundred million times. He did everything to make it into a single and it never was and it never could’ve been, 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. I think.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Lennon’s assessment, however, is somewhat misleading; the song took just three sessions to record, plus a Moog overdub done alone by McCartney some days later. Additionally, it lacked the expensive orchestral overdubs that several other Abbey Road songs were given.
They got annoyed because Maxwell’s Silver Hammer took three days to record. Big deal.
Lennon was not alone in his distaste for the song. George Harrison generally disliked McCartney’s whimsical songs, and in a 2008 interview Ringo Starr backed up Lennon’s assessment:
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.
Rolling Stone, January 2008
In the studio
Recording began on 9 July 1969. McCartney, Harrison and Starr recorded 21 takes of the basic track (although there were no takes 6-10), and spent over two hours overdubbing guitars.
Take five, recorded on this day, was preserved on the Anthology 3 album, revealing how the song sounded without the various overdubs which were added to take 21. McCartney sings and plays piano, with Harrison on bass and Starr on drums.
On 10 July McCartney added more piano, George Martin played Hammond organ, Starr banged an anvil and Harrison recorded a guitar part, fed through a rotating Leslie speaker. McCartney also taped more lead vocals, and was joined by Harrison and Starr for backing vocals.
There was a proper blacksmith’s anvil brought to the studio for Ringo to hit. They had it rented from a theatrical agency.
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
More guitar and vocals were added on 11 July. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer was finally completed on 6 August, when McCartney recorded his Moog synthesiser solo.
We put together quite a nice album, and 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.