Maxwell’s Silver Hammer

Abbey Road album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 9-11 July; 6 August 1969
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Phil McDonald

Released: 26 September 1969 (UK), 1 October 1969 (US)

Paul McCartney: vocals, backing vocals, piano, guitar, Moog synthesiser
George Harrison: backing vocals, lead guitar, bass
Ringo Starr: backing vocals, drums, anvil
George Martin: Hammond organ

Available on:
Abbey Road
Anthology 3

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.

Abbey Road - The Beatles

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.
Paul McCartney
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...
George Harrison
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.
John Lennon
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.
Paul McCartney

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.
Ringo Starr
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.
Geoff Emerick
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.
Paul McCartney

28 responses on “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer

  1. Christopher Martin

    Above John states he did not play at all on this song, though Wikipedia states he played Fender Six String Bass. I’m listening to Twickenhan sessions and somebody is playing the Hofner along with Paul on Piano. Doesn’t sound like a Fender. I realize the Twickenham Rehearsals and Abbey Road recording sessions are separate and distinct.

      1. John Leper

        George to Playboy, 1969:
        “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer is just something of Paul’s which we’ve been trying to record. We spent a hell of a lot of time on it. And it’s one of those instant sort of whistle-along tunes, which some people will hate, and some people will really love it. It’s more like Honey Pie, you know, a fun sort of song. But it’s pretty sick as well though, ‘cuz the guy keeps killing everybody.
        It’s good because I have this synthesiser and ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ was one of the things I used the synthesiser on, which is pretty effective.”

  2. gorky5

    I’m not sure whether Wikipedia is correct, or where the info comes from. Mark Lewisohn’s Complete Beatles Recording Sessions says that Lennon wasn’t on it. The book isn’t flawless, but it’s a mostly-reliable record of the Abbey Road sessions.

  3. lewis n. villegas

    Maxwell’s Silver Hammer and Octopuses Garden, look we have to accept experimentation. The Beatles broke new ground with the White Album and the Let it Be sessions show that they were moving along on the same track.i find McCartney’s comments (above) very interesting about it being ‘early days’ with the moog synthesizer–enter Elton John!


    I agree with albatossursus! I read the article and was expecting to see something related to Mal Evans. We can see him, hitting de anvil, on the Let It Be film.

    Joe, you’re the one, man! Great, incredible job of research and compilation. I can only compare your work, on the writing field, to that of Peter Duckett on the audio field, with his masterpices CDs (of the sounds that influenced The Beatles), “Beatles Beginnings – Vols. 1 to 7”!

  5. Chris

    So Ringo thinks Maxwell was the “worst track ever”..uh, except for every one you wrote man. Octopus’s Garden is far worse. Also, Ringo should be careful to go after Paul…if not for Paul, he never would have had “With a Little Help From My Friends” or “Yellow Submarine” his two high points as a Beatles vocalist.

    1. Randle

      You’ve got to be kidding! Octopus Garden is musically superior??? George’s lead guitar rocks. The bubbles and electronic sounds are fitting for a song like this. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer is a boring song that irritates the ear. I want to smash Abbey Road every time I hear it but the rest of the album is fantastic!

      And Mr Harrison wrote most of Octopus Garden, with a little help from Ringo. No question, Beatles fans liked Octopus Garden a lot more than Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, even though it’s a fruity song as well. Guess George did like some fruity songs if he was the one writing them.

  6. Water Falls

    After hearing from those that disliked Maxwell Silver Hammer, I first listened to it with a bias against it because I was expecting something dreadful. Well it took a couple of hearings before I discovered that I really loved the tune.
    It’s a silly, funny little laugh riot of absurdity! The subject matter is extremely dark (nutcase serial killer running amuck) but sung and played in a jaunty, playful, upbeat tune to mask the craziness of Maxwell and plays against type. Paul McCartney is a total genius. It has been said before and bears repeating.

  7. Sam

    I don’t get the Maxwell hate. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer is a triumph of bizarro fiction, the crowning glory being the fact that they didn’t strip Maxwell of the murder weapon and he has it at the trial itself. The first time you listen to the song, the first time you hear the chorus, it hits you over the head with surprise: up until then, you think it’s going to be some sort of romancy boy-meets-girl tune. The anvil is really innovative.

    1. Water Falls

      I imagine that this delightful little ditty’s main character with his murderous edge, is a Bart Simpsonlike brat on steroids. I wonder if Paul was remembering an experience he had, as an angelic face boy, caught by his teacher kicking another boy, then pulling that puppy eyed innocent look on her.
      The song makes me laugh too, it;s just so oh oh oh……naughty!

    2. Majestic

      I think in Beatles Anthology Paul says that John was making faces at him from behind the window in the mixing room, and that caused him to laugh during this phrase.

  8. James Kopchains

    I remember an old Ed Sullivan special with a tribute to the Beatles in the early 1970s. Of all people, Peggy Lee sang Maxwell with a dancing chorus. Now that was a “fruity” experience.

  9. Kosilungov

    Ever since I heard the Anthologies, I’ve always dreamed if Abbey Road was released with “Come And Get It”, instead of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” in it. Paul shouldn’t have to give it to Badfinger.

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