In the studio

‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ was recorded over three days while John 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 Paul McCartney some days later. Additionally, it lacked the expensive orchestral overdubs that adorned several of the other Abbey Road songs.

They got annoyed because ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ took three days to record. Big deal.
Paul McCartney

The recording began on 9 July 1969. McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr recorded 16 takes of the basic track, which were numbered 1-21 – there were no takes 6-10.

The 16 takes had Harrison’s bass guitar recorded onto track one; Starr’s drums on track two; McCartney’s piano on track three; and his vocals on track eight.

Take five, recorded on that day, was preserved on the Anthology 3 album, revealing how the song sounded at this early stage. McCartney sings and plays piano, with Harrison on bass guitar and Starr on drums. Take 12, meanwhile, was included on some formats of the 50th anniversary reissue of Abbey Road.

The Beatles selected the final attempt, take 21, as the best, and spent over two hours overdubbing guitars during the first session.

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.

Paul McCartney's handwritten lyrics for Maxwell's Silver Hammer

More guitar and vocals were added on 11 July. At this stage the eight-track tape had bass guitar on track one; drums on two; piano on three; guitars on four and five; the anvil in verse one, McCartney’s vocals in the chorus, piano arpeggios before the later verses, vocal harmonies and the backing vocals in the line “Maxwell must go free” on six; organ, anvil in verses two and three, and more lead and harmony vocals by McCartney on track seven; and McCartney’s re-recorded lead vocals on eight.

The final words, “Silver hammer, man” featured McCartney, Harrison and Starr on vocals. They sang the higher notes onto track six, the lower notes on seven, and a mixture of the two on eight.

‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ was finally completed on 6 August, when McCartney recorded his Moog synthesiser solo. Prior to this a number of reduction mixes were made to free up space on the tape, and combined tracks six and seven. The best of the mixes became known as take 27, and was subjected to further overdubs.

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

McCartney recorded the Moog onto tracks four, five and six.

Paul did Maxwell using the ribbon, playing it like a violin and having to find every note, which is a credit to his musical ability.
Alan Parsons
EMI engineer

Previous song: ‘Something’
Next song: ‘Oh! Darling’
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