Maxwell's Silver Hammer

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"Maxwell's Silver Hammer"
Maxwells silver hammer beatles.jpg
Cover of the song's sheet music
Song by the Beatles
from the album Abbey Road
Released26 September 1969
Recorded9–11 July, 6 August 1969
EMI Studios, London
Genre
Length3:27
Label Apple
Songwriter(s) Lennon–McCartney
Producer(s) George Martin

"Maxwell's Silver Hammer" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles from their 1969 album Abbey Road . It was written by Paul McCartney, although credited to Lennon–McCartney. [4] "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" is a pop song with dark, eccentric lyrics about a medical student named Maxwell Edison who commits murders with a hammer. The lyrics are disguised by the upbeat, catchy, and rather "childlike" sound of the song. [1] The recording sessions for the track were an acrimonious time for the Beatles, as McCartney pressured his bandmates to work at length on the song. John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were vocal in their dislike of the song. Author Ian MacDonald began his description of the song by saying, "If any single recording shows why The Beatles broke up, it is 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer.'" [5]

The Beatles English rock band

The Beatles were an English rock band formed in Liverpool in 1960. With a line-up comprising John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, they are regarded as the most influential band of all time. The group were integral to the evolution of pop music into an art form and to the development of the counterculture of the 1960s. Their sound, rooted in skiffle, beat and 1950s rock and roll, incorporated elements of classical music and traditional pop in innovative ways. They also pioneered recording techniques and explored music styles ranging from ballads and Indian music to psychedelia and hard rock. As they continued to draw influences from a variety of cultural sources, their musical and lyrical sophistication grew, and they came to be seen as embodying the era's socio-cultural movements.

<i>Abbey Road</i> 1969 studio album by the Beatles

Abbey Road is the eleventh studio album by English rock band the Beatles, released on 26 September 1969 by Apple Records. The recording sessions were the last in which all four Beatles participated. Let It Be was the final album that the Beatles completed and released before the band's dissolution in April 1970, but most of the album had been recorded before the Abbey Road sessions began. The two-sided hit single from the album, "Something" backed with "Come Together", was released in October and topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States.

Paul McCartney English singer-songwriter and composer, bass guitarist of The Beatles

Sir James Paul McCartney is an English singer, songwriter, musician, composer, and record and film producer who gained worldwide fame as co-lead vocalist and bassist for the Beatles. His songwriting partnership with John Lennon remains the most successful in history. After the group disbanded in 1970, he pursued an also successful solo career and formed the band Wings with his first wife, Linda, and Denny Laine.

Contents

Background

While in Rishikesh, India, in early 1968, McCartney began to write the first verse of the song. [6] Having completed most of it by October that year, he intended for its inclusion on the album The Beatles , but it was never properly recorded during those sessions due to 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. [7] The film features two brief rehearsal takes compiled together showing the band's progress on the song up to that point. 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.

The Beatles in India Wikimedia history article

In February 1968, the English rock band the Beatles travelled to Rishikesh in northern India to take part in a Transcendental Meditation (TM) training course at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The visit followed the group's denunciation of drugs in favour of TM and received widespread media attention. The band's interest in the Maharishi's teachings was led by George Harrison's commitment, and it changed Western attitudes about Indian spirituality and encouraged the study of Transcendental Meditation. The visit was also the most productive period for the Beatles' songwriting.

<i>The Beatles</i> (album) 1968 double studio album by The Beatles, often known as the White Album

The Beatles, also known as "The White Album", is the ninth studio album by the English rock band the Beatles, released on 22 November 1968. A double album, its plain white sleeve has no graphics or text other than the band's name embossed, which was intended as a direct contrast to the vivid cover artwork of the band's previous LP Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Although no singles were issued from The Beatles in Britain and the United States, the songs "Hey Jude" and "Revolution" originated from the same recording sessions and were issued on a single in August 1968. The album's songs range in style from British blues and ska to pastiches of Chuck Berry and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Mal Evans Telephone engineer, Road manager, Personal assistant, Record producer

Malcolm Frederick Evans was an English roadie and personal assistant employed to the Beatles from 1963 until their break-up in 1970.

McCartney's wife Linda said that he 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 "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", and also explains how McCartney came across Jarry's word "pataphysical", which occurs in the lyrics. [8]

Linda McCartney American photographer

Linda Louise McCartney, Lady McCartney was an American musician, photographer, animal rights activist and entrepreneur. She was married to Paul McCartney of the Beatles. Linda was a professional photographer of celebrities and contemporary musicians. Her photos were also published in the book Linda McCartney's Sixties: Portrait of an Era in 1992.

Avant-garde works that are experimental or innovative

The avant-garde are people or works that are experimental, radical, or unorthodox with respect to art, culture, or society. It may be characterized by nontraditional, aesthetic innovation and initial unacceptability, and it may offer a critique of the relationship between producer and consumer.

Alfred Jarry French writer

Alfred Jarry was a French symbolist writer who is best known for his play Ubu Roi (1896), a pataphysical work which depicts the bourgeoisie as the super-mediocre. He coined the term and philosophical concept of pataphysics, which uses absurd irony to portray symbolic truths.

Lennon dismissed it as "more of Paul's granny music". [9] In 1994, McCartney said that the song 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." [10]

Recording

The Beatles began recording the song at EMI Studios (later Abbey Road Studios) in London 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, [11] 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. [12] [13] Sixteen takes of the rhythm track were made, followed by a series of guitar overdubs. [13] 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 synthesizer. [13]

Abbey Road Studios recording studio in London, England

Abbey Road Studios is a recording studio at 3 Abbey Road, St John's Wood, City of Westminster, London, England. It was established in November 1931 by the Gramophone Company, a predecessor of British music company EMI, which owned it until Universal Music took control of part of EMI in 2013.

John Lennon English singer and songwriter, founding member of the Beatles

John Winston Ono Lennon was an English singer, songwriter and peace activist who gained worldwide fame as the founder, co-lead vocalist, and rhythm guitarist of the Beatles. His songwriting partnership with Paul McCartney remains the most successful in history. In 1969, he started the Plastic Ono Band with his second wife, Yoko Ono. After the Beatles disbanded in 1970, Lennon continued as a solo artist and as a collaborator of Ono's music.

Yoko Ono Japanese artist, author, and peace activist

Yoko Ono is a Japanese-American multimedia artist, singer, songwriter and peace activist. Her work also encompasses performance art, which she performs in both English and Japanese and filmmaking. She is known for being the wife of English singer-songwriter John Lennon of the Beatles from 1969 until his murder in 1980.

The recording process subsequently drew unfavourable comments from Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. 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." [14] Harrison recalled: "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 …" [15] Starr told Rolling Stone in 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." [16] 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.'" [17]

George Harrison British musician and lead guitarist of the Beatles

George Harrison was an English musician, singer-songwriter, and music and film producer who achieved international fame as the lead guitarist of the Beatles. Sometimes called "the quiet Beatle", Harrison embraced Indian culture and helped broaden the scope of popular music through his incorporation of Indian instrumentation and Hindu-aligned spirituality in the Beatles' work. Although the majority of the band's songs were written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, most Beatles albums from 1965 onwards contained at least two Harrison compositions. His songs for the group included "Taxman", "Within You Without You", "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "Here Comes the Sun" and "Something".

Ringo Starr British musician, drummer of the Beatles

Sir Richard Starkey, known professionally as Ringo Starr, is an English musician, singer, songwriter and actor who gained worldwide fame as the drummer for the Beatles. He occasionally sang lead vocals with the group, usually for one song on each album, including "With a Little Help from My Friends", "Yellow Submarine", "Good Night", and their cover of "Act Naturally". He also wrote and sang the Beatles' songs "Don't Pass Me By" and "Octopus's Garden", and is credited as a co-writer of others, including "What Goes On" and "Flying".

<i>Rolling Stone</i> American magazine focusing on popular culture, based in New York City

Rolling Stone is an American monthly magazine that focuses on popular culture. It was founded in San Francisco, California in 1967 by Jann Wenner, who is still the magazine's publisher, and the music critic Ralph J. Gleason. It was first known for its musical coverage and for political reporting by Hunter S. Thompson. In the 1990s, the magazine shifted focus to a younger readership interested in youth-oriented television shows, film actors, and popular music. It has returned its traditional mix of content, including music, entertainment, and politics.

Anvil hits

Mal Evans is seen hitting the anvil in the Let It Be film, but the literature is divided on whether Evans or Starr played on the album version of the song. In his 2006 memoir, sound engineer Geoff Emerick recalled that "Ringo simply didn't have the strength to lift the hammer", so Evans did the anvil hits although he did not have a drummer's sense of timing. [18] Likewise, Ian MacDonald credits Evans as providing the hits in his book Revolution in the Head . [5] Philippe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon, however, are more prudent in their attribution, citing either Evans or Starr as the performer. [19] Finally, Mark Lewisohn lists Ringo as performer of the anvil hits during the studio sessions on 10 July. [20]

Reception

In his 1969 review of Abbey Road, for Rolling Stone, John Mendelsohn wrote: "Paul McCartney and Ray Davies are the only two writers in rock and roll who could have written 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer', a jaunty vaudevillian/music-hallish celebration wherein Paul, in a rare naughty mood, celebrates the joys of being able to bash in the heads of anyone threatening to bring you down. Paul puts it across perfectly with the coyest imaginable choir-boy innocence." [21] Robert Christgau referred to the song as "a McCartney crotchet". [22]

Author Sean Pryor concludes, “That while "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" is a break from much of the rest of the Beatles' collection, Paul’s exploration into the human condition comes out in full display.” [23]

Among Beatles biographers, Ian MacDonald said that "If any single recording shows why The Beatles broke up, it's 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer'." He continued: "This ghastly miscalculation – of which there are countless equivalents on his garrulous sequence of solo albums – represents by far his worst lapse of taste under the auspices of The Beatles … Thus Abbey Road embraces both extremes of McCartney: the clear-minded, sensitive caretaker of The Beatles in 'You Never Give Me Your Money' and the Long Medley – and the immature egotist who frittered away the group's patience and solidarity on sniggering nonsense like this." [5] Author Jonathan Gould cites "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" as an example of the selfishness inherent in the Beatles' creative partnership, whereby a composition by McCartney or Lennon would be given preference over a more substantial song by Harrison. [24] He also rues McCartney's penchant for a light entertainment style that the Beatles had sought to render obsolete, and concludes: "The sorriest aspect of 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' is thus the way it demonstrates how Paul's workmanlike tendency to build on his past successes had caused him to translate the genuinely charming novelty and subversive parody of 'When I'm Sixty-Four' into a personal subgenre of glibly clever songs that had devolved in the two years since Sgt. Pepper into a form of musical schtick ." [25] The biographer, Mark Lewisohn, discussed a recorded conversation between Paul, John and George where John raised the possibility of individual songwriting credits being split equally between the three of them on a future album: "Paul – sounding, shall we say, relaxed – responds to the news that George now has equal standing as a composer with John and himself by muttering something mildly provocative. “I thought until this album that George’s songs weren’t that good,” he says, which is a pretty double-edged compliment since the earlier compositions he’s implicitly disparaging include Taxman and While My Guitar Gently Weeps. There’s a nettled rejoinder from George: “That’s a matter of taste. All down the line, people have liked my songs.” [26]

Notable cover versions

Personnel

According to Ian MacDonald, [5] Andy Babiuk [28] , Mark Lewisohn [7] and Philippe Margotin [19] :

The Beatles

Additional musician

Notes

  1. For the contradiction in the literature, see above.

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References

  1. 1 2 Mulligan 2010, p. 127.
  2. Unterberger, Richie. "Maxwell's Silver Hammer - The Beatles | Song Info". AllMusic . Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  3. Gould, Jonathan (2008). Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America. Random House. p. 578. ISBN   978-0-307-35338-2. ... the song is a preternaturally catchy music-hall number ...
  4. Sheff 2000, p. 202.
  5. 1 2 3 4 MacDonald 2005, p. 357.
  6. Howlett 2018, p. 21.
  7. 1 2 Lewisohn 1988, p. 179.
  8. McCartney, Linda. Linda McCartney's Sixties: Portrait of an Era. Bullfinch Press. Page 153. 1992
  9. Emerick & Massey 2006, p. 281.
  10. Miles 1997, p. 554.
  11. "John Lennon crashes his car in Scotland". Beatles Bible. July 1969. Retrieved 17 January 2016.
  12. Miles and Badman 2003.
  13. 1 2 3 Lewisohn 1988.
  14. Playboy interviews 1981, p. 171.
  15. Crawdaddy Magazine 1977.
  16. Scaggs & Rolling Stone 2008.
  17. The Beatles Bible 2009.
  18. Emerick & Massey 2006, p. 283.
  19. 1 2 Margotin 2013.
  20. Lewisohn 1992, p. 325.
  21. Rolling Stone 1969.
  22. Christgau 1974.
  23. Kusheen Magazine 2018, p. 77.
  24. Gould 2007, pp. 534–36.
  25. Gould 2007, pp. 578–79.
  26. "'This tape rewrites everything we knew about the Beatles'". The Guardian . London. Retrieved 11 September 2019.
  27. "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. 21 October 1972. Retrieved 19 September 2018.
  28. Babiuk 2002, p. 256.

Sources