In fact, what I frequently call my trio of distaste-- the only three Beatles songs I ever skip-- has morphed a little this year. The songs in question have historically been "The Fool on the Hill," "The Long and Winding Road," and "Michelle." But "Michelle" has been sounding better and better to me lately. (Maybe that's partially thanks to Frank in comments. Or maybe it's that Rubber Soul in mono is so neat all over that even "Michelle" is elevated.) And "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" has been sounding worse and worse. I think these days I'm much more like to skip over Maxwell than I am over Michelle.
Why am I growing sicker of this song? Well, for one thing, the more you read about the song the more you realize that the other Beatles loathed it. And us fans, you know, we don't like to think about our favorite lads all being irritable at each other just because Paul's making them go through the zillionth take of this thing. Paul, bizarrely, thought that "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" would make a great single, but none of the others were having it. Call it a rare failure of one of the great commercially savvy minds of our time. At least the others were there to stop the madness.
And one wonders why so many takes were required anyway. The song is a fairly simple number, sorta-kinda in the style of some of the Paul's music-hall songs like "Honey Pie" and "When I'm Sixty-Four," and thus not terribly complicated harmonically. They've veered away from some of the flourishes of timbre that really make those two songs loving homages, though, and "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" has a fairly standard rock and roll piano/guitars/drums feel. There's also some Moog organ at the interludes following the chorus, which feels slightly perfunctory (gads, I think I'm just feeling bitchy today), and of course the silver hammer itself, which is Ringo knocking something against an anvil. I should say that a lot of the playing is really quite good-- the song's got a pleasantly bouncy bass line. And the lead guitar work, which is all George, is full of fun licks. One of my favorite bits is that Moog organ again playing a countermelody with Paul's vocal line in the second verse-- that's cool, isn't it? It sounds like Maxwell whistling jauntily as he walks around looking for his next victim.
It's what all of this stuff is in service of that's slight and silly. I love a black comedy as much as anyone, I swear, but somehow it just doesn't come off for me here. It sounds like Paul is trying too hard to weird us out, and I just don't really believe it. The best black comedies are never shallow, if you know what I mean, but there might not be a shallower song in Beatledom than "Maxwell's Silver Hammer." I mean, heck, the adolescent simplicity of "I Saw Her Standing There" and such like are a zillion times more sincere. Or something.
So, yeah. The good news is that from here on out we are good to go. Every single song we've got left is awesome. So keep tuning in for a more engaged blogger.
And you know what else is awesome? Tonight's the night-- my friends are bringing over my copy of the Beatles Rock Band Game!!!! I am beside myself. More to come for sure.
"Maxwell's Silver Hammer," released in the U.K. side A track 3 of Abbey Road, September 26, 1969; in the U.S. October 1, 1969.