Saturday, September 19, 2009

Maxwell's Silver Hammer

Well, I promised a song that I had stronger feelings about than "That Means a Lot," and "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" certainly qualifies. Frankly, it's one I should have gotten out of the way a long time ago. Because this was never one of my favorites anyway, and as I get older, I like it less and less.

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.


  1. Meg, you were quite kind in your post regarding this song; it could have been a blood-letting. I hate this song. I hate the lyrics, the music, everything about it. If ever one needed ammo for Paul having bad taste and not being able to recognize mediocrity (i.e. really bad music) this song will supply all one needs. Abbey Road is such a brilliant album, it is too bad this song is included. Too bad the Beatles didn't have a veto vote system, where three strikes meant a song was 86-ed. Enough said.

    BTW, are there enough songs remaining to actually fill out the year, or will this wonderful blog end before Dec 31? Please say you have enough to go the distance!

  2. Sadly, Frank, if my math is correct, I can only go as far as mid-October. We've only got about a month to go! But as you might have noticed, there are some biggies still to come. I've been trying to maintain a balance, so there's still some interest as we approach the home stretch.

    It's true about Maxwell, right? It almost-- ALMOST-- ruins the album. I liked this more when I was a young, but I was kind of a doofus when I was young.

  3. I don't agree with you about Fool on the Hill, or Long and Winding Road. And Ian MacDonald agrees with me about both, so I feel good about that. But -- and I say this as a huge Paul fan -- I'll never understand why he persisted with this song. It's dumb.

    Still, to say it ruins Abbey Road seems overkill. I think people unfairly bludgeon Paul with this song -- in a way that they never bludgeon John for "Run for Your Life" or the annoying "Bungalow Bill."

  4. Are you gonna do "Bad To Me"? Or is that song a hoax?

  5. Luckily, the Beatles never recorded "Bad to Me" in a commercial format. Thank the good Lord we are all spared that. I can't even fathom the badness of that song.

    And Anon, that's fair-- my disagreement with Ian MacDonald is on record. I know both of those are fan favorites, but I can't get into them myself. However, "Run for Your Life" and "Bungalow Bill" are both preferable to "Maxwell" for me, infinitely so. It's funny you bring up the latter-- I was thinking about it as I wrote this post, and about how much more I like John's handling of a similar theme. Maybe because the recording of that song is so much more unserious, what with the sing-along spirit and such like. Or maybe the lyrics are just funnier. It's probably a matter of taste.

    The sheer existence of "Maxwell" is not as much an issue with Paul, as is his own opinion that is should be a SINGLE. Now, that's just ridiculous. That's the part I can't quite get over, personally.

  6. I can't fathom that, either.

    Personally I think Paul seems like he was an emotional wreck during the recording of Abbey Road, knowing that things were falling apart and at odds with his bandmates/friends. That emotional turmoil brought us the highs of Oh Darling and Carry That Weight/The End, and the lows of Maxwell's Silver Hammer. It's hard to comprehend those extremes both coming from the same dude.