With a discography as big as The Beatles’, there is a good likelihood that certain songs may spark a little argument over some artistic differences. Even amid the 71 songs Paul McCartney composed for the Fab Four, a few duds sneaked through. But there was one song that bothered the entire band, not just the typical suspects like John Lennon or George Harrison.
It was a song that would demonstrate how near to breaking point The Beatles were while recording and how much McCartney had begun to exert authority over the group. It was obvious that The Beatles were on their way out as the group prepared to record this Abbey Road track.
Lennon’s cantankerous grumpiness is nothing new, but it must have hurt to see George Harrison and Ringo Starr join in on the track-bashing. When McCartney’s exacting musical taste and drive for perfection took precedence above his concern for his comrades, the song, like so many others, started to cause problems for the group.
After encountering some creative setbacks earlier in the year, the band was in the studio for the Abbey Road recordings and wanted to make sure everything went as smoothly as possible. As each band member suddenly saw solo glory on the horizon, the group had spent most of 1969 at odds creatively and toying with the possibility of breaking up.
The idea of changing Abbey Road didn’t stop the band’s rivalry over the song becoming raging. ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ was the tune in dispute, and Paul McCartney was adamant that it ought to be played a specific way. The bassist even hired a studio engineer to go get a blacksmith’s anvil as part of the production process after hours and hours of sessions. The singer wasn’t content even after this.
Ringo Starr told to Rolling Stone, “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.”
After being involved in a near-fatal vehicle accident with his lover Yoko Ono, John Lennon had only hesitantly made his way back to the studio. The ‘Imagine’ vocalist had a bit more freedom to leave the studio when necessary and frequently took advantage of the opportunity. He was quick to leave the difficult recordings as soon as possible and didn’t require an additional invitation throughout this laborious session.
John also told David Sheff for Playboy, “I hated it, All I remember is the track – he made us do it a hundred million times.” He didn’t hesitate to criticize the track’s caliber, stating “He did everything to make it into a single and it never was and it never could’ve been. But [Paul] 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.”
Harrison, who had previously spat with Paul McCartney over a number of other song concepts, was similarly displeased with the music. In actuality, it contributed to Harrison’s periodic departures from the band. According to the Beatles Bible from the 1970s, “sometimes Paul would make us do these really fruity songs,” he said to Crawdaddy. “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” was so fruity, my god,”
The Beatle made an effort to deepen his admiration for the material and provided a more in-depth look into the creation of the tune in the exact same book, which was authored by McCartney’s close friend: “Miles and I often used to talk about the pataphysical society and the Chair of Applied Alcoholism. So I put that in one of the Beatles songs, ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’”. He continued, adding: “Joan was curious and studied paraphysical science at home,” before elaborating on the song’s lyrical themes. “Nobody knows what it means; I only explained it to Linda just the other day. That’s the lovely thing about it. I am the only person who ever put the name of pataphysics into the record charts, c’mon! It was great. I love those surreal little touches.”
But as time passed, the bassist acknowledged that the song fell short: “‘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.”
He also commented, “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.”