“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” by The Beatles
Believe it or not but The Beatles – that lovable, clean-cut quartet from the 1960s – may have been the ones, via the dropping of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, who began the trend of mainstream musicians making songs about murderers, i.e. as if the killer is a protagonist.
Well actually, The Beatles may have started out looking like well-behaved Hogwarts’ students, but as time progressed so did their artistry evolve. And near the end of the band’s tenure, the Fab Four were a lot more, shall we say experimental as far as the content of their songs were concerned.
So the subject of this piece, Maxwell, is very much depicted as being a murderer. This song, in its entirety, reads sorta like a movie. But to make a long story short, each of the three verses features a respective victim of Maxwell’s “silver hammer”.
And it is slowly but surely revealed that he is in fact a murderous psychopath. Indeed by the time all is said and done, even those who gave him the benefit of the doubt and supported Maxwell should be more than convinced, by his actions, that such is the case, considering that he even rolls up on the judge who is trying him in court.
But ultimately, the creation of this song isn’t about Paul McCartney uncharacteristically venturing out on the wild side. Macca is a musician who has been recognized as an expert songwriter, even dating back to the days of The Beatles’. So in this case, the “silver hammer” doesn’t really have any true meaning besides simply being the weapon of Maxwell’s choice.
But Maxwell himself is symbolic. And apparently what he is meant to represent, as phrased by someone who was close to McCartney at the time of this song’s creation, is the concept of “instant karma”. In other words, have you ever had some type of completely random, unforeseen accident that results in a minor or even major injury? The way McCartney saw it, such was the universe’s way of getting back at us for our own misdeeds.
Indeed around the time he penned this song, Macca himself, once again according to said friend, had “been clobbered” in such a manner where he had to acknowledge that yes, invisible justice is in fact real.
That said, the intended focus wouldn’t necessarily be on the gruesomeness of Maxwell’s acts but rather his tendency to commit them completely out of the blue. But that said, considering that he does more or less kill random people, the further implication is that sometimes “instant karma” can be especially cruel.
And with all of that in mind, such may also be another, unspoken reason as to why John Lennon didn’t like this song. He and Yoko Ono had a car accident shortly before The Beatles began recording “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”. So maybe he believed, if he knew the meaning as noted above, that Macca was making fun of him.
But as implied, McCartney likely approached this piece more humbly, knowing that even he is not exempt from the universe’s wrath. Indeed George Harrison may have dissed this track as being “fruity” in nature. But perhaps what George was really getting at, more euphemistically put, is that Maxwell’s Silver Hammer is actually a bit preachy, even in a folklorish kind of way. That is to say that this piece can be taken as Macca’s way of advising listeners not to do wrong, or else our own personal “Maxwell” may be lurking somewhere around the corner.
When was “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” released?
Apple Records released it on the 26th of September, 1969. It is one of the songs on the Beatles iconic album, “Abbey Road”.
The Beatles, despite arguably being the most influential act in music industry history, was relatively short-lived. The Fab Four were only extant as a unit for a decade, from 1960 to 1970, with no reunions or anything like that really taking place thereafter. So when Apple Corps put this song out in 1969, the band was already in its death throes.
“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” is one of the lesser-known songs in The Beatles’ discography. This is perhaps due to the fact that it proved to be one of the least-favorite amongst the Fab Four themselves.
The writing of this song is credited to both Paul McCartney and Lennon-McCartney, the latter being a composite of Macca and the late John Lennon (1940-1980). But for the most part, McCartney is recognized as the sole author of the song. And in doing so, he was particularly influenced by an early 20th century French writer named Alfred Jarry (1873-1907).
As alluded to earlier all of The Beatles, besides McCartney, disliked this song. And it seems that the reason they feel so dates back to its recording, where they basically felt that Macca had put too much of a premium on what everyone else considered to be a mediocre piece. This song was also, to John Lennon’s dismay, the most expensive to create as far as those that were featured on “Abbey Road” (1969), The Beatles’ penultimate studio album.
More Facts about “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”
Hollywood comedian Steve Martin covered this classic on the 1978 Beatles’ inspired movie Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
This tune can also be found, as performed by the Fab Four themselves, on a 1970 documentary about the band entitled Let It Be.
An actual anvil was used in the recording of this song.
It has been noted that whereas Lennon did attend the recording sessions for this track, he did not participate actively. This was because at that time, he was recovering from a car accident in which he and his wife, Yoko, were both injured. So McCartney served as lead vocalist and instrumentalist. Ringo Starr and George Harrison (1943-2001) backed him up both vocally and instrumentally. And George ‘the Fifth Beatle’ Martin (1926-2016), who produced the song, also played the organ therein.
As implied earlier The Beatles are extremely popular even to this day – a substantial amount of time after the passing of both Lennon and Harrison. For instance, in 2006, the piece of paper upon which McCartney composed the lyrics for “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” sold for nearly $200,000.
Besides this song showing up on “Abbey Road”, there’s a version of it (i.e. one of the recording takes that didn’t make the final cut) which can be found on The Beatles 1996 compilation album “Anthology 3”.