"Maxwell's Silver Hammer" is a song by the Beatles, sung by Paul McCartney on their album Abbey Road. It was written by McCartney, though credited to Lennon–McCartney. "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" is a rock song with dark, eccentric lyrics about a medical student named Maxwell Edison who commits murders with a hammer, although the lyrics are disguised by the upbeat, catchy, and rather "childlike" sound of the song.
The song was written in October 1968, intended for the album The Beatles, but left off because of 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. The film features two brief rehearsal takes compiled together showing the band's progress on the song up to that point in time. John 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.
Linda McCartney said that Paul 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 the song, and also explains how Paul came across Jarry's word "pataphysical", which occurs in the lyrics.
Beatles guitarist George Harrison described the song in 1969 as "one of those instant whistle-along tunes which some people hate, and other people really like. It's a fun song, but it's kind of a drag because Maxwell keeps on destroying everyone like his girlfriend then the school teacher, and then, finally, the judge." Lennon described it as "more of Paul's granny music". In 1994, McCartney said that the song merely 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. It was needed for scanning. We still use that expression now when something unexpected happens."
Recording began at Abbey Road Studios 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, 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. Sixteen takes of the rhythm track were made, followed by a series of guitar overdubs. 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 synthesiser.
The recording subsequently drew comment from the entire band; other than the composer (McCartney), none appear to have fond memories of their work on the song: 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." Harrison characterised the song as "fruity" and commented "we spent a hell of a lot of time on it", and later "after a while, we did a good job on it". Starr added retrospective input on the finished result in a Rolling Stone article from 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." 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.' It was early-days Moog work and it did take a bit of time".Paul McCartney – lead and backing vocals, piano, electric guitars, Moog synthesiser
George Harrison – backing vocal, acoustic guitar, six-string bass
Ringo Starr – backing vocal, drums, anvil*
with:George Martin – organ
Personnel according to Ian MacDonald, Andy Babiuk and Mark Lewisohn
For the studio version of the song, the anvil was played by Starr; in the Beatles' film Let It Be, however, Mal Evans is seen hitting the anvil as the Beatles rehearsed the song.
In his 1969 review of Abbey Road, John Mendelsohn of Rolling Stone magazine observed that in "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", McCartney "celebrates the joys of being able to bash in the heads of anyone threatening to bring you down. [He] puts it across perfectly with the coyest imaginable choir-boy innocence". Robert Christgau referred to the song as "a McCartney crotchet".
In the 1978 film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the song is performed by comedian Steve Martin, who portrays the character Maxwell Edison. Frankie Laine also covered the song as part of the musical documentary All This and World War II, which featured stock and newsreel footage of the Second World War set to performances of music by The Beatles.