The Beatles

Maxwell's Silver Hammer

Song Review by

Of the several story-songs Paul McCartney wrote for the Beatles, "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" is about the quirkiest, though its singalong music hall jauntiness has generated some sour comments from listeners who find it too removed from rock's standard roots. There's no denying, however, that for a pop/rock tune, "Maxwell's Silver Hammer"'s plot is amusing: a medical student who's a serial murderer, his weapon being the silver hammer. It's not exactly told like a Jack the Ripper storyline; both the melody and McCartney's vocal exude a cheerful bounce, as if in deliberate contrast to Maxwell's macabre doings. When McCartney goes into the chorus, he sounds more like he's celebrating a birthday than like he's announcing the death of victims by cruel and unusual means, the "silver hammer" mimicked by Ringo Starr's distinctive clanging anvil. There's a twist to the plot, such as it is, at the end as well, with the judge sentencing Maxwell to jail himself getting offed by the silver hammer as he delivers the verdict. The sense of surreal bonhomie gets amplified further by the final harmonized "silver hammer" tag at the end, where the Beatles sound like a mock-operatic glee club. The Moog synthesizer -- then a very new instrument on rock recordings -- does a lot to add to the musical appeal of the track with its witty, skittering riffs. In many respects it's much like some of the songs Ray Davies was writing for the Kinks in the late '60s, though with an undeniably McCartney-esque flavor. Both George Harrison and John Lennon subsequently derided the song, Harrison calling it "fruity," and Lennon complaining as follows in his Playboy interview: "I hate it...he made us do it a hundred million times. He did everything to make it into a single and it never was and it never could've been...we spent more money on that song than any of them in the whole album." A previously unreleased take of the song appears on Anthology 3, and a more basic, guitar-oriented earlier version was worked on during the Let It Be sessions, as can be heard on numerous bootlegs.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Abbey Road 1969 Apple Records / Capitol 3:27
Documents, Vol. 6 1991 Oh Boy 3:39
No Image 1991 Yellow Dog Records
The Ultimate Box Set 1995 Capitol 3:27
Anthology 3 1996 Apple / Capitol 3:49
No Image 199? VigoTone
The Beatles: Stereo Box Set 2009 Capitol 3:27
The Beatles USB 2009 Capitol / EMI 3:27