There’s no secret that one of the most fractious relationships within the Fab Four was held between Paul McCartney and George Harrison. The two men were never the closest of friends compared to the rest of the quartet. As time progressed and McCartney’s creativity attempted to overhaul the band, Harrison’s dismay with the singer-songwriter grew to a fever pitch. There’s perhaps no greater typification of this tension than ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’.
Featuring on the band’s Abbey Road album, the track came at a time when the group were struggling to continue in their current guise. Harrison had even previously left the band earlier in 1969 after suggesting that his songs (having recently found his zeal for songwriting) were not being given the same attention as the Lennon-McCartney partnership. He returned in the hope of turning the ship around.
Having recently experienced a creative false-start earlier in the year, the band were keen to make sure things ran as smoothly as possible. The group had spent much of 1969 at creative odds and dabbling with the idea of disbandment as each band member suddenly saw solo stardom on the horizon. The notion of change for Abbey Road didn’t deter the inter-band dissent from running rife for a new Macca composition.
The song was ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’, and Paul McCartney felt strongly it had to be played a certain way. It took hours and hours of sessions with the bassist even employing a studio engineer to go out and fetch a blacksmith’s anvil as part of the production process. Even after which, the singer still wasn’t happy, “The worst session ever was ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’,” the usually affable Ringo Starr told Rolling Stone. “It was the worst track we ever had to record. It went on for fucking weeks.”
For George Harrison, the track landed with even more weight. He had been fighting with the creative vision of McCartney for some time. Harrison was unimpressed with the track wasn’t afraid to share his damning thoughts. “Sometimes Paul would make us do these really fruity songs,” he told Crawdaddy as per Beatles Bible in the 1970s. “I mean, my God, ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ was so fruity.”
It was a shared thought too; McCartney’s partner John Lennon claimed he “hated it,” confirming, “He did everything to make it into a single, and it never was, and it never could’ve been.” Despite this, McCartney felt positive about the song, no matter the inter-band derision it suffered: “It was the best radio play I had ever heard in my life, and the best production, and Ubu was so brilliantly played,” he said in the Barry Miles book Many Years From Now. “It was just a sensation. That was one of the big things of the period for me,” proclaimed Sir Paul.
For Harrison, however, having attempted to record the song over countless different sessions to achieve McCartney’s perfect vision, the song represented a larger issue. By 1969, in Harrison’s eyes at least, McCartney had become the band’s leader. “At that point in time, Paul couldn’t see beyond himself,” Harrison told Guitar World in 2001. “He was on a roll, but … in his mind, everything that was going on around him was just there to accompany him. He wasn’t sensitive to stepping on other people’s egos or feelings.”
While all of the above may well be true, it is hard to ignore that McCartney largely achieved what he set out to accomplish. Listen to The Beatles song ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ below.