By the time The Beatles started work on Abbey Road in February 1969, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr had developed a meticulous approach to studio recording. With pioneering albums such as Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt. Peppers behind them, they had pushed the available technology to its very limits.
Their use of sound collage, synthesisers, and stereo put them at the very cutting edge of recorded music and has cemented their status as one of the world’s most innovative groups. That being said, they didn’t half make things difficult for themselves.
The Beatles were one of the first bands to treat the recording studio as an instrument in and of itself, paving the way for the likes of Pink Floyd and My Bloody Valentine, both of whom became famous for spending insane amounts of time in the studio. But, even though The Beatles tried and tested method of finely honing their recordings for weeks on end had proved successful many times in the past, it didn’t stop Ringo Starr from exploding with rage during the recording of ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.‘
Indeed, the experience of producing Paul McCartney’s song — written about a student murder called Maxwell Edison who (surprise surprise) killed his victims with a hammer — proved to be so infuriating that Starr ended up absolutely despising it.
From the beginning, the track proved to be more hassle than it was worth. John Lennon arrived late to the studio after he and Yoko were recovering from a serious car accident. During the early days of the Abbey Road session, all Lennon could do was watch as Paul, Ringo, and George attempted to lay down the complex backing vocals for ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.; Lennon looked on with disgust. He, too, hated ‘Maxwell’ and wanted nothing to do with it despite Paul’s encouragement.
When it was Ringo’s turn to lay down the percussion tracks he was submitted to failed take after failed take. At one point, McCartney convinced one of the studio’s employees to get hold of a blacksmith’s anvil and start hammering away in front of the microphone. It didn’t go well. Paul was clearly becoming desperate and Ringo had lost all interest. As the drummer once recalled: “the worst session ever was ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,’” he said. “It was the worst track we ever had to record. It went on for f**king weeks.”
Lennon, too, held nothing back when describing his hatred of Paul’s song: In an interview with Playboy in 1980, Lennon said: “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. 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.”
Unfortunately, Paul’s track never amounted to more than filler. Indeed, if there is any song that proves why The Beatles needed to disband then surely it is ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.’
The Beatles’ inability to work together on the record revealed their desires to pursue their own solo work, to have complete control over their creative output. It was their unity as a group of musicians that allowed them to create such an astounding body of work. But, by 1969, the cracks were beginning to show and, soon, there would be no turning back.