For a band like The Beatles, a group that played a significant role in changing the landscape of popular music forever, no stone has been left unturned. Despite being active for just ten years, the Fab Four churned through a relentless amount of material in blistering speed before collapsing under the weight of their own legacy.
Despite their unprecedented success, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr would eventually burn out. With 21 studio albums, five live albums, well over 50 compilation albums, 63 singles and a couple of movies to their names, fans of the group have had a lot to analyse in the years following their split.
While a decade is an incredibly short time span to build a musical empire, The Beatles did so with an ability to transition with the times, maturing from boyband pop music to rock and roll and again to drug-induced psychedelia. However, with the development of their sound came a change in the individual personalities of each member as they began to compete for creative control.
With a changing in the dynamics of the band and outside influence clearly impacting the harmony of the Fab Four, cracks began to show, and the material was being pulled from pillar to post — and no song better exhibits that than the much-debated single ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’.
Written by Paul McCartney and featured on the album Abbey Road, ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ was created during the brutal Get Back recording sessions, a time when the personal relationships between each member were at an all-time low. McCartney, seizing control of the group, had a clear vision for the track and, in order to get it down as he imagined, forced the band to work through hours upon hours of session time.
“The worst session ever was ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’,” Ringo Starr later recalled in an interview with Rolling Stone. “It was the worst track we ever had to record. It went on for fucking weeks,” he added.
Of course, if the usually upbeat Ringo was dishing out the criticism, you know it had to be troublesome. John Lennon, an artist who was much more willing to voice his discontent, followed suit: “I hated it,” Lennon told David Sheff for Playboy in 1980. “All I remember is the track – he made us do it a hundred million times.”
Adding: “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.”
By this point in time, McCartney’s stronghold over the band was at an all-time high, the bassist acting as the de facto leader after former manager Brian Epstein had passed away. Despite the frustration around ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ propping up most interviews during this period – and the issues it subsequently caused – McCartney remained positive at the time of its recording. “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,” he added in a somewhat overzealous show of bravado.
In the very same book, which was written by McCartney’s close friend, the Beatle added: “Miles and I often used to talk about the pataphysical society and the Chair of Applied Alcoholism. So I put that in one of the Beatles songs, ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’,” he said, before explaining the lyrical content. “Nobody knows what it means; I only explained it to Linda just the other day. That’s the lovely thing about it. I am the only person who ever put the name of pataphysics into the record charts, c’mon! It was great. I love those surreal little touches.”
It would appear as though McCartney was out on his own with this one, however, as even George Harrison reflected on the track with disdain: “Sometimes Paul would make us do these really fruity songs,” he told Crawdaddy in the 1970s. “I mean, my God, ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ was so fruity.”