In a long and storied career, each member of The Beatles contributed crucial elements of artistry that ultimately changed the course of music and contemporary culture forever.
In just ten short years, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr lived and worked faster than is comprehendible. Building on their roots in skiffle music, the Fab Four would develop and blend genre to create and release 21 studio albums worldwide — of which the core 13 remain etched into the annals of history for their pioneering importance.
While John Lennon and Paul McCartney would write and create music “eyeball to eyeball”, their bandmates George Harrison and Ringo Starr were gradually building their own reputations for songwriting that would, in some cases, exceed that of the principal band leaders. However, for better or for worse, it was Lennon and McCartney in creative control for such a long period of time.
The Lennon–McCartney partnership is now revered for its ability to seemingly muster up magic from thin air. With the Beatles selling well over 600 million records worldwide, it is this partnership that takes the plaudits with now-legendary efforts such as ‘Love Me Do’, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, ‘Let It Be’, ‘Come Together’, ‘Yesterday’ and countless other hits all credited to the Lennon–McCartney ownership. However, as most fans will know well enough, the duel credit on many Beatles songs isn’t particularly accurate.
‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’, a now-infamous song that featured on the Beatles’ album Abbey Road, is an effort that sits high on the list of songs that should not be credited to both Lennon and McCartney. Written about a student named Maxwell Edison who commits murders with a hammer, McCartney was the sole creator of the song: “My analogy for when something goes wrong out of the blue, as it so often does,” he once explained.
That McCartney analogy could not have been more fitting. At the time of recording ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ while the band were in session to create Abbey Road in July and August of 1969, the Beatles were in the midst of miserable inter-band relations. Creative differences, personal problems, the looming presence of Yoko Ono and John Lennon struggling with health and addiction problems following a near-fatal car crash were enough to push any friendship group to the edge. However, Paul McCartney’s insistence to play ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ in a very specific way would prove to be a problem none of the Beatles would ever forget.
“The worst session ever was ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’,” Ringo Starr later told Rolling Stone. “It was the worst track we ever had to record. It went on for fucking weeks,” he added in a damning reflective take.
Starr wasn’t alone in his feelings. “I hated it,” John Lennon told David Sheff for Playboy in 1980. “All I remember is the track – he made us do it a hundred million times.” He was quick to take aim at the track’s quality as well, 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.”
“Sometimes Paul would make us do these really fruity songs,” George Harrison added during a conversation with Crawdaddy in the 1970s. “I mean, my God, ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ was so fruity,” he added.
Despite the fact that McCartney was driving his bandmates stir-crazy with a defiant stance on ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’, the bassist remained assertively positive about the end result. “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
Detailing further, McCartney divulged: “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 of ‘Joan was quizzical, studied pataphysical science in the home’, adding: “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.”