The idea of George Harrison being the ‘quiet Beatle’ is one purely perpetuated by the fact that the Fab Four’s guitarist was smart enough to know when he was being watched. Famed for his caustic wit and scything words behind closed doors, to imagine Harrison as a shy and retiring figure is to miss the value of his character truly. Harrison wasn’t quiet; he was discerning. Especially by the end of The Beatles reign, as they approached Abbey Road and the closure of one of the most momentous chapters in pop music history, Harrison was earnest about his art.
The guitarist had begun to flex his muscles creatively, and with every passing year, his ability to craft incredible songs was beginning to loom large in the rearview mirror of The Beatles’ principal songwriters John Lennon and Paul McCartney. In fact, this seriousness led to Harrison and, by this time, thanks to Lennon’s drug habits and disinterest in being a pop star, the band’s leader, McCartney, falling out with one another.
Harrison was arguably in one of the richest veins of songwriting the decade had ever seen, and despite having songs like ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and ‘Something’ surely prove his talent, he was struggling to have his voice heard. It was enough to see the guitarist quit on at least one occasion and would usually see him squirrel away to the country with Cream guitarist Eric Clapton to forget the trials and tribulations of being in the biggest band in the world. But perhaps what annoyed Harrison most was the comparative dross he was forced to record.
McCartney is well known for his whimsical style of songwriting. It certainly came to fruition on Sgt. Pepper, something which saw the rest of the band react with rockers on The White Album, and, on Abbey Road, Macca was once again turning the recording studio into a music hall production. Writing songs that his partner Lennon would later refer to as “granny shit” would irk most of the band, but one song has often been cited as pushing them all over the edge — ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’.
“Sometimes Paul would make us do these really fruity songs,” recalled Harrison. “I mean, my God, ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ was so fruity. After a while we did a good job on it, but when Paul got an idea or an arrangement in his head…” The trail off here is truly important. The song is famed for having been relentlessly recorded and re-recorded so that it fit with McCartney’s vision. Ringo Star, usually affable in every way, even complained of the song saying, “The worst session ever was ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’. It was the worst track we ever had to record. It went on for fucking weeks. I thought it was mad.”
Naturally, “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, too: “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.”
For McCartney, it was all par for the course, “They got annoyed because ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ took three days to record. Big deal.” But it was McCartney’s determination to continually perfect the song while neglecting the sheer volume of classic tracks Harrison had in his locker that would have likely left a sour taste in the guitarist’s mouth. After all, for this session, songs like ‘All Thing Must Pass’ and ‘My Sweet Lord’ were turned down in favour of this “fruity” song.
Take a listen to The Beatles’ ‘Maxwell Silver Hammer’ and ‘All Thins Must Pass’ below and tell us which one should be on Abbey Road in the comments.