The Case For The Beatles' "Maxwell's Silver Hammer"

Yes, "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" from Abbey Road (1969) is pure "granny music," as John Lennon called it, but that was part of Paul McCartney's intended joke. Here we have this silly sounding, almost kiddie-like arrangement, combined with the most perverted and darkest lyrics that a Beatle ever wrote for the group. As most people know, the track tells the tale of Maxwell Edison, a serial killer. I was 16 when the song came out and I immediately got the joke and the incongruity of it all. 

Maybe the absurdity of marrying the goofy arrangement with the sinister lyrics is why McCartney mentions pataphsical science in the song's first verse. As it turns out - according to Wikipedia - "Pataphysics is a difficult-to-define "philosophy" of science invented by French writer Alfred Jarry (1873–1907) intended to be a parody of science." Was "Maxwell" a parody as well, and does it really belong on a record intended for children as shown on the image to the left? Was it a more cryptic way of saying "up yours" to his critics than his later Wings hit "Silly Love Songs"?

McCartney said the song is "my analogy for when something goes wrong out of the blue, as it so often does as I was beginning to find out at that time in my life. I wanted something symbolic of that, so to me it was some fictitious character called Maxwell with a silver hammer. I don't know why it was silver, it just sounded better than Maxwell's hammer."

Detractors point to Ringo Starr's quote given to Rolling Stone in 2008 as proof The Beatles' hated the song. "The worst session ever was 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer.' It was the worst track we ever had to record. It went on for weeks. I thought it was mad." Some say that Starr was not so much complaining about the song itself but the length of time the perfectionist composer took to record it.

George Harrison was even more scathing in an interview with Crawdaddy magazine. "Sometimes Paul would make us do these really fruity songs. 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… But Paul’s really writing for a 14-year-old audience now anyhow."

Lennon didn't even play on the song but that was mostly because he was recovering from injuries sustained in a car accident than his hatred of it.

Why do I never hear any complaints about Lennon’s "Good Night" from the White Album? The Beatles' founder wrote it as a lullaby for his five year old son, Julian, but he couldn't envision singing it himself, so he gave it to Starr. It has a cheesy, string laden orchestra, an even cheesier female choir that sounds like they're greeting people at the pearly gates wearing angel's wings, and Starr's perfectly fitting vocal that was meant for kids. Listen to the Abbey Road track, and Lennon's below, and decide for yourself if he had any justification criticizing "Maxwell's Silver Hammer."

I swear, if Lennon wrote "Maxwell" the critics - who always favored him over McCartney - would have hailed it as pure, cynical, Lennon genius and gotten the joke. In the end, it may not be a first tier Beatles song but it has always gotten a bum rap.