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Paul McCartney wrote this song, which is about a medical student (Maxwell Edison) who kills people. The lyric is whimsical dark comedy culled from McCartney's imagination. Growing up, his family loved to make up outrageous stories and tell tall tales, and this seeped into McCartney's songwriting, as he often made up characters for his songs. John Lennon, on the other hand, would usually base his songs on real people and events.
Paul McCartney said of this song: "It epitomizes the downfalls in life. Just when everything is going smoothly, Bang! Bang! Down comes Maxwell's Silver Hammer and ruins everything."
McCartney played a Moog synthesizer, but there is a much more unusual instrument on this song as well: an anvil. It's a blacksmith's tool that showed up in a lot of those wonderfully violent Looney Tunes cartoons when a heavy object was needed for comic effect. Ringo is the one who banged on the anvil, which was rented from a company that supplied stage props.
John Lennon didn't play on this song - he was not at the sessions for this because he was recovering from a car accident. Lennon abased the track in later interviews, saying he hated the song and that McCartney used way too much studio time recording it.
McCartney has never implied a specific inspiration for this song, but fans speculated that he was expressing his frustrations with certain people in the band's inner circle, perhaps hoping that a figurative hammer would crash down on Yoko Ono or their manager, Allen Klein.
The recording sessions went on for three days (July 9-11, 1969) as McCartney tried to get it just right. This strained his already tense relationship with the Beatles, who broke up soon after recording Abbey Road
. In a 2008 interview with Rolling Stone
magazine, Ringo Starr said, "The worst session ever was 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer.' It was the worst track we ever had to record. It went on for f--king weeks. I thought it was mad."
The Beatles performed this in their movie Let It Be.
The cover of the album fueled rumors that Paul McCartney was dead. The cover shows all four Beatles walking in a crosswalk of Abbey Road. John is leading, followed by Ringo, Paul, and finally George. According to the rumor, what they were wearing signified a funeral procession. John was dressed in white as if he was God, Ringo was dressed in a black suit as if he was a Preacher, and George was wearing grungy clothing, as if he was the grave digger. Paul was dressed in a dark-gray suit, was carrying a cigarette, and has his eyes closed. Also, he is the only one walking barefoot.
This originally opened with a brief instrumental intro that was edited out. It used the same chords as the ending of the song.
McCartney's handwritten lyrics for this song were sold at auction for $192,000.