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Maxwell's Silver Hammer

by

The Beatles



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

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." (thanks, VinnyVegas - Durham, NC)
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. (thanks, Patrick - Conyers, GA)
This originally opened with a brief instrumental intro that was edited out. It used the same chords as the ending of the song. (thanks, Barry Kesten - Bellmore, United States)
McCartney's handwritten lyrics for this song were sold at auction for $192,000. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
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Comments (85):

George Harrison did not play the Moog Synth. - Paul did and that is no surprise as he could play pretty much any instrument (I think that he played all the instruments on at least one Wings hit). The song itself is quite bizarre and the only saving grace is that it is so oxymoronic - the catchy pop melody with very dark lyrics.
For those who believe that Paul is dead, I wonder if you believe in the tooth fairy as well?
- Brian, Slacks Creek, Australia
The reason the Beatles were so big is because they blew off the so-called need for songs that tell as serious storuy or make a social commentary -- they were simple & FUN ditties is all! The musc of the sixties shines primarily because of all the nonsensical lyrics published!
- Cyberpope, Richmond, Canada
The plain meaning opf the lyrics would seem to be that Maxwell is a psychotic serial killer
- Cyberpope, Richmond, Canada
Hi,
As suggested above, Ringo did not play the anvil, roadie and assistant Mal Evans did!
- Joey Fulco, NY, NY
Dear Lisa, hey yes, I thought of Mack the Knife too! I just mentioned it myself yesterday ! :D
- veronica, new york, NY
Doesn't anyone else see the correlation to the Mack the Knife? Mack with a knife......Maxwell with a hammer.... ??????
- lisa, atlanta, GA
I think the reason Paul laughs when he sings the line "writing 50 lines" is because he was high on pot. I cant picture John mooning Paul in spite of his erratic behavior I dont think he'd go that far. Plus, this was one of Paul's songs John hated so John wouldnt even be present (he called Ob-la-di ob-la-da "Paul's granny s--t"). Another example, for Anthology 2 they are giggling for an entire take on the song "And your bird can sing". The liner notes say "this tape doesnt reveal was causing them to giggle" Maybe cause they were high, DUH!
- Don, Seattle, WA
Given the debate on this song, it's really interesting to watch (maybe sad, too if you're a real Beatles fan) how Paul and John drift apart in an artistic sense as they mature. John seems to want to make more social statements, while Paul's stuff seems just basically heartfelt, fun or nutty (or "fruity" as George says?). John's stuff can have that biting British satire angle to it, but he basically seems intent on making social comment. I prefer Paul's work, and always enjoyed "Maxwell." His stuff lets me sit back, close my eyes and smile.
- Scotty, Cheyenne, WY
Awesome song! I sing this when people make me mad, maybe that's why they think I'm crazy:)
- Breanna, Henderson, NV
PC 31 - Police Constable 31 said we got a dirty one.
- Michael, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
What is P.C. 31? I cannot find anyone who knows!
- DK, NY, NY
PAUL IS NOT DEAD!!!!! Actually, he and Ringo are the only ones alive! he was at the Beatles rockband thingy, and him and Ringo were together again. I was Happy!
Although i love that this song had a happy, cheerful tone, but is about death... always made me laugh.
- Rylea, Everett, WA
I remember being 8 years old and my Dad coming home with this stereo he had picked up from a yard sale. He let me set it up in my room and much to my surprise there was a tape in the tape deck. This is how Abbey Road and The Beatles came into my life. I remember sitting in my room and listening to this tape for hours and hours. I wouldn't realize until I got older what musical icons The Beatles actually were. I loved this song when I was a kid. I even remember at the time being a little creeped out by the dark sounding lyrics, but none the less, loved it.
- Emily, St. Louis, MO
also walrus meant death or something and you know i am the walrus and stuff? well in glass onion they say the walrus was paul, therefore extending the paul is dead rumor. there was also the abbey road cover and at the end of strawberry feilds forever you can hear a very faint voice say "i buried paul" which is really john saying"cranberry sauce"
- Grace, Malibu, CA
The tune to the line, "Bang bang Maxwell's silver hammer came down upon her head...." is almost note-identical to the last stanza of the trumpet solo in "Sgt Pepper' Lonely Hearts' Club Band." I actually woke up one morning with that knowledge in my head, I kid you not. I must have dreamt about it. I guess I'm way too into the Beatles.
- Eric, Camas, WA
if Paul is dead, than Adolf Hitler is alive and well and living in New Haven. get over it!
- Nick, Seattle, Albania
This song scared me so much the first time I hear it. I was alone and even though it has a cheerful sound its pretty ominous. I actually really like this song
- akiva, manhattan, NY
This song was most likely inspired by the tragic incident involving talented English playright Joe Orton and his lover companion Kenneth Halliwell(Maxwell is a wordplay on Haliwell). Halliwell bludgeoned 34 year old Joe Orton to death with a hammer to his head (9 blows) on August 1967. Halliwell then took an overdose of 22 Nembutal and committed suicide. Joe Orton and Halliwell were known to play the fools and had been arrested fined L262 and jailed for 6 months for damaging library books. They would return library books with new sleeve covers and new blurbs. Orton felt that the punishment was excessive due to them being queers. Joe Orton later started having success with his plays (dark satirical comedies).Joe Orton was in touch with the Beatles and was writing a play (Up Against It) for them. He was supposed to meet with them or their representatives the day they found him murdered. A chaufeur that had been sent to take him to the meeting discovered the bodies. Halliwell had been depressed and was seeing a psychiatrist. Joe Orton had found a new boyfriend and was planning to break up with the already stressed out depressed and troubled Halliwell. The play Up Against It was eventually produced in 1989 with music by Tod Rundgren. Paul McCartney took the incident changed the players and some circustances somewhat but kept the tragic situation the same and put it to rhyme and unreason......and now you know the rest of the story.....
- jo, so tx, TX
My father used to point at me and say, "That's your song, Max!" This made me blush a little!
- Max, Amherst, MA
It is possible this song was also inspired by the axe murderer who was abound in London at this time. Pink Floyd chronicled this in Careful With That Axe, Eugene...taking the dark route, and the Beatles aparently took the humorous route...
While the two bands were not exactly "friends"(Paul even disguised himself to attend one of PF concerts)I am sure they influenced each other since PF was recording at Abbey Road during this time too.
- Linc, Beaumont, TX
Paul tried hard to have this be a single. But the other Beatles refused, so he backed down. By that time the Beatles were only holding on by a thread as it was, and the last thing he wanted was a squabble over what song was going to be released as a single.
- Ken, Louisville, KY
Does Paul really have his eyes closed on the album cover? It looks like they're open to me. Anyways, this is an okay song, not the best but not bad. Didn't the song end up taking 21 takes? In the booklet that comes with the Anthology 3 disc, it says "To preserve the feel, Paul sang with every take, planning to re-record the vocal when the best instrument recording was decided upon (this turned out to be Take 21)" Paul is my favorite Beatle, but my very favorite song on Abbey Road is definitely Here Comes the Sun by George.
- Julia, *, OH
Not my favorite Beatles song, but certainly not their worst. It's probably the worst song on Abbey Road, though. I should say though, that the Beatles were one of the few bands who could tell an entire story in just one sonh.
- Rosario, Naples, FL
Also on the album cover of Abbey Road, everyone except Paul walks in step.
- Lars, Sacramento, CA
Hehe, I like how Max is a serial Killer. So thats why Paul laughs!!!!!!!!! Oh John was so funny.
- Bianca Sanchez, Alburquerque, NM
Lyrically, this sounds like it should be a Rolling Stones song.
- Peter Griffin, Quahog, RI
mal evans played the anvil not ringo
- brad, denver, CO
When Paul sings the lyric "so he waits behind" at 1:20, John mooned Paul from inside therecording booth which is why Paul noticeably chuckles while singing "writing fifty times just afterwords" Therefore John was indeed present at the session.
- david, merseyside, England
When Paul sings the lyric "so he waits behind" at 1:20, John mooned Paul from inside therecording booth which is why Paul noticeably chuckles while singing "writing fifty times just afterwords" Therefore John was indeed present at the session.
- Nick, Phoenix, MD
This song is just so funny. I absolutely love it. Who ever knew murder was so funny? Especially, like this crazy serial killer who kills with a hammer! This is one of the best songs Paul McCartney ever wrote. Very catchy and fun to act out.
- Cameron, Bainsville, Canada
Really nice song. Very playful sound and easy to remember,so I often mutter the text along with Paul...
- Olle, Stockholm, Sweden
Lyrics are rather dark, but humorous. I love the melody of this song! Brilliant work by a brilliant band.
- Nathan, Manchester, England
This song made the top-40 in Canada when it was covered by Canadian band the Bells (best known for the tune "Stay Ahile") in 1971 or '72. Though honestly this version was vastly inferior to the Beatles.
- joe, lethbridge, Canada
I had read that Paul was barefoot on the album cover because it was a hot day (when they were taking the photo)
- David, Broomall, PA
This song will always have a special place in my heart, it being my first favorite Beatles song. My parents only had the Abbey Road CD and I when I was around seven or eight, I would always put it on and dance around. I know that it's not their greatest song, but I will always love it.
- Sophie, San Jose, CA
yes i did, sounded kinda creppy at first
- Kyle, Somerville, MA
Has anyone else noticed Paul actually laughing during the song while he says the writing 50 times line?
- mitch, St. Louis, MO
This is one of the songs responsible for getting me into the Beatles. My mom told me that my aunt named her son after this song *her son's name is Max* but she was just kidding,
- Colleen, Port Colborne, Canada
I always thought the lyrics to be simply whimsical until earlier this year when I learned of a real association between death and a silver hammer. When Pope John Paul II died, a news story described the method used prior to the 20th century to confirm the pope's death: he would be struck on the forehead three times with a silver hammer. (This method was not used with Pope John Paul. According to the Catholic News Service, "This time, instead of the silver hammer, papal doctors used an electrocardiogram to make sure the pope was dead. Then the Vatican released the full contents of the death certificate, an unprecedented move.")
- Robin, Birmingham, AL
I am with you Ryan. This is a great song. The first time I heard it, I didn't listen to the lyrics, but then the second time I listened and cracked up. Ahhhhhhhh - what a great song.
- Guitar, Nashville, TN
I wonder if Peter Sutcliffe ever heard this song...
- orangebeaker, Edinburgh, Scotland
Anyone who doesn't like this song isn't a true paul mccartney fan
- John, Woburn, MA
I think this song is just an amazing song, flat out and theres no reason to go digging deep into it, why can't you people just appreciate good music without critizing the hell out of it, the Beatles where trying make a great record, not lay a path of codes for some conspiracy freaks to scrounge after thirty years later
- Will, Boerne, TX
Frank from S. C. summed it up perfectly!!
- lee, clearwater, FL
Maxwell's Silver Hammer is like the best song ever.
- Ryan, Lakewood, OH
In an early version I have Paul McCartney has a spoken intro. It goes like this (its kinda fuzzy so the words mite not be exactly rite but whatever.:
"Lemme tell you a story about Maxwell's silver hammer. he got it from Hefty [or F. D.] Cohen, the poor boy from [I can't make out the word.] Maxwell was a boy just like any other boy, and he might've had a life just like any other young boy had it not been for some certain unforseen circumstances." THE BEATLES ROCK!!!!! [That's not part of the song FYI they just do.}
- Dylan, Philadelphia, PA
Joan was quizzical, studied pataphysical
Science in the home
Late nights all alone with a test tube
Ohh-oh-oh-oh...Sounds like Joanie didn't need Maxwell or anyone else to entertain herself!
- Frank, Westminster, SC
Nathon: that's the craziness of Charles Manson for ya.
- Stefanie magura, Rock Hill, SC
Funny song, very good vocal performance by Paul
- George, Itaberaba, Brazil
This is a really good song but I just hate hearing "made sure she was dead" :(
- Ryan, Brentwood, CA
Greatest mass murder song ever. How does Helter Skelter make Charles Manson go out and kill people, and this song does nothing? Seems odd...
- Nathan, Defiance, OH
Maxwell's Silver Hammer is an odd yet fantastic song, more interestingly is the rumour that Paul McCartney is dead! haha MAD! -- I live in a town called Hastings on the SouthEast Coast of England and Paul McCartney lives around 15 miles north east in a place called Rye (a very old town), his son and daughter used to go to school with my cousins. The last time I saw Paul was last summer coming in from a sailing boat, If you don't believe me then check this out
http://www.knowhere.co.uk/3229_heroes.html
- Mark, Hastings, England
They weren't saying 't*ts'... they were saying 't*t'... but t*ts are just as good as a t*t, if not even better.
- Jon, Danville, CA
Regarding the opening lines, "Joan was quizzical/Studied 'pataphysical/Science in the home": 'Pataphysics (spelled with an apostrophe at the beginning, though I have no idea what that apostrophe is supposed to be replacing) was a concept devised by the French absurdist playwright Alfred Jarry (author of "Ubu Roi"), who created it as an extension and parody of metaphysics. For a more detailed explanation of 'pataphysics, see:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pataphysics
- Erich, Atlanta, GA
Yeah I agree with Shannon. Paul is still alive and if you don't believe it, just look at the songs the "fake" Paul wrote after the Beatles broke up...Nobody can look like Paul McCartney AND write songs exactly like him, AND SOUND exactly like him. And Album covers are album covers. Get over it.
- cameron, mesquite, TX
If I were a Beatle, and attempting to cover up the death of my bandmate(s), I would not drop clues. Anyway, I think any reasonable person can see that it's ridiculous. As for the song, I love it. It is indeed britwit, and I can appreciate that=)
- John, Millersville, MD
oi yea get over the paul is dead thing. we all know hes not.. lol and they all thought that was funny. how like ppl listened to their songs backwards and stuff. except in that one song where they are saying t*ts over and over. that was done on purpose obviously. ha! but i l-o-v-e this song!!
ppl look way toooo closely at album covers. like forreal.
- shannon, garland, TX
Sam the cover was taken by
Robert Fraiser
and designed by Peter Blake
There is know way you know the "lady" who designed it.
- Kevin, San Antonio, TX
More reasons people believed the Paul was dead theory was because Paul was doing the cover shot for Abbey Road barefoot, which is a mafia sign of death. The volkswagon in the background has the plate 28 if, as is to say he would be 28 if he were alive. He was holding a black rose in the Magical Mystery tour when everyone else held red ones
- sean, newmarket, Canada
I don't remember how, but I heard Steve Martin's version first and thought it was extremely pompous and overblown. (Maybe it was his character in the movie, which was as bad as everyone says.) It was a real surprise when I heard Paul's lighthearted version. I liked it much better. This is very British humor.
- Jude, Thomasville, GA
i can't believe everybody's rippin on this song..this is a kick ass song in my opinion, and its fun to listen to
- Ryan, Albion, NY
Man, this song is weak and out of touch on all levels. Paul was so pig-headed and stubborn to push this song through to completion in spite of the others knowing it sucked. Ugh. Paul WAS dead when he wrote this song.
- Henry, Victoria, Canada
Lots of work for a throwaway song.
- Nessie, Sapporo, Japan
okay, this whole death thing is a bunch of crap!!!
I was hanging out at my friends house and we were thinking about the beatle death thing. It just so happened that my friend knew the lady who designed the cover for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. We called her and she said that is was pure coincedence. She also said she had a conversation with the fab four and paul made many jokes about him being dead.
- Sam, Provo, VT
When a Pope dies, the tradition is to tap the Pope on the head with a silver hammer to make sure that he is dead.

Sound familiar?
- Michael, Toronto, Canada
Asley-That's the whole point it's ridiculous. It's just if you look hard enough you could make up a BS reason that all but Paul are dead same way people came up with BS resons that he was dead. The site just makes fun of the whole thing it doesn't actually believe that all but Paul are dead.
- Josh, Plainview, NY
Beatles roadie Mal Evans plays the anvil in the movie Let It Be. I think it is he, not Ringo, that plays it in the recording also.
- Mike, New Point, VA
It's impossible for the Beatles to have been "replaced" when they died. For them to be replaced one of three situations had to have occurred..
1. There just happened to be a Beatles look alike wondering around the country who not only was a replica but had the same voice too. It's been scientifically proven that no 2 people look exactly alike unless they are a twin or have been cloned.
2. They were cloned. The technology for this wasn't around then, and they would have had to cloned the Beatles at birth for them to be the same age as the Beatles. Who would have known back then that these guys would group up to be famous and die?
3. All of them (depended on which theory you believe, all but Paul is dead or Paul is dead) just happened to have twins that no one ever knew about. They have no birth, school, or government records.

When this whole thing started, the Beatles thought it was funny. They kept throwing in clues to see what people would say. It was one big joke to them.
- Ashley, Ontario, Canada
Trivia: according to McCartney the fact that the hammer is made of silver does not mean anything, it just sounded better.
- Erik, Lund, Sweden
George Harrison described this song as "gay."
- Kieran, Union, NJ
And by the way I know that John and George are dead but this site gives "proof" that they all died in the 60's and were replaced.
- Josh, Plainview, NY
A George Statement about this song :
"Paul would make us play some real fruity songs. And, oh my God, this one was really really fruity!!"
John :
"I Hated this song. It costed us as much as the whole album!"
- Christophe, La Rochelle, France
Natasha asked where you could get the movie "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". I don't know, but trust me that you don't want to see it. It stars the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton, and is probably the worst movie I've ever seen. The only good thing that came out of it was Aerosmith's cover of "Come Together". Every other song in the movie is just wretched, and largely led to the downfall of the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton's careers. I heard that even the producer booed this movie at its premier.
- David, Lansing, MI
Thats interesting about the album cover of abbey road, about the car and the barefootedness and attire and funeral and such. Downtown Chico (home of chico state, party school,usa) has an almost lifesize mural painted on the side of a building of the beatles abbey road cover. I'll hafta take a good look at it, to see if they kept the details.
- Natasha, Chico, CA
where could someone get the movie "sgt. pepper's lonely hearts club band"? I didn't know there was one.
- Natasha, Chico, CA
paul isnt dead, unless he has a clone.
- Natasha, Chico, CA
Oh my god! Thats hilarious about paul laughing because of john mooning him! I'm listening to it right now,and he's definitely trying not to laugh,but can't control it, and continues singing. Thats so awesome, it shows a playful side to them. Oh, ya, and i like the anvil sounds too. :)
- Natasha, Chico, CA
yes, thanks catherine. the whole paul is dead thing is absurd. besides paul mccartney still did albums after the beatles break up,covered up with the new technology? you can't keep that big a secret if it's so elaborate. and one last thing, the beatles were different, john especially loved how people tried to 'decode' his songs. they were all jokers...
- Liliana, Huntley, IL
Also, Paul was holding his Ciggie in his right hand even though he is left-handed.
The whole Paul is dead rumour is just stupid asnyway. The Beatles wrote over 200 songs and did hundreds of Photos if you look hard enough you can find the clues to fuel any rumour you want no matter how stupid.
How come John has his hands in his pockets and the others don't? how come George is the only one not wearing a suit?
Oh and by the way the volkswagon doesn't say LMW 28 IF it's LMW 281 F and the reason they couldn't have it moved was because the owner was on holiday.
- Catherine, Glasgow, England
It was John making Paul laugh during the song
- tavers, mesa, AZ
Also notice that Paul is walking out of step
- Adam, Beaver Falls, PA
One of two Beatle's songs which contain a murder. Can you guess the other. Nope not Rocky Raccoon (is that spelled right?) Although a murder is INPLIED in Rocky... Give up? Listen to the trail out on "I am the Walrus". The voices you hear (I'm sure all are aware of this) is a live BBC production of "King Lear" which contains the other murder "...Ohhh untimely death... is he dead? Is he done" Rest you father......"
- Randy, Beaumont, TX
I have that movie it's cool!
- John, West Covina, CA
I heard that why Paul laughs the lyrics after "so he waits behind" was because one of the other Beatles thought it was appropriate to show their behind in the studio that day.
- Veronica, West Covina, CA
My favorite cover of this song is Steve Martin's version, performed in the movie "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band".
- Dave, Edmonton, Canada
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