The Beatles FAQ
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The Beatles FAQ

Which song did The Beatles least enjoy recording?

Photo by Daniel Cheung on Unsplash

‘I hate it!’ John Lennon.

‘The worst session ever’ Ringo Starr

“If any single recording shows why The Beatles broke up, it’s ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’.” Ian MacDonald The Revolution in the Head

“They got annoyed because Maxwell’s Silver Hammer took three days to record. Big deal.” Paul McCartney

For three of The Beatles, LSD flashbacks might have featured the recording of ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’, which stretched over two albums and ‘fucking weeks’. They first attempted it during the notoriously bad-tempered Get Back sessions at Twickenham in January 1969. These ended after an (alleged) fist fight between John & George and a walk-out by the former.

At this point, a three-against-one schism developed. John, George and Ringo wanted to leave Maxwell behind with the freezing Twickenham sound stage. Paul was convinced that the song had ‘single potential’.

New sessions were scheduled for the 9th of July. Eight days before John and Yoko were in a serious car accident. John recuperated sufficiently to attend the session but would only do so with the bed-ridden Yoko in attendance.

What to do?

‘Now we’ve seen it all, folks!’

We were setting up the microphones for the session and this huge double-bed arrived. An ambulance brought Yoko in and she was lowered down onto the bed, we set up a microphone over her in case she wanted to participate and then we all carried on as before! We were saying, ‘Now we’ve seen it all, folks!’

Martin Benge, studio technician The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

With Yoko safely installed in the studio, the band began work on a song that three of them loathed. The one who liked it, though, was uncertain about how to get the best from his material. He tinkered endlessly with the arrangement and the instrumentation.

According to John:

{Paul} made us do it a hundred million times. He did everything to make it into a single and it never was and it never could’ve been, but he 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. I think.”

Bickering between John and Paul over who would ‘get the single’ was not new. It had lead to a major recording industry innovation: the double ‘A’ side. By this point, however, healthy rivalry was turning toxic.

While John had previously moaned about ‘Paul’s granny songs’, there was now a distinct change in the tone of the criticism. Within a year this would be laid bare in the notorious Rolling Stone interview and later in vicious lyrics of How Do You Sleep? (‘The only thing you done was yesterday’).

‘Fruity’

In the fast developing Beatles civil war, George was now John Lennon’s first lieutenant. His underlying beef was that his songs had been neglected in favour of the Fab Two. This was something both Lennon and McCartney firmly disagreed with him about but the sands were shifting. Since the death of Brian Epstein he had increasingly sided with John in reaction to Paul’s perceived high-handedness.

He expressed his loathing of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer — and by extension of Paul’s modus operandi — in cagier, cattier terms:

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…

Fruity is an odd word to use here. To British ears this implies a comical sexual aspect that is not obviously apparent in Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. Harrison appears to be slyly drawing on the American slang term to pinpoint the song’s (alleged) shortcomings

“Fruity” has a precise meaning, but is difficult to define. Loosely speaking, the word refers to something which is cheerfully and perkily saccharine, naïve, generic, corny, banal, innocuous, un-self-consciously dippy, sexually neutered (or, conversely, having perverse subtexts), or just plain dumb — and is amusing because of it. from the Urban Dictionary

Ringo was more direct in his criticism.

“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.”

Case for the defence

From “Abbey RoadRoad Complete Get Back Session” recorded during rehearsal at Twickenham Studios. in 1969.

Few would select Maxwell’s Silver Hammer for their Best of McCartney playlist. Yet the writer himself has always been dogged in his defence of the song and his approach to recording it. Mark Lewisohn describes a particularly rancorous band meeting

Paul … responds to the news that George now has equal standing as a composer with John and himself by muttering …. “I thought until this album that George’s songs weren’t that good,”

George: “That’s a matter of taste. All down the line, people have liked my songs.”

John reacts by telling Paul that nobody else in the group “dug” his Maxwell’s Silver Hammer … and that it might be a good idea if he gave songs of that kind — which, John suggests, he probably didn’t even dig himself — to outside artists in whom he had an interest … “I recorded it,” a drowsy Paul says, “because I liked it.”[21]

In 1994 McCartney maintained that he had nothing to apologise for.

“They got annoyed because Maxwell’s Silver Hammer took three days to record. Big deal.”

What inspired Maxwell’s Silver Hammer? The story behind the song

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Fun stuff about the Fab Four.

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Kieran McGovern

Kieran McGovern

I grew up in an Irish family in west London

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