Maxwell's Silver Hammer
Composer(s) : Lennon and McCartney
Year : 1968
Chords/Tabs: Maxwell's Silver Hammer
Notes on "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" (MSH)
KEY D Major
FORM Verse -> Refrain -> Interlude ->
Verse -> Refrain -> Refrain (instrumental) -> Interlude ->
Verse -> Refrain -> Refrain (instrumental) -> Interlude/Outro
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- So here we have Paul, bless him, seemingly unable to resist doing one more
campy, musical hall style number. The music itself is "okay" as far
as facile, singable pop song fodder go, but the attempt to cut the cutsey
cloying cliche with straight-faced black comedy about a brutal serial
killer would seem to fall flat. Could it ever have been in style or
- Although the song begins with the start of the first verse without any
intro, we eventually encounter a very intro-like interlude that trails
each of the Verse/Refrain pairs.
- The "bang bang" lyrics lead one to wonder about other appearances of
onomatopoeia words in the Beatles catalog, which turn out to be
surprisingly rare; especially if you filter out nonsense phonemes
and expostulation words (like "woah" or "oh") and focus strictly
on words that imitate noises found in real life.
- In aphabetical order we find:
- My all time favorite though is "boom" in
"I Saw Her Standing There" both
because it's the earliest example as well as the only one in which the
reference is more metaphorical than literal; or does your heart really
make such a noise? :-)
Melody and Harmony
- The tune covers the wide range of a ninth (from D up to E) and includes
a relatively large amount of triadic outlining. Melodic peaks are carefully
placed throughout. The front part of the verse creates a melodic arch whose
apex is on C# (on the word "with" in the phrase "with a test tube). The
connecting phrase pushes it a small notch to D (on the word "ready" in
the phrase "ready to leave"), and the refrain finally tops out at e.
- The home key is clearly D Major throughout. The set of chords used
includes a larger than average number of secondary dominants in spite
of the lack of any modulation.
- The backing track is based on a small ensemble of piano, bass guitar,
and drum kit. Paul's single tracked lead vocal is delivered high in his
range with remarkably laid back control. Lead guitar, anvil, and
synthesizer play decorative intermittment roles. George (and John or
is it Ringo?) provide equally intermittment backing vocals.
- No matter that the Moog synthesizer used on _Abbey Road_ is a bumbling
behemoth dinosaur by the standards of current digital MIDI technology;
it was state of the art at the time of this recording. Your personal
reaction to its use here demands you apply some historical perspective.
- The details of the arrangement are particularly fussy. I'm going to
wimp out this time on tracing it all the way through for you, but will
list a number of things worth keeping an eye out for:
- Prominence given by the arrangement to frequent stepwise motion in
- The switch of drumming texture in the verse's connector phase, including
those ever so gentle cymbal slashes on the downbeat of measures 1 and 3.
- The varied use of the synthesizer; providing woodwind like obligatto
parts in the second and third verse, and brass-like accompaniment for
the second and third refrains.
- The lead guitar solo in the second refrain alternated with a similar
part for synthesizer in the final refrain. The similar variation in
the arrangement of the Interlude phrase.
- The restrained, limited use of the lead guitar elsewhere on the track.
- And the equally restrained backing vocals, mostly providing scat sung
punctutation, but also, late in the piece, a couple of lines set to words.
- The verse adds up to 20 measures in length, opening with a four square 16
measure section that repeats the following eight measure AB phrase twice:
|D |B |e |- |
D: I V-of-ii ii
|A9 |- |D |A |
V I V
- The harmonic shape opens out from I to V. Savor the 9th added to the V
chord in the second phrase.
- Downward stepwise motion in the bassline appears right in the first
two measures of this section, even implying an f# 6/4 chord for the
second half of the first measures. This is followed by a downward
scale that fills out measure 4, and an upward scale that fills out
- This opening is followed in every case by a 4 measure connecting phrase
that leads into the refrain:
|E7 |- |A |- |
- In this phrase, upward scale motion appears in the tune of measure 3, and
is immediately imitated by the bassline in measure 4.
- The refrain is constructed from two variant phrases.
- Variant #1 appears 3 times, sung in its first appearance, but otherwise
set as an instumental break the remaining two times. Its harmonic shape
is fully closed. It appears on its own in the first Refrain, and as the
second half of the second and third refrains:
|D |- |E7 |- |
|A7 |- |e A |D |
V ii V I
- Variant #2 appears twice and is sung both times. Its harmonic shape
opens from I to V. It appears as the first half of the second and third
|D |- |E7 |- |
|A7 |- |e |A |
V ii V
- The interlude is just four measures long and could have easily served as
an intro to the track. As used, it works just as nicely as a soft-shoe
dancing kind of break between the middle sections.
- The harmonic shape is fully closed, through the opening chord progression
creates a momentary illusion of wide ranging movement:
|D F# 6/3 |b D 4/3 |G |D |
I V-of-vi vi V IV I
- Here the bassline descends from D down to G then right back up again to D.
- The outro is just a closing repeat of the Interlude phrase, set for
the first time in the song to a vocal part.
- Every time the anvil had appeared in the rest of the song to this point
it was on beats 1 & 2 of the measure. The shift here at the very end to
beats 2 & 3 of the final measure helps seal the ending, and is also a very
clever detail in and of itself.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- As predicted, we have hear another group of thematic cross references:
- The home key of D flashes back to the "Come Together" as well as
"I Want You (She's So Heavy)." You might say that
the first side of the album is as much in the keys of D as the second
side is in the key cluster of C and A.
- The prominently scalewise bassline flashes back to "Something."
- Two character studies this time instead of just one. The title
character here is obviously yet another unsavory male figure to go
with Mr. M and old flatop.
- But the really novel touch is the way in which studious Joan resonates
with another seriously competent woman on the album, one go-getter Pam.
"You'll need the mahogany truncheon for this boyo." 103199#179
Copyright (c) 1995 by Alan W. Pollack
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Ook op Abbey Road:
(c) 2021 Serge Girard