Turns out I was wrong — Ringo is on record stating his opinion of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” In a 2008 Rolling Stone interview, he 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.

But I was right about who played the anvil, despite some disagreement among different sources. The Beatles Bible says it was Ringo; in The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Geoff Emerick is quoted as saying, “There was a proper blacksmith’s anvil brought to the studio for Ringo to hit. They had it rented from a theatrical agency.” But in his own book Emerick says:

There was no thought given to finding a way to approximate the effect: Paul wanted the sound of an anvil being struck, so Mal [Evans] was dispatched to track one down. I have a clear memory of him dragging it into the studio, struggling under its weight as the rest of us laughed our heads off. Both he and Ringo had a go at hitting it. Ringo simply didn’t have the strength to lift the hammer, so Mal ended up playing the part, but he didn’t have a drummer’s sense of timing, so it took a while to get a successful take.

In the end, it’s just “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” so who really cares? But just for kicks, here’s some grainy video of Evans playing the anvil during the “Let It Be’ sessions.

Anyway, at today’s session a bunch of overdubs were added to “MSH,” including organ played by George Martin, electric guitar by George Harrison, and additional bass and piano by Paul. John didn’t do shit. After Paul tracked his lead vocals, George and Ringo joined him for backing vox, says Geoff Emerick,

as an impassive John simply sat at the back of the studio and watched them. After a few uncomfortable moments, Paul strode over and invited his old friend and collaborator to join in. I thought it was a nice gesture, an olive branch. But an expressionless Lennon simply said no, I don’t think so. A few minutes later, he and Yoko got up and went home.

Which is a dick move, even if it is “just more of Paul’s granny music,” as JL put it. But you can’t say John didn’t have a point. As Exhibit A I’d like to submit an excerpt from Ian MacDonald’s Revolution in the Head. I haven’t leaned much on MacDonald, who is a noted and much-quoted authority, because I find him hyper-opinionated and kind of snooty. But in this case he hitteth the nail upon the head.

If any single recording shows why The Beatles broke up, it is “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” Compulsively fertile in melody and fascinated by music’s formal beauties, McCartney could, when unrestrained by Lennon’s cynicism, fatally neglect meaning and expression. This ghastly miscalculation – of which there are countless equivalents on his garrulous sequence of solo albums – represents by far his worst lapse of taste under the auspices of The Beatles. The cheery tale of a homicidal maniac, it was written towards the end of recording for The Beatles in October 1968 and tried out then (and later during the Let It Be sessions in January). According to Lennon, who despised the song, McCartney was convinced that, given the right production, it was a potential hit single, and so flogged it to death in the studio in a pedantic effort to perfect it. As he had with “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La Da,” he merely ended up driving his colleagues mad.

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