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
                                                        (w/complete ending)


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 good taste?

- 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:



- 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 measure 8.

- This opening is followed in every case by a 4 measure connecting phrase that leads into the refrain:

        |E7		|-		|A		|-		|
         V-of-V				 V

- 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		|-		|
         I				 V-of-V

        |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 refrains:

        |D		|-		|E7		|-		|
         I				 V-of-V

        |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.


- As predicted, we have hear another group of thematic cross references:


Alan (


"You'll need the mahogany truncheon for this boyo."          103199#179


                Copyright (c) 1999 by Alan W. Pollack
                          All Rights Reserved
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