TITLE: Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
PERFORMER: The Beatles
SONGWRITER: John Lennon/Paul McCartney
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1969
TITLE: Excitable Boy
PERFORMER: Warren Zevon
SONGWRITER: Warren Zevon
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1978
TITLE: My Fondest Childhood Memories
PERFORMER: Macy Gray
YEAR OF RELEASE: 2003
Yeah, the kids are alright, but I wouldn’t sell
life insurance to anyone close around them.
Here we have the great trilogy of psycho children in modern pop music.
Most people would probably pick John Lennon as the psycho
Beatle, but his idea of being a bad kid was “Bad Boy,” putting tacks in
teacher’s chair and such. That’s
not so unmanageable.
Paul McCartney, on the other hand, wrote “Maxwell’s
Silver Hammer.” He frames it as a
cheeky little children’s song, a bouncy novelty sing-a-long with cute sound
effects of the hammer coming down on the heads of various random folks
unfortunate enough to cross his path. Overall,
McCartney created a cheerful children’s song broadly similar stylistically and
emotionally to “Yellow Submarine,” except that there’s a trail of
Dig the girls in the courtroom. Sir Paul got his best joke here with “Rose and Valerie
screaming from the gallery say he must go free.”
Well, of COURSE there are a couple of silly women in the gallery to stick
up for the serial killer. The
backing vocal harmonies of “must go, must go free” still tickle me after all
Another way to look at “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”
would be to frame it as one of Paul’s “Fred Astaire” songs. He wrote a number of songs consciously or half-consciously
representing his idea of a vaudevillian music hall/Broadway number.
Think “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” The
classic Beatles example of this was “When I’m 64.”
Then there was Warren Zevon. What the hell was wrong with him, anyway?
Boys will be boys and all that, I suppose.
Still, what’s up with digging up poor Suzy’s bones as soon as they
let you out of the nuthouse a decade later?
Move on, already.
On the other hand, the excitable boy does seem to be having
an awfully good time at all this. Warren never wrote a more joyous or memorable
straightforward pop song. He wrote
a peppy little piano tune that will just insist on bouncing around your head.
He gets a pretty enjoyable old school groove out of this.
It’s a little hard to put your finger on, but there’s some kind of
50s thing going on here. The girl
harmonies are a bit of it, and the big saxophone solo goes that way.
You could almost imagine Sha Na Na singing this- or perhaps you could
consider it a sick Coasters song.
Macy Gray, however, may be the sickest puppy of this
litter. For one thing, Zevon and
McCartney cast the killers in the third person, for a little ironic joking
distance. Macy’s song comes out
quite cheerful and all, but seems perhaps unsettlingly sincere.
"My Fondest Childhood Memories" really caps this
kiddy Group W bench off as a peppy murderous fantasy of an adult cheerfully and
proudly describing herself as a child killing her parents' paramours to keep the
family together. She's got some really kinky psychology of devotion going on
there that could make a poor farmboy lose his mind.
Macy's making like some funky Maxwell Edison. Thing is,
Paul McCartney's narrator was a very glib creation. Macy, by contrast, seems to
be reflecting some deep emotional fault lines in this perfectly cheerful
sounding tale of a child murdering her parents' paramours. After a few listens,
the emotional realness under the fantasy can become disturbing.
It bounces along with a kind of latin funk beat, specifically referencing a quote from her classic "I've Committed Murder," only in a completely different melodic and, especially, vocal harmony context- "And I don't feel bad about it."
As always, she has lots of satisfying sonic details in the
arrangement, the best of this lot. Note the bits of honky tonk player piano.
There's a little recurrent sax riff that sounds like young Macy sneaking up the
stairs to whack that plumber she had caught "plunging" her mother.
Note the little sax squeal just as she sings “thanks to me.”
What might stick with you about this song the most would be
the underlying message. She always
seems to come out on top in her psycho songs, and she seems to be more or less
seriously suggesting that killing your parents’ outside lovers in order to
keep the family together might perhaps be a reasonable thing to do.
“And I don’t feel bad about it.”
She sets that off musically from the rest of the song, and adds special
vocal harmonies for emphasis.
Obviously, Zevon or McCartney would never have dreamt of
really hurting somebody. Perhaps
she’s just a master thespian, but Macy has me about half convinced that she
could potentially go all OJ on you in the right circumstances.
Like I said, she’s the sickest puppy of this litter.
Macy Gray Music Sustains the Soul
Music Sustains the Soul
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