TITLE:  Maxwell’s Silver Hammer

 PERFORMER:  The Beatles

 SONGWRITER:  John Lennon/Paul McCartney



TITLE:  Excitable Boy

 PERFORMER:  Warren Zevon

 SONGWRITER:  Warren Zevon



TITLE:  My Fondest Childhood Memories

 PERFORMER:  Macy Gray



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  dead bodies.

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 these years.

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.





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Macy Gray

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