The tragedy is not that Maxwell is a poor song but that McCartney “flogged it to death in the studio in a pedantic effort to perfect it [and] ended up driving his colleagues mad” acting like an “immature egotist who frittered away the group's patience and solidarity on sniggering nonsense” (MacDonald p.357) just like he did to an even greater extent with Ob La Di, Ob La Da
The funny thing is that everything McCartney did wrong on this song he's done with wonderful success on other songs.
Written at the tail end of the White Album, rehearsed during the Let It Be sessions, recorded over 3 days in July 69 with more overdubs and tweaking in Aug this was a major piece of work (the band even rented an anvil for Ringo to play) that totally failed to live up to (Paul's) expectations. Here are three questions that you can ask to stop yourself making the same mistakes.
1) Are my fellow musicians up for this song?
2) Is there a legitimate technical reason why this song is taking so long?
3) Does this song warrant the amount of polish I'm lavishing on it?
A splendid time is guaranteed for all
Q: Are my fellow musicians up for this song? If not keep it short or save it for the solo album.
Yellow Submarine was just as silly as Maxwell, if not more so. It took two days to record. But by all accounts the band had a whale of a time (you see what I did there?). Playing bathtubs, blowing bubbles shouting nonsense through echo chambers, marching round with a bass drum in a conga line with Brian Jones & Marianne Faithful. What's not to like? Lennon & Harrison despised Maxwell and Lennon took no real part in the recording.
Long Long Long
Q: Is there a legitimate technical reason why this song is taking so long? If not get the best version you can quickly and then call it a day. You can always revisit it some time in (distant) the future.
A Day In The Life took 5 days to record over a period of 2 months. You Know My Name (Look Up The Number) took 4 days over 3 years. Some thing take longer because they're complex and you're breaking new ground, and some take longer because you're desperately trying to make something brown and smelly look bright and shiny. Ob La Di, Ob La Da and Strawberry Fields Forever were both recorded, scrapped and rerecorded. Guess which one the whole band were most enthusiastic about...
Hey! You've got to throw that song a-way
Q: Does this song warrant the amount of polish I'm lavishing on it? If not recorded it roughly and move on.
Throw away songs are great and you don't have to throw them in the bin. Just throw them on the table like the musical junk food they are. You don't need to get the silverware out. What if Maxwell had been a solo acoustic number played in the same loose style as Her Majesty? Or a raucous jam like Maggie Mae? Wouldn't that have been better? It certainly would have engendered more goodwill with it's take it or leave it attitude than the version we have.
This is something I find myself facing when recording joke songs like The Soundcheck Song so I hope it's helpful to you. Do you have any other suggestions for knowing when you're giving too much time to an inferior song?