Cover of the Northern Songs sheet music (licensed to Sonora Musikförlag)
|Song by the Beatles|
|from the album Revolver|
|Released||5 August 1966|
|Recorded||20–22 April, 16 May|
and 21 June 1966,
EMI Studios, London
|Genre||Rock, hard rock, psychedelic rock|
"Taxman" is a song written by George Harrison and released as the opening track on the Beatles' 1966 album Revolver. Its lyrics attack the high levels of progressive tax taken by the British Labour government of Harold Wilson.
Composition and recording
Harrison said, "'Taxman' was when I first realized that even though we had started earning money, we were actually giving most of it away in taxes. It was and still is typical." As their earnings placed them in the top tax bracket in the United Kingdom, the Beatles were liable to a 95% supertax introduced by Harold Wilson's Labour government (hence the lyrics "There's one for you, nineteen for me", referring to the pre-decimal pound sterling which consisted of twenty shillings). In a 1984 interview with Playboy magazine, Paul McCartney explained: "George wrote that and I played guitar on it. He wrote it in anger at finding out what the taxman did. He had never known before then what he'll do with your money."
John Lennon recalled, in a 1980 interview with Playboy magazine: "I remember the day he [Harrison] called to ask for help on 'Taxman', one of his first songs. I threw in a few one-liners to help the song along, because that's what he asked for. He came to me because he couldn't go to Paul, because Paul wouldn't have helped him at that period. I didn't want to do it ... I just sort of bit my tongue and said OK. It had been John and Paul for so long, he'd been left out because he hadn't been a songwriter up until then." "Taxman", however, was the sixth song written by Harrison to be included on an album issued by the group.
The backing vocals' references to "Mr Wilson" and "Mr Heath", suggested by Lennon, refer respectively to Harold Wilson and Edward Heath; the former was the leader of the Labour Party and the latter the leader of the Conservative Party, the two largest parties in British politics. Wilson, then Prime Minister, had nominated all four of the Beatles as Members of the Order of the British Empire just the previous year. The chanted names replaced two refrains of "Anybody got a bit of money?" heard in take 11, an earlier version that was subsequently released on Anthology 2 in 1996.
Recording began on 20 April, but this was left unused and ten new takes occurred on 21 April, the four tracks being filled that day with drums and bass, Harrison's distorted rhythm guitar, followed by overdubs of McCartney's lead guitar, Harrison's lead vocal and Lennon and McCartney's backing vocals. The ending was created on 21 June.
As the lead track on Revolver, "Taxman" represents the only time a UK-issued Beatles studio album opened with a Harrison song or lead vocal.
The song is in the key of D major and in 4/4 time. The recording begins before the actual song with coughing and counting (pointedly cut short — the real count being heard in the background) that McCartney described as sounds that were on the tape, and that Lennon "thought [the listeners] would like to hear." The counting, sounding like a half-speed 'tape-effect' version of the brisk 'live-effect' "one-two-three-four" that opened their first LP record, has been described as an "elaborate conceptual joke" with hints of "self-mockery".
The chords stress the flat VII scale degree (C-natural in the key of D major) and frequently involve a major/minor I chord (D/Dm) in the harmony, which consequently evokes either Mixolydian or Dorian modes. There is one flat-III (F chord) near the end, but unusually no V (A) chord. The song is also notable musically for its use of both a 5th-string voicing of the dominant seventh sharp ninth chord to embellish the tonic D7 chord at the end of each two-line verse (at 0.12 and 0.19secs), and a 6th-string form to create a complementary "jarring dissonance" with the lyrics in the subdominant (IV) G chord (to a G7#9) at 1.29 (after the solo) on "Cause I'm the taxman, yeah — I'm the taxman". This also accentuates the comic comparison between this "civil servant superhero" and the hero of the popular 1966 television series Batman. McCartney's bass line has been considered to imitate Motown bassist James Jamerson in its active lines and glissandi (at 0.55-1.08) In the third verse McCartney doubles his own pentatonic bass line while outlining the jarring Iflat7 chord in octaves (at 1.32-1.44).
McCartney's guitar solo uses what musicologist Alan W. Pollack describes as "fast triplets, exotic modal touches, and a melodic shape which traverses several octaves and ends with a breathtaking upward flourish". Walter Everett considers that the solo is in the same Dorian mode that Harrison had adapted for his sitar part in "Love You To". In 1987, Harrison stated: "I was pleased to have Paul play that bit on 'Taxman'. If you notice, he did like a little Indian bit on it for me." Ian MacDonald writes that, while Harrison was "rightly praised" for his composition, the track benefits from the whole group's creativity. MacDonald highlights McCartney's contributions, saying his guitar solo is "outstanding" and his bass part is "remarkable".
"Taxman" was included in Harrison's concert repertoire during his solo career; on his tour of Japan in 1991 with Eric Clapton, "Taxman" was on the set list. "It's a song that goes regardless if it's the sixties, seventies, eighties or nineties," Harrison declared. "There's always a taxman." Harrison added more lyrics on that tour, such as "If you're overweight, I'll tax your fat."
In the United States, radio disc jockeys and TV news reporters annually feature the song in the days leading up to 15 April, the date by which US income tax returns must usually be filed. Some post offices have even been known to sardonically play the song on in-house audio systems for the long lines of last-minute tax filers. In 2002 tax preparation service H&R Block used a slower-paced cover version of the song in television commercials.
In 2006, Virginia State Senator and future Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli introduced an amendment to make "Taxman" the state song of Virginia, stating that taxes were an important part of Virginia history. He gave the example of Patrick Henry's strong opposition to British taxation during the American Revolution. The measure did not pass.
The Jam's 'Start' is openly influenced by Taxman.
According to Ian MacDonald, except where noted:
- George Harrison – lead vocals, lead guitar
- John Lennon – backing vocals, rhythm guitar
- Paul McCartney – backing vocals, bass guitar, lead guitar
- Ringo Starr – drums, cowbell, tambourine
- The song has also been played and recorded by Junior Parker, Les Claypool, Black Oak Arkansas, Bill Wyman, the Music Machine, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Nickel Creek, Les Fradkin, Rootjoose, Garrison Starr, Rockwell, Mutual Admiration Society, Pat Travers, Franz Ferdinand, Power Station and Saga.
- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers played the song in tribute to Harrison at 2002's Concert For George.
- Tok tok tok played the song on their Beatles tribute album from 2010, Revolution 69.
- "Weird Al" Yankovic recorded a parody of this song in late 1981 called "Pac-Man", during the height of the game's popularity. It was released on the compilations Dr. Demento's Basement Tapes No. 4 and Squeeze Box: The Complete Works of "Weird Al" Yankovic
- Beatallica recorded a parody called "Sandman", which also was a parody of a popular Metallica song, "Enter Sandman".
- The Jam released "Start!" in 1980, which uses the bassline and guitar solos.
- Ride's song "Seagull", from the album Nowhere, borrows McCartney's bassline.
- The main guitar riff of 31 Minutos's song "Equilibrio Espiritual" is based in this song.
- Cheap Trick's "Taxman, Mr Thief", from their eponymous debut, takes its title, theme and several lyrics from the Beatles' "Taxman".
- "Greatest Beatles Songs". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 16 December 2014.
- Pete Prown; Harvey P. Newquist; Jon F. Eiche. Legends of rock guitar: the essential reference of rock's greatest guitarists. p. 28. ISBN 0-7935-4042-9.
the hard-rock riffing of 'Taxman'
- Chris Gregory. Who Could Ask For More?: Reclaiming The Beatles. p. 125.
Two brilliantly incendiary ascending guitar solos played by Paul transform the song into a psychedelic opus.
- MacDonald 2005, p. 200.
- Everett 2010, p. 48.
- Harrison 1980, p. 94.
- WalesOnline 2009.
- Sheff 2000, pp. 150–151.
- Apple Records 1996, p. 22.
- Walter Everett. The Beatles as Musicians. Revolver Through the Anthology. Oxford University Press,. New York, 1999 ISBN 978-0-19-512941-0 p48
- "Paul Played Lead Guitar on 'Ticket to Ride'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2017-04-04.
- Alan Pollack. Notes on 'Taxman' http://www.icce.rug.nl/~soundscapes/DATABASES/AWP/t.shtml accessed 28 Feb 2012
- Gilliland 1969, show 39, track 1.
- Jonathan Gould. Can't Buy Me Love. The Beatles, Britain and America, Piatkus 2007 p349
- Dominic Pedler. The Song Writing Secrets of the Beatles. Omnibus Press. London 2003 p440.
- Jonathan Gould. Can't Buy Me Love. The Beatles, Britain and America, Piatkus 2007 p350
- Walter Everett. The Beatles as Musicians. Revolver Through the Anthology. Oxford Uni Press. NY 1999 ISBN 978-0-19-512941-0 p49
- Guitar 1987.
- Hugh Lessig. "Searching For a Song, Legislators Weigh "Taxman". Daily Press, 31 January 2006.
- Winn 2009, p. 13.
- "Music – Review of The Jam – Sound Affects". BBC. 1 January 1970. Retrieved 29 March 2014.
- Anthology 2 (booklet). The Beatles. London: Apple Records. 1996. 31796.
- Everett, Walter (1999). The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver through the Anthology Project. US: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-512941-5.
- Everett, Walter (2010). The Beatles as Musicians. Oxford University Press US. ISBN 978-0-19-512941-0. Retrieved 2014-01-27.
- Gilliland, John (1969). "The Rubberization of Soul: The great pop music renaissance" (audio). Pop Chronicles. Digital.library.unt.edu. Retrieved 2014-01-27.
- Guitar. November 1987. Missing or empty
- Harrison, George (1980). I Me Mine. London: Phoenix. ISBN 0-7538-1734-9.
- "How the Budget affects you: The public give their verdict". WalesOnline. 23 April 2009. Retrieved 20 July 2009.
- MacDonald, Ian (2005). Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties (Second Revised ed.). London: Pimlico (Rand). ISBN 1-84413-828-3.
- Robb, John (2010). The Stone Roses and the Resurrection of British Pop.
- Sheff, David (2000). All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-25464-4.
- Strong, Martin C (2010). The Essential Rock Discography.
- Unterberger, Richie (2009). "Review of "Taxman"". Allmusic. Retrieved 7 September 2009.
- Winn, John C. (2009). That Magic Feeling: The Beatles' Recorded Legacy, Volume Two, 1966–1970. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press. ISBN 978-0-307-45239-9.
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