Beatles – Taxman

George steps up to the plate on Revolver and knocks it out of the park. If you think you pay too much tax…The Beatles were in a 95% tax bracket.

At the time, high earners paid exorbitant taxes in England. Many successful entertainers left the country so they could keep more of their money. As a result, The Beatles, as well as The Who and The Rolling Stones, spent a lot of time in America and other parts of Europe as tax exiles.

This is a strong one by George and it was the opener for the album. On the song, it wasn’t George that played the solo…it was Paul. It’s a brilliant small solo and adds a lot to the song. Paul played it with an Indian feel for George.

Revolver is the only album on which Harrison has three songs. On all the others he only has two or fewer. On The White Album he had four, but it was a double album so he was only allotted his usual one track per side.

 George Harrison: “You are so happy that you’ve finally started earning money – and then you find out about tax. In those days we paid nineteen shillings and sixpence out of every pound (there were twenty shillings in the pound), and with supertax and surtax and tax-tax it was ridiculous – a heavy penalty to pay for making money…It was, and still is, typical. Why should this be so? Are we being punished for something we have forgotten to do?…That was the big turn-off for Britain. Anybody who ever made any money moved to America or somewhere else.”

George Harrison: “‘Taxman’ was when I first realized that even though we had started earning money, we were actually giving most of it away in taxes.”

 

From Songfacts

George Harrison wrote this song. The music was inspired by the theme song for the popular 1960s TV series Batman, which was written and originally recorded by the conductor/trumpeter Neal Hefti, and covered by the surf rock group The Marketts early in 1966 in a version that hit #17 in the US. Harrison was a big fan of the show.

This was the first track on the Revolver album. It was the first song Harrison wrote that was given such prominent position, indicating that he was capable of writing songs as good as Lennon and McCartney’s.

“Mr. Wilson” and “Mr. Heath” are mentioned in the lyrics. They are British Prime Ministers Harold Wilson and Edward Heath, who were being scorned in the song for contributing to English tax laws. Before this song was released, Wilson had presented The Beatles with the award for England’s Show Business Personalities of 1963 at the Variety Club of Great Britain Annual Show Business Awards held on March 19, 1964 in London. 

Over the next few years, George Harrison came to realize that money, when you have lots of it, is a rather ephemeral concept and does not translate to happiness. This played into his spiritual awakening. In 1969, he told BBC Radio: “No matter how much money you’ve got, you can’t be happy anyway. So you have to find your happiness with the problems you have and you have to not worry too much about them.”

The fade-out ending is a reprise of the guitar solo as all completed takes of the song ended with John and Paul singing “Taxman!”

There’s been a lot of confusion over who played lead guitar on this track. Harrison said in his 1977 Crawdaddy interview: “I helped out such a lot in all the arrangements. There were a lot of tracks though where I played bass. Paul played lead guitar on ‘Taxman,’ and he played guitar – a good part – on ‘Drive My Car.”

Jeff Emerick said in his book on recording the Beatles that Harrison just couldn’t get the solo right, so Paul played most of the guitar parts, including the solo. The repeat of the solo at the end of the song was the same “exact” solo by Paul, which Jeff dubbed from the middle of the song to another piece of tape and cut into the fade at the end.

Seth Swirsky, who worked as a staff songwriter before producing the Beatles documentary Beatles Stories, told Songfacts: “I think Paul McCartney was one of the greatest guitar players of the ’60s. Nobody really recognized him as an electric guitar player, or an acoustic guitar player, but his leads on ‘Taxman’ and on different songs that you think George played, they ripped. I think George is great, but when Paul played lead on some songs, they tore. They were just very unique. There’s no one like Paul McCartney in the history of the world.”

The guitar solo at the end is a straight copy of the middle-eight. This same solo was later reused as a tape spool on “Tomorrow Never Knows.” >>

“Weird Al” Yankovic recorded a parody of this song called “Pac-Man” in 1981. It was never officially released on any of his albums (possibly because Pac-Man Fever got there first), but a demo version can be found on Dr. Demento’s Basement Tapes No. 4. The song is very faithful to the Beatles’ original, plus some musical and well-placed Pac-Man sound effects. Sample lyrics:

I used to be a pinball freak
That’s where you’d find me every week
But now it’s Pacman
Yeah it’s the Pacman >>

This wasn’t the last Beatles song to question who else is getting their cash. On their 1969 Abbey Road album, Paul McCartney contributed “You Never Give Me Your Money,” where he takes aim at their unscrupulous business partners.

Blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan covered this song. His version sounds very different, but the lyrics are identical. 

Harrison put some math into the lyrics. In the beginning of the song, he sings, “There’s one for you, 19 for me” before “If 5 percent appears too small.” One of 19 is 5 percent. 

In his 1987 reminiscence “When We Was Fab,” it was clear that the taxation of long ago was still on George Harrison’s mind, as he sang, “Income tax was all we had.”

In 2002, H&R Block used this in commercials for their tax preparation service. The ads aired shortly after Harrison died.

Taxman

Let me tell you how it will be
There’s one for you, nineteen for me
‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman

Should five per cent appear too small
Be thankful I don’t take it all
‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah I’m the taxman

If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street,
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat.
If you get too cold I’ll tax the heat,
If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.

Don’t ask me what I want it for
If you don’t want to pay some more
‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman

Now my advice for those who die
Declare the pennies on your eyes
‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman
And you’re working for no one but me.

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

28 thoughts on “Beatles – Taxman”

  1. great song and I second what Jeremy said , didn’t know Paul played guitar on it. I lean towards the liberal end when it comes to taxes… I think the rich (both people and corporations) should pay a bigger percentage than the working class or small businesses – BUT 95% is way beyond ridiculous. It’s amazing any popular acts at all stayed there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When I first heard years ago, how England taxed this category, I was in disbelief. That would be the rudest of rude awakenings for a young hardworking person who’d just experienced success from his work, and then learned he had to give almost all of it to the gov’t. The song makes total sense from that point of view. The artists who stayed in England and continued to give at that rate should get a special honor, imo. If I understand the timing, England up to the 1960’s was still rebuilding its economy from the hardships of WWII. They had a dramatically different experience in the post-war years than US families did; and those were the years that the Beatles were little boys growing up. I also love George’s song, Piggies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That explains it a little more…I didn’t know that but yea 95 percent is extreme to say the least. I can see that if only because so many things were destroyed and bombed out. They had so much rebuilding to do.

      I wonder when it stopped? I know Zeppelin started to be exiles in 75 I believe so it was still going on then.

      Like

      1. I think the food rationing continued for years, which meant some UK children grew up underweight. They were also funding their NHS through tax, rather than the way we paid for our health care. I’m not very knowledgeable about these things, and sort of shooting from the hip. Hopefully I’m not getting it truly wrong. There’s a great WordPress blog called ‘The 1940s Experiment’, where she recreates recipes from the UK rationing years. They were amazingly creative, but it also shows how little a family had to work with and put a meal on the table.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ll check that out..it sounds interesting.

        It had to be hard for them to get back on their feet after all of the deaths and destruction they went through.

        I understand they had to rebuild through taxes…but when taxes are that high…people move and you get nothing. I can understand a high bracket but that is pretty much a “hand everything over” bracket.

        Like

      3. I too think there had to be a better way all around, than imposing the 95% bracket. I don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to economics, but as you say, that tax had to have made a lot of people in the top bracket flee the country, with their money, which would have been a nobody wins outcome.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m also surprised Geo didn’t play guitar on this one but no surprise that Paul did it up right. I think the landed gentry in the UK probably set it up that earned income is where they taxed at an outrageous rate. Would be very interested and seeing what property owners paid at that time. I bet next to nothing. Again the working class supporting the upper crust.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. If you have someone breathing down your neck you’re more likely to mess up. I find it extremely ironic that they copied that middle guitar and plugged it into the end of Paul’s, where they wouldn’t let Geo record it “right” and plug that into the record.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. When George learned slide though those days were over. He reinvented himself and was one of the best at what he did.
        George said he wasn’t a spontaneous guitar player, he was a well thought out solo person if that makes sense. Learning the slide guitar though that was him. He was also great at arrangements and guitar hooks. He helped Lennon arrange a lot of his songs.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I appreciate your trying to talk me through it, and I really don’t hold a grudge on any of the guys (not much anyway) as pressure often results in excellence. Like drill sergeants for raw recruits. I’m sure that whole Beatles experience made Geo a better musician.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I still don’t understand how the money stuff works (or worked). I’ve always read that The Beatles had a pretty s**tty royalty deal in the early days–something like a penny on every record sold?? And that’s in addition to the 95% tax rate. But there’s no denying they all got very rich very fast. Not denying that the tax rate was usurious and the royalty deals most likely unfair, but sometimes I think rock stars’ money woes (other than the self inflicted kind) have a big fish story element to them. They kind of sound good but aren’t really accurate, at least not in a way that would be recognizable to the rest of us mortals. That said, this song rules! Imo, this might literally be the best solo on a Beatles record. And Geoff Emerick, always ragging on George! Give him a break Geoff!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know you are right… Geoff always dogs George and John to a degree.
      Yea when Beatlemania hit they were rich over night… even with the high taxes.

      Liked by 1 person

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