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Taxman sheet music cover.jpg
Cover of the Northern Songs sheet music (licensed to Sonora Musikförlag)
Song by the Beatles
from the album Revolver
Released5 August 1966
Recorded20–22 April, 16 May
and 21 June 1966
StudioEMI, London
GenreRock,[1] hard rock[2]
Songwriter(s)George Harrison
Producer(s)George Martin
Audio sample

"Taxman" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles and released as the opening track on their 1966 album Revolver. Written by the group's lead guitarist George Harrison, its lyrics attack the higher level of progressive tax imposed by the Labour government of Harold Wilson.[3][4]

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."[5] 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 that was worth twenty shillings)[6]. 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."[7] "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.[3] Wilson, then Prime Minister, had nominated all four of the Beatles as Members of the Order of the British Empire just the previous year.[3] 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.[8]

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.[9]

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 mono and stereo versions differ the time entries for the cowbell between the second verse and refrain.

Musical characteristics

The song is in the key of D major and in 4/4 time.[10] The recording begins before the actual song with coughing and counting (pointedly cut short, as the real count being heard in the background[10]) that McCartney described as sounds that were on the tape, and that Lennon "thought [the listeners] would like to hear".[11] 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".[12]

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.[10] 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 0:19 secs), and a 6th-string form to create a complementary "jarring dissonance" with the lyrics in the subdominant (IV) G chord (to a G79) at 1:29 (after the solo) on "Cause I'm the taxman, yeah – I'm the taxman".[13] This also accentuates the comic comparison between this "civil servant superhero" and the hero of the popular 1966 television series Batman.[14] McCartney's bass line has been considered to imitate Motown bassist James Jamerson in its active lines and glissandi (at 0:55–1:08).[15] In the third verse McCartney doubles his own pentatonic bass line while outlining the jarring Iflat7 chord in octaves (at 1:32–1:44).[15]

Rolling Stone has described the completed track as "skeleton funk – Harrison's choppy fuzz-toned guitar chords moving against an R&B dance beat", with McCartney contributing a "screeching-raga guitar solo".[1] The 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".[10] Walter Everett considers that the solo is in the same Dorian mode that Harrison had adapted for his sitar part in "Love You To".[15] 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."[16] 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".[3]


Music journalist Rob Chapman cites "Taxman" as an example of the Beatles' widespread influence on rock music's developments during the 1960s. He says that Harrison's guitar riff in the song "runs like an unbroken thread through the development of English psychedelia" and is also present "as a trace element in many a mod-pop mutation".[17] In the show Love, the guitar solo was sampled in the piece "Drive My Car"/"The Word"/"What You're Doing".

"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."[18]

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.[citation needed]

In 1998, the song was played over a PBS promo where actor Jonathan Pond spoke about having a tax party.[19]

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.[20]

"Taxman" was ranked 48th in Mojo's list of "The 101 Greatest Beatles Songs", compiled in 2006 by a panel of critics and musicians.[21] In his commentary for the magazine, singer Joe Brown cited the track as a "brilliant example" of how, just as Harrison's guitar playing was often crucial in Lennon and McCartney's compositions, he was never selfish in his musicianship but was instead motivated to "get the best for the song" each time. Brown added: "everyone [is] chipping in with guitar parts and harmonies. It's all very ... compact. There's no fat at all on it. And, [it's] very funny."[21] On a similar list compiled by Rolling Stone in 2010, the song appeared at number 55, where the editors described it as "a crucial link between the guitar-driven clang of the Beatles' 1963–65 sound and the emerging splendor of the group's experiments in psychedelia".[1] In 2018, the music staff of Time Out London ranked "Taxman" at number 7 on their list of the best Beatles songs.[22]


According to Ian MacDonald,[3] except where noted:

Other versions


  1. ^ a b c "100 Greatest Beatles Songs: 55. 'Taxman'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 16 December 2014.
  2. ^ Pete Prown; Harvey P. Newquist; Jon F. Eiche (1997). 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'
  3. ^ a b c d e MacDonald 2005, p. 200.
  4. ^ Everett 2010, p. 48.
  5. ^ Harrison 1980, p. 94.
  6. ^ WalesOnline 2009.
  7. ^ Sheff 2000, pp. 150–151.
  8. ^ Apple Records 1996, p. 22.
  9. ^ Walter Everett. The Beatles as Musicians. Revolver Through the Anthology. Oxford University Press,. New York, 1999 ISBN 978-0-19-512941-0 p48
  10. ^ a b c d Alan Pollack. Notes on 'Taxman' accessed 28 February 2012
  11. ^ Gilliland 1969, show 39, track 1.
  12. ^ Jonathan Gould. Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain and America, Piatkus 2007 p349
  13. ^ Dominic Pedler. The Song Writing Secrets of the Beatles. Omnibus Press. London 2003 p440.
  14. ^ Jonathan Gould. Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain and America, Piatkus 2007 p350
  15. ^ a b c Walter Everett. The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver Through the Anthology. Oxford Uni Press. NY 1999 ISBN 978-0-19-512941-0 p49
  16. ^ Guitar Player 1987.
  17. ^ Chapman, Rob (2015). Psychedelia and Other Colours. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-57128-200-8.
  18. ^
  19. ^ YouTube (11 August 2016). "KCET-28/PBS promos, March 1998". YouTube. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  20. ^ Hugh Lessig. "Searching For a Song, Legislators Weigh "Taxman". Daily Press, 31 January 2006.
  21. ^ a b Alexander, Phil; et al. (July 2006). "The 101 Greatest Beatles Songs". Mojo. p. 80.
  22. ^ Time Out London Music (24 May 2018). "The 50 Best Beatles songs". Time Out London. Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  23. ^ a b Winn 2009, p. 13.
  24. ^ Barsanti, Sam. ""Weird Al" Yankovic shares his unreleased Beatles parody about Pac-Man". News.
  25. ^ "Music – Review of The Jam – Sound Affects". BBC. 1 January 1970. Retrieved 29 March 2014.


External links

This page was last edited on 27 May 2020, at 02:02
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