Sunday, April 5, 2009


Well, you probably figured that on a HarriSunday in April I'd listen to "Taxman," because I'm not very original. But I seem to keep bringing up "Taxman" in the context of other things lately, and I have a bunch of freelancer friends who, because they're freelancers, actually have to take this entire weekend to do their taxes, so, whatever, it's appropriate, and anyway you LOVE this song, right? Do you need a reason? No.

I never need a reason to listen to "Taxman," one of my favorite Harrisongs. For some reason this was on the jukebox of my local diner back in high school, and we would play the shit out of "Taxman," over and over and over, singing along in a way that I'm sure the other patrons completely enjoyed.

This track opens Revolver (unless you were listening to cassettes in the '90s, anyway), and it was George's first and only album-opener in his Beatles career. And what an album-opener it was-- contrast this with all the other first-tracks from past albums ("Drive My Car," "Help!," "No Reply," "A Hard Day's Night," "It Won't Be Long," "I Saw Her Standing There") and you can just TELL Revolver is going to be something completely different, can't you? As others have pointed out, George's horror-movie-voice count-in even sounds like a totally warped reference to the count-in on "I Saw Her Standing There."

Besides just being a totally different sound, "Taxman" also reflects the newish reality that all of the Beatles had become very, very wealthy, and now were facing the 95% income tax levied on the U.K.'s richest citizens at the time. Whereas a lot of past Beatles songs could have been sung by any lovesick teenager, this is definitely a song sung by someone who knows what it's like to have, and give up, a lot of money-- though of course, like love, bitching about taxes has universal appeal.

The song is clearly George's, and has all the marks of George's penchant for sarcasm and irritability, but at least a few lines were contributed by the other sarcastic Beatle, John-- the nods to Mr. Wilson and Mr. Heath are his (the Labour PM and Conservative party leader at the time, by the way). And Paul left his own rather significant marks on the song as well. The bassline is AWESOME, one of my favorites ever-- and I have a lot of favorite McCartney basslines. He's playing an ostinato figure (which just means it repeats over and over) that's only a measure long and sounds about as snappy and tight and grumbly as can be. The bass absolutely drives this whole song; it's the very real menace beneath the sarcastic surface. It makes the song sound genuinely dangerous.

And if you love the guitar work on "Taxman"-- and of course you do-- then you should know that Paul is also playing lead guitar here. His guitar is subservient to his bass for much of the song, basically hitting the backbeats right along with the drums and emphasizing the relentless, furious rhythm of the thing. But the solo moments are also completely incredible. I'm not sure exactly what they're doing to make the guitar sound as ragged and messy and fuzzy as it does (I'm never clear on the technical stuff happening on studio pop music-- it's a prominent gap in my knowledge-- actually, for all I know it's not production stuff at all, but just how Paul is playing it), but whatever it is, it just nails you in the gut. Fantastic.

Revolver is probably my favorite Beatles album, and hearing "Taxman" just makes me want to listen to the whole thing again. If you're doing your taxes today, you couldn't ask for a better soundtrack. Then again, you could also listen to some other versions of it, since George quite liked to play this song live and throw in extra lyrics and things.

Here he is playing it with Eric Clapton in 1991 in Japan. Which just goes to show what a timeless, universal song this is-- one for the ages, apparently.

"Taxman," released in the U.K. side A track 1 of Revolver, August 5, 1966; in the U.S., side A track 1 of Capitol's lame-o version of Revolver, August 8, 1966.


  1. Well, you fooled me. I figured you'd write about this song on actual tax day. But, it's good to not be predictable, eh? And you're right, it's a song that works any day. The lyrics are quite creative and witty.

  2. I know I'm supposed to say Something is George's best song, but I'm pretty sure this is my favorite of his.