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Taxman

The history of this classic Beatles song

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The original US sheet music for

The original US sheet music for "Taxman"

source: rarebeatles.com

Taxman

Written by: George Harrison
Recorded: April 21-22 and May 16, 1966 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: April 27, May 16, and June 21, 1966
Length: 2:39
Takes: 11
Musicians:
John Lennon: backing and harmony vocal, tambourine
Paul McCartney: backing and harmony vocal, lead guitar (1965 Epiphone E230TD(V) Casino), bass guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 400IS)
George Harrison: lead vocal, rhythm and lead guitar (1965 Epiphone E230TD(V) Casino)
Ringo Starr: drums (Ludwig), cowbell
Available on: (CDs in bold)
Revolver (UK: Parlophone PMC 7009, PCS 7009; US: Capitol (S)T 2576; Parlophone CDP 7 46441 2)
History:
  • Written by George after he realized he'd been catapulted into Britain's notorious highest tax bracket -- one in which he was expected to give back 95 percent of his earnings -- "Taxman" was the Beatles' strongest rocker to date, and also their first overt political statement. Indeed, Harold Wilson, then Prime Minister of Britain, and conservative opposition leader Edward Heath are mentioned by name, albeit in the background vocals.
  • Though he was fast advancing as a songwriter, Harrison nonetheless called John Lennon for some additional inspiration and input. Lennon is thought to have contributed the last lines: "Now My advice for those who die / Declare the pennies on your eyes." It's likely that John also convinced George to drop extraneous lines like "You may work hard trying to get some bread / you won't make out before you're dead" and "Now what I let you keep for free / won't take long to get back to me."
  • For the end of the bridge, George tacked on the simple line "Taxman!" for John and Paul to sing, a direct homage to the theme of one of George's favorite TV shows, the campy Adam West version of Batman.
  • Recording for "Taxman" began on April 20, 1966, with a different arrangement, but after four takes, the session broke down. The next day the rhythm track was rethought and rebuilt from the ground up, with backing vocals overdubbed on the finished Take 11. The backing vocals at this time were a falsetto John and Paul declaring "Anybody got a bit o' money?" over and over again at top speed. John hated this idea, and on April 22, convinced George to take the part out and replace it with the "Ha ha, Mr. Wilson / Ha ha, Mr. Heath" line (sometimes misheard as "Taxman, Mr. Wilson", etc). That same day, Ringo recorded a cowbell track, and Paul laid down a blistering "Indian" guitar solo for George, who'd had trouble coming up with a good solo. On May 16, George's strange and slow countoff was recorded (over Paul's, which can still be heard in the background), and spliced on as an intro. Finally, on June 21, while mixing, Paul's solo was cut and pasted onto the end of the track, which originally ended on the last "Taxman!" but was, instead, faded out. (You can hear the edit where George's last "...me" comes in; Paul's solo was on the same vocal track.)

Trivia:

  • George always loved Paul's solo, one of the greatest in band history; the day it was recorded, it was reversed, chopped up, and otherwise altered, then added to the mix of weird sound effects layered into "Tomorrow Never Knows."
  • The original mono mix of this song features a louder instrumental track and a cowbell that first appears in the second verse, rather than the second chorus.
  • "Taxman" marks the first time public figures were mentioned in a Beatles song, and also the first and only time a George song began a Beatles album (Revolver).
  • During his 1991 tour of Japan, George replaced "Mr. Wilson" and "Mr. Heath" with "Mr. Clinton" and "Mr. Bush," and also altered the bridge: "If you get a head, I'll tax your hat / If you get a pet, I'll tax your cat / If you wipe your feet, I'll tax the mat / If you're overweight, I'll tax your fat."
Covered by: The Music Machine, Junior Parker, Bill Wyman, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Nickel Creek, Les Fradkin, Garrison Starr, Mutual Admiration Society, Power Station, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, "Weird Al" Yankovic, Beatallica, The Talismen, Black Oak Arkansas, Rockwell, The Deighton Family, Yukihiro Takahashi, Rootjuice
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