In the year of 1966, The Beatles were known for their catchy tunes, mesmerizing melodies, tight vocal harmonies and simple lyrics that were revolving around love themes. The only time when The Fab 4 have attempted to tackle political/economic issues was when they recorded “Money (That’s What I Want)” for their second UK album, “With The Beatles” (1963). However, the lyrical content suggested the artist’s desire for financial wealth – which can, to some extent, be interpreted as a criticism of the excessive materialism of the musicians of the time:
The best things in life are free
But you can keep them for the birds and bees
Now give me money
That’s what I want
But the year 1966 brings a peculiar turn in the songwriting of The Beatles: George Harrison (the lead guitarist of the band, formerly known as “The Quiet One”) becomes interested in the writing process!
George drew inspiration from Bob Dylan’s body of work (who had released the socially and politically-criticizing album “Highway 61 Revisited” the previous year) and put all of his angst into the sound and lyrical content of the song “Taxman” – which also became the opening track from the 1966 album “Revolver”. Why did The Beatles choose to attack the political establishment of the time? The reason is quite simple: since they were making a lot of money from record sales worldwide, the taxing policy of the labourist Harold Wilson government made them liable to a supertax of 95% on all of their earnings. This led to a major dissatisfaction on behalf of John, Paul, George and Ringo, so they all decided to support the idea of attacking “the taxmen” – Mr. Wilson and Mr. Heath.
The song features a very simple 4/4 rhythm and is written in the key of D major. What makes it stand out musically is the aggressive and twangy strumming that complements the lyrics perfectly. “Let me tell you how it will be: There’s one for you, nineteen for me” says the voice of George Harrison while impersonating the taxman. These two lines explain in a very simplistic manner the way in which the artists were taxed at the time: 95% and 5% becomes 1 and 19. Another memorable verse is the one in which the taxman threatens: “Should five percent appear too small, be thankful I don’t take it all!”. The climatic chorus comes as a parody of the theme song of the successful 1966 television show, “Batman” – therefore displaying a new layer of irony towards the fake caped crusader: he poses as a hero, but his deeds are pointing out to the exact opposite.
Cause I’m the Taxman, yeah, I’m the Taxman
George Harrison goes even further with his claims towards the outrageous taxing by making hilariously ridiculous statements about the taxer: “If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street. If you try to sit, I’ll tax the seat. If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat. If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet”. These verses point out to imaginary extreme lengths the government’s taxation can go to, so that basic human liberties and vital commodities are also taxed (however, certain roads and highways are indeed taxed nowadays, and heat is also a commodity that is not provided free of charge).
The lyrical contribution of John Lennon comes in the backing vocals after the 3rd chorus, when he clearly sings the names of the two party leaders of the time: Harold Wilson of the Labour Party (and the prime minister of the time) and Edward Heath – the leader of the Conservative Party. This was a smart move and politically-correct move on behalf of the group, as it distanced The Beatles from the political field by keeping it neutral towards those who govern, but it also suggested that either of the political parties would have imposed the same taxation measures.
Taxman will always be remembered by the Beatles fans as the first song in which John, Paul, George and Ringo have expressed their discontent towards the governmental measures and have made a political statement. Also, the song marks a songwriting maturing process within the group: a process that led to a whole new image of the Fab 4. They no longer were the young and innocent young boys from Liverpool who sang only love songs and had identical mop-top haircuts. It only took a small leap until The Beatles were criticizing the Marxist ideas of the time (as in “Revolution”) and were telling everyone that “All You Need is Love”.
“Taxman” and all the rest of the album “Revolver” can be listened to and bought online at the following stores: