The Beatles


Song Review by

George Harrison had only recently started to establish himself as a formidable songwriter before Revolver. On Revolver, he came more to the fore, not only writing three songs but also getting honored with the album-opener, the chunky rocker "Taxman." It is one of the interesting contradictions of George Harrison's persona that, although he on one hand devoted much of his life and studies to Indian religion and transcending the material world, he has also proven to be quite concerned, and even obsessed, with his finances. So it was at the very point his excursions into Indian music and spirituality were finding their way into his music and public image (as explicitly heard on another Revolver track, "Love You To") that he delivered this ill-tempered blast against the "Taxman" that was taking much of his upper-income-bracket earnings. Like "Paperback Writer" of the same era, "Taxman" is built around forcefully chorded mod rock guitar, played in a choppy rhythm that jabs the listener into taking notice. Harrison's social critique and wit was, in general, blunter and less subtle than Lennon-McCartney's, and "Taxman" is one of his blunter diatribes, grousing about having to turn over most of his income to the British government. Indeed Harrison seems nearly paranoid about the British taxman's reach, claiming that feet would be taxed for walking and the sun's rays taxed for their heat. The sourness is lightened by the ingenious vocal harmonies, particularly in the call-and-response bridge, and the final verse, in which the high-pitched harmonies rejoin Harrison's lead lines with additional comments. The final line before the fade -- in which Harrison detours into an especially devious melody while aping the taxman's stance that the populace is working for no one but him -- is especially effective. Odder are the opening few seconds, consisting of Harrison slowly counting the song in while distorted tapes spool in the background and someone coughs -- one of the most idiosyncratic Beatles openings ever, perhaps felt necessary to lighten up the atmosphere a bit. Harrison got a lot of help from his bandmates on "Taxman," not just in the harmonies, but also in the biting lead guitar breaks, which were played not by him but by Paul McCartney (whose lead style was unexpectedly raw and bluesy, as he had previously proven on another track where he played similar lead riffs, "Ticket to Ride"). Shortly before his death, John Lennon revealed, with less tact than he could have, that he had helped Harrison with some of the lyrics when George got stuck. "Taxman" was covered by the noted garage psychedelic group the Music Machine in a version which stuck pretty close to the original arrangement, and was also recorded by blues-rock star Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Revolver 1966 Apple Records / Capitol 2:38
No Image 1976 Capitol 2:39
The Best of George Harrison 1976 Capitol / EMI Records 2:38
No Image 1980 Capitol 2:36
No Image 1984 MGM
The Ultimate Box Set 1995 Capitol 2:39
Anthology 2 1996 Capitol / EMI Records / Apple 2:32
The Beatles: Stereo Box Set 2009 Capitol 2:38
The Beatles USB 2009 Capitol / EMI 2:38
The U.S. Albums 2014 Capitol / Universal 2:41