Taxman - Reviews

Reviewed by Ian MacDonald, in Revolution in the Head:

Capitalising on the disillusioned impatience of his recent songs (THINK FOR YOURSELF, LOVE YOU TO), Harrison stops beating about the bush and attacks the nineteen-shillings-and-sixpence-in-the-pound top rate of income tax under Harold Wilson's Labour government. At this stage Harrison was more business-minded than his colleagues and had just realised how much of the group's income was being siphoned off by the Treasury (in effect, the price of their MBEs, nominated, in recognition of their foreign earnings, by Wilson a year earlier). Greeted charily by those in the high-earning pop business, the landslide re-election of the Labour government at the end of March 1966 worried even stars with social scruples, anxious not to lose out financially while they were at their peak. This, though, was difficult to voice if one also happened to sympathise with the underdog. Hence, the dig at Wilson in this Beatle 'protest' lyric, part-written by Lennon, is balanced by a conscience-saving (and controversy-evading) snipe at Conservative opposition leader Edward Heath. [1]

TAXMAN, a tight twelve-bar design in bluesy sevenths, shows signs of rhythmic influence from several black or black-influenced British hits of March 1966: James Brown's 'I Got You', Lee Dorsey's 'Get Out Of My Life Woman', and The Spencer Davis Group's 'Somebody Help Me'. Considering that it evolved over about twenty hours, the track is surprisingly stark, consisting mainly of a bass riff against fuzz-toned off-beat guitar chords. The mix accentuates this by keeping the right channel open for tambourine and the falling 'coins' of an echoed cowbell until the entry of McCartney's startling guitar solo: a savage seven-bar affair that picks up the octave jump in the riff, adding a scintillating pseudo- Indian descending passage en route

With its studio-verité introduction, TAXMAN was a natural choice for the opening track of Revolver, where its shouted count-in recalled the beginning of Please Please Me and was inevitably interpreted as symbolising a new start in the group's recording career. While Harrison was rightly praised for this track, it should be heard as an ensemble effort, with McCartney's contribution bulking largest. Apart from his outstanding guitar solo, he plays some remarkable bass, taking advantage of the hard-hitting treble range of his Rickenbacker 4001S, particularly in his agitated secondary riff during the song's third verse. [2]


  1. A similar dilemma was likewise skirted around by Ray Davies of The Kinks, who, in 'Sunny Afternoon', used a millionaire persona to complain about Harold Wilson's deflationary clamp on credit ('Save me, save me, save me from this squeeze') before offsetting this with a Dickensian portrayal of urban poverty in the group's follow-up single 'Dead End Street'.
  2. Take 11 (Anthology 2) shows that the track originally came to a sudden close before the final guitar solo (which was copied from the middle of the recording and spliced to the end with an added fade-out during a mixing session of 21st June - a fundamental change effected at the very last minute!). In place of their 'Ah ah, Mr Wilson / Mr Heath' backing vocals, Lennon and McCartney can be heard gabbling 'Anybody got a bit of money?' Fortunately this was rectified the following day (22nd April).

Posted: 15 jan 2007

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