Taxman - The Beatles

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"Taxman" - The Beatles (1966)

“Taxman” was the first great George Harrison song. Placed on the first track slot on Revolver- he finally got the respect he deserved.

“Taxman” was the first pop song that mentioned a real person’s name- and directed a comment to two British statesmen- Harold Wilson and Edward Heath- leaders of a major western country. This was revolutionary in 1966. Just a short twenty months after they appeared to us as “loving moptops” they were now laying demands down, directly- to the desk of world leaders.

There’s been a lot of confusion over who played lead guitar on this track. McCartney’s solo is like nothing else in the Beatles’ corpus to date. It’s been suggested that George Harrison just couldn’t get the solo right, so Paul played most of the guitar parts, including the solo.

Harrison said in a 1977 interview:

“I helped out a lot in all the arrangements. There were a lot of tracks though where I played bass.”

Like numerous other Beatle songs of this period, such as “Tomorrow Never Knows,” “Paperback Writer,” “Taxman” was a virtually one-chord song. Ringo’s drum and percussion tracks on the track vary constantly, coloring each section of the song with different percussive shadings.

Professor Steven Baur says:

“The Percussive register in this song is also notable for the propulsive drum fills that Ringo uses to lead into each refrain. No two fills are the same, yet they are reference with each other with a similar rhythmic character and feel. Thus Ringo’s drumming, like this overdubbed percussion tracks, creates a constantly changing, yet highly integrated percussive accompaniment.”

The track is also notable as it shows how much the Beatles have changed in the span for just a few years. For instance, contrast the introduction of “Taxman” with the countdown- to when they did it previously on “I Saw Standing There”- just 36 months in the past. On “I Saw Standing There” the count-down was employed as an interesting opening hook which adds to the song’s appeal. On “Taxman,” the intro signifies a moment of faux spontaneity, an overtly constructed instance in which the Beatles simulate the sounds of a band in the act of warming up for a performance.

Yet their simulation is intentionally skewed toward the unreal, with Harrison deliberately counting “one, two, three, four” out of rhythm and off-tempo. On the surface, this could seem like mindless studio noise—McCartney can even be heard coughing in the background. Yet the song’s mock-overture draws explicit attention to the fact of its studio creation, as opposed to any origins in live performance. If so, the song- and hence, Revolver—is the self-conscious invention and creative caprice.

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