“Taxman” is the opening song on The Beatles’ “Revolver” album, of course. However, take 11 is on their Anthology 2 album. Indeed, George Harrison wrote the lyrics about the British tax system at the time when they became “super-earners”. In effect, this meant that the band members were liable to pay 95% tax. “There’s one for you, nineteen for me” referring to the tax grabbing government when there was 20 shillings in a pound.
Release Date: 5th August, 1966
Recorded: 20th-22nd April, 16th May, also 21st June, 1966
Studio: EMI Studios, London
Genre: Rock, hard rock, psychedelic rock
Track Duration: 2:39
Record Label: Parlophone, Apple
Songwriter: George Harrison
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick
George Harrison: lead vocals, also the lead guitar
John Lennon: backing vocals, also the rhythm guitar
Paul McCartney: backing vocals, bass guitar, also the lead guitar
Ringo Starr: drums, cowbell, also the tambourine
This was the mid-sixties and The Beatles were a super group earning a lot of money. Indeed, the amount of tax they had to pay was phenomenal.
“I had discovered I was paying a huge amount of money to the taxman. You are so happy that you’ve finally started earning money – and then you find out about tax.
In those days we paid 19 shillings and sixpence [95p] out of every pound, and with supertax and surtax and tax-tax it was ridiculous – a heavy penalty to pay for making money. That was a big turn-off for Britain. Anybody who ever made any money moved to America or somewhere else.”
“I remember the day he called to ask for help on Taxman, one of his first songs. I threw in a few one-liners to help the song along, because that’s what he asked for. He came to me because he couldn’t go to Paul, because Paul wouldn’t have helped him at that period.
I didn’t want to do it. I thought, Oh, no, don’t tell me I have to work on George’s stuff. It’s enough doing my own and Paul’s. But because I loved him and I didn’t want to hurt him when he called that afternoon and said, ‘Will you help me with this song?’ I just sort of bit my tongue and said OK. It had been John and Paul for so long, he’d been left out because he hadn’t been a songwriter up until then.”
Playboy Magazine (1980)
Up until now, The Beatles had never sang about living people. So, this was the first song where this happened. Here they mention both Harold Wilson and Edward Heath. Wilson was the Prime Minister of the UK at the time while Heath was the opposition leader.
Adding those characters to the song as incidental backing vocals was John Lennon’s idea, “Haha Mr Wilson, Haha Mr Heath”. Many people have likened parts of the song to the theme tune for the TV series Batman which was popular at the time. In particular, the Haha and Taxman bits.
The Beatles began recording “Taxman” on the 20th April, 1966 in Studio two at the EMI Studios in London. During the marathon 2.30pm-2.30am session, the band recorded four takes.
On the 21st April they recorded a further eleven takes with take eleven having vocals – this is the version on the Anthology 2 album. This version doesn’t have the “Haha Mr Wilson, Haha Mr Heath” vocals, but instead we hear Paul McCartney singing “Anybody got a bit of money?”. This also has the count 1,2,3,4,1,2 at the beginning.
Meanwhile, on the 22nd April, they added the famous “Haha Mr Wilson, Haha Mr Heath” vocals together with Ringo Starr’s cowbell contribution.
With further overdubbing on the 16th May and the 21st June, the final result was astonishing. George Harrison appreciated the guitar work of Paul McCartney by saying, “I was pleased to have Paul play that bit on ‘Taxman’. If you notice, he did like a little Indian bit on it for me.”