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George Harrison wrote this. The music was inspired by the theme song for the popular 1960s TV series Batman
, which was written and originally recorded by the conductor/trumpeter Neal Hefti, and covered by the Surf Rock group The Marketts early in 1966 in a version that hit #17 in the US. Harrison was a big fan of the show.
This was the first track on Revolver. It was the first song Harrison wrote that was given such prominent position, indicating that he was capable of writing songs as good as Lennon and McCartney's.
This is a bitter song about how much money The Beatles were paying in taxes. People with high earnings pay exorbitant taxes in England. Many successful entertainers leave the country so they can keep more of their money. As a result, The Beatles - as well as The Who and The Rolling Stones - spent a lot of time in America and other parts of Europe as "tax exiles."
Harrison: "Taxman was when I first realized that even though we had started earning money, we were actually giving most of it away in taxes."
"Mr. Wilson" and "Mr. Heath" are mentioned in the lyrics. They are British Prime Ministers Harold Wilson and Edward Heath, who were being scorned in the song for contributing to English tax laws. Before this song was released, Wilson had presented The Beatles with the award for England's Show Business Personalities of 1963 at the Variety Club of Great Britain Annual Show Business Awards held on March 19, 1964 in London. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
Revolver is the only album on which Harrison has 3 songs. On all the others he only has 2 or less. On The White Album he had 4, but it was a double album so he was only allotted his usual one track per-side. (thanks, Adrian - Wilmington, DE)
The fade-out ending is a reprise of the guitar solo as all completed takes of the song ended with John and Paul singing "Taxman!" (thanks, Brad Wind - Miami, FL)
There's been a lot of confusion over who played lead guitar on this track. Harrison said in his 1977 Crawdaddy
interview: "I helped out such a lot in all the arrangements. There were a lot of tracks though where I played bass. Paul played lead guitar on 'Taxman,' and he played guitar - a good part - on 'Drive My Car."
Jeff Emerick said in his book on recording the Beatles
that Harrison just couldn't get the solo right, so Paul played most of the guitar parts, including the solo. The repeat of the solo at the end of the song was the same "exact" solo by Paul, which Jeff dubbed from the middle of the song to another piece of tape and cut into the fade at the end.
Seth Swirsky, who worked as a staff songwriter before producing the Beatles documentary Beatles Stories
, told us: "I think Paul McCartney was one of the greatest guitar players of the '60s. Nobody really recognized him as an electric guitar player, or an acoustic guitar player, but his leads on 'Taxman' and on different songs that you think George played, they ripped. I think George is great, but when Paul played lead on some songs, they tore. They were just very unique. There's no one like Paul McCartney in the history of the world." (Check out our full interview with Seth Swirsky
In 2002, H&R Block used this in commercials for their tax preparation service. The ads aired shortly after Harrison died.
The 1,2,3,4 count-in is fake, and was edited on as an afterthought. The real count-in (by Paul) can be heard underneath.
The guitar solo at the end is a straight copy of the middle-eight. This same solo was later reused as a tape spool on "Tomorrow Never Knows
." (thanks, Mike - Mountlake Terrace, WA. U.S.A, for above 2)
"Weird Al" Yankovic recorded a parody of this song called "Pac-Man" in 1981. It was never officially released on any of his albums, but a demo version can be found on Dr. Demento's Basement Tapes No. 4. The song is very faithful to the Beatles' original, plus some musical and well-placed Pac-Man sound effects. (thanks, Joe - Boston, MA)
Blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan covered this song. His version sounds very different, but the lyrics are identical. (thanks, Rusty - Houston, TX)
See a photo of Mr. Wilson and The Beatles in Song Images
Harrison put some math in the lyrics. In the beginning of the song, he sings, "There's one for you, 19 for me" before "If 5 percent appears too small." One of 19 is 5 percent. (thanks, Tyler - Branford, CT)
Jason co-wrote many of Colbie Caillat's hits, including "Bubbly" and "Realize."
Mike Watt - "History Lesson, Pt. 2"
Mike Watt of the Minutemen tells the story of the song that became an Indie Rock touchstone. It's also the story of what Mike calls "The Movement."
Kristian Bush of Sugarland
Kristian talks songwriting technique, like how the chorus should redefine the story, and how to write a song backwards.