Side One, Track One
“Taxman”… in Which Everybody Gets a BIT of Money
by Jude Southerland Kessler and Bruce Spizer
Through 2023, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog will explore the complexities of The Beatles’ revolutionary 1966 LP, Revolver. This month, taxman-by-day (a.k.a. corporate tax attorney) and Beatles music authority in all other hours, Bruce Spizer, will provide our “Fresh New Look” at this song, penned over five decades ago.
Bruce is an integral part of our Fest Family and is the author of The Beatles Are Coming!, Beatles for Sales on Parlophone Records, The Beatles Story on Capitol Records (Parts 1 and 2), The Beatles on Apple Records, and The Beatles Swan Song. In recent years, he has created the insightful Beatles Album Series, including The Beatles and Sgt. Pepper: A Fan’s Perspective, The Beatles White Album and the Launch of Apple, and his latest release, The Beatles Rubber Soul to Revolver. For our February blog, Bruce joins Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series, for exciting, in-depth coverage of the opening track of this important and pivotal LP.
Date Recorded: 20-22 April 1966
Time Recorded: Work done on the 20th followed work on “And Your Bird Can Sing.” That session, in its entirety, was from 2:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.
On 21 April, work took place between 2:30 p.m. – 12:50 a.m.
On 22 April, work took place between 2:30 p.m. – 11:30 p.m.
Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2
Producer: George Martin
Balance Engineer: Geoff Emerick
Second Engineer: Phil McDonald
On 20 April, four tracks were recorded. Only two were completed. (Rodriguez, 126)
On 21 April, eleven rhythm tracks (electric guitars, bass, and drums) were recorded. George overdubbed two vocal tracks, with backing vocals from John and Paul. Ringo added a tambourine. Paul recorded the incredible lead solo. John and Paul sang the rapid falsetto “Anybody got a bit of money” lines. Paul’s count-in is present. (Winn, 13)
On 22 April, a reduction mix of Take 11 combines both vocal tracks onto one track of a new tape. That is referred to as Take 12. The newly-available track is then filled with a cowbell. The falsetto line, “Anybody got a bit of money” is erased. The “Mr. Wilson/Mr. Heath” bit is added. Some errant guitar notes are erased. Another “rasping lead guitar solo,” as Beatles guru Mark Lewisohn phrases it, was added by Paul. (The Beatles Recording Sessions, 76) John C. Winn points out that it was, “spliced on to the main body of the song and George’s final ‘me’ at the end of the song.” (14)
Editing was done on 27 April and 16 May.
Instrumentation and Musicians:
George Harrison, the composer (with assistance from John Lennon) sings lead vocals and plays one of three guitars that he had available. These guitars were, according to Hammack’s Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, either the 1961 Fender Stratocaster, the 1964 Gibson SG Standard, or the 1965 Epiphone ES-230TD Casino. (129)
John Lennon, lyrical contributor, sings backing vocals, and some sources have John manning the tambourine.
Paul McCartney, plays bass on his 1964 Rickenbacker 4001S bass and provides the lead solo on his Casino electric guitar (Hammack, 130). Paul also provides backing vocals with John.
Ringo Starr plays his 1964 Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl Super Classic drum set; he also mans the cowbell and most sources say the tambourine as well.
Sources: The Beatles, The Anthology, 197, Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 218-219, Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 76, Spizer, The Beatles Rubber Soul to Revolver, 22-35, Rodriguez, Revolver, How The Beatles Reimagined Rock’n’Roll, 126-129, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 129-131, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 324-325, Winn, That Magic Feeling, 12-13, Emerick, Here, There, and Everywhere, 126, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 102-103, Riley, Tell Me Why, 182-183, Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs, 147-149, MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, 160, Davies, The Beatles Lyrics, 142-143, and Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 178-185.
- A Harrison Album Opener – Almost always, John Lennon had been afforded the honor of opening his band’s LPs. He’d done so on With The Beatles, Beatles for Sale, A Hard Day’s Night, and Help! On The Beatles’ first LP Please Please Me, the opening track was a collaborative effort (“I Saw Her Standing There”) that introduced the lads to the listening world. But not until the band released Rubber Soul did Paul McCartney motor into the opening slot with “Drive My Car.” Traditionally, one expected Lennon to kick albums off, but of course, one could readily accept Paul at the helm. George had been accustomed to one-sies (and rarely, two-sies) at the mic on each long-playing record. Now, to be selected to open the record was a rather revolutionary honor for George.
Indeed, in Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock’n’Roll, Rodriguez points out that “Not only would [Harrison] get an unheard-of three songs on the album, but he had the first cut as well. It was an honor that left him ‘dead chuffed’…” And George handled this nod with aplomb. (128) Note: As Bruce Spizer will point out, Rodriguez is referring to three original songs on an LP and not counting cover songs sung by George.
In his book, Here, There, and Everywhere, new Revolver Engineer Geoff Emerick commented, “I thought George’s strongest song on Revolver was ‘Taxman,’ and George Martin must have agreed, since he decided to put it first of the album – the all-important spot generally reserved for the best song, since the idea was to try to capture the listener immediately.” Emerick and a host of other Beatles music experts cite the extremely clever lyrics as the song’s strongest feature. Part of that charm came from…
- A Lennon/Harrison Collaboration – By 1966, Beatles fans were accustomed to John’s collaborations with Paul and to John writing songs such as “Do You Want to Know A Secret” and “I’m Happy Just to Dance with You” for George. But this time, George penned the album’s opening track by himself and then approached John for a bit of assistance.
Years later, John stated, “[George] came to me…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…But because I loved him and didn’t want to hurt him, [I] said okay.” (Margotin and Guesdon, 324) In Beatles Lyrics, Hunter Davies points out that to enhance “Taxman,” John added the lines: “…if you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat. If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat.” Davies says, “John’s input made [‘Taxman’] wittier and smarter and the finished lyrics were much better.” (142) In his extraordinary work, Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock’n’Roll, Robert Rodriguez concurs to some degree. He states that Harrison had already crafted strong lyrics, but says, “It was John who gave the already-biting lyrics some extra sting.” (126) Beatles music experts also point out that this section was re-written in a call-and response-pattern, and it certainly revealed a band angst, a general feeling of resentment towards the British income tax system (which was taking over 90 percent of their income), not just from George’s perspective but from all of The Beatles.
- A Change in Engineers – Just before the group began to record Revolver, long-time engineer, Norman Smith was replaced by Geoff Emerick. As Andy Babiuk points out in Beatles Gear, Emerick “was a young engineer, eager and willing to experiment. Emerick had worked on Beatles sessions as far back as A Hard Day’s Night in 1964, but now he joined George Martin’s production team as chief engineer to help translate The Beatles’ ever-expanding musical ideas.” (178) And Babiuk states that with Emerick on board, the watchword for Revolver was “experimentation.” (178)
For example, in “Taxman,” there are not one but two count-ins. George clearly voices what is ostensibly “the real thing” as part of the song. Yet in the background, Paul is speaking the actual count-in. Not only does the verbal count-in reflect back to the first song of their first LP, but the dual count-ins (one real and one “for show”) function symbolically, perhaps representing the fans’ fantasy version of The Beatles’ life spread atop the surface of the harsh, underlying real world in which John, Paul, George, and Ringo actually lived and breathed. The juxtaposition of the dual count-ins signals a new level of creativity and a new depth of meaning in each song on Revolver.
Harrison also wryly employs the popular “Batman!” theme shriek for a hero when decrying the band’s actual anti-hero, the “Taxman!” Rodriguez points out that the “Batman!” theme was well-known in England in 1966, having been covered in an instrumental by the Markettes and later by The Who. So, using the comic theme, Rodriguez suggests, is George’s way of “giving his listeners a wink [and]…letting them [know] that, real tax issues aside, his rant shouldn’t be taken at face value.” (Revolver, How The Beatles Reimagined Rock’n’Roll, 127) It’s a tacit joke between the artists and the audience. Thankfully, Martin and Emerick were open to such crafty ideas, and without a blink, they found a way to “make it so.”
- Unique Subject Matter – George Martin readily admitted that the songs on Revolver were “far more varied than anything [The Beatles had] ever done before.” (Spizer, The Beatles Rubber Soul to Revolver, 23) And it wasn’t only the boys’ music that was innovative! The song themes themselves were sweepingly different. Instead of the traditional “moon, croon, spoon, June” songs, Revolver frankly discussed death, loneliness and isolation, loss, drug usage, and yes, taxes.
George commented, “’Taxman’ was when I first realized that even though we started earning money, we were actually giving most of it away in taxes. It was and is so typical. Why should this be so? Are we being punished for something we have forgotten to do?” (Davies, The Beatles Lyrics, 142)
By 1966, The Beatles’ eyes were wide open. They were no longer young, green boys, fresh on the scene. The new “studio Beatles” were sophisticated world travelers who had learned how to wrangle with the music industry’s “big cigars,” fans, governments, and press…and to survive. They had faced near-death experiences, complicated personal relationships, and yes, even financial worries. As Hunter Davies points out, “Brian Epstein [had] tried a few tax-saving devices – sheltering one million with a financial wizard in a tax haven in the Bahamas. The money disappeared…” (The Beatles Lyrics, 142) The Beatles of Revolver have learned a thing or two, and on their 7th LP, they tell us about it.
- Paul Takes the Lead – In our next section, Bruce Spizer will discuss Paul’s remarkable lead guitar work, but we must note here that having Paul rather than George play the lead solo in the middle and at the end of “Taxman” was a landmark moment. From Revolver on, the vastly talented McCartney would increasingly begin to assume roles traditionally allotted to the other three.
A Fresh, New Look:
Who better to give us all a unique and insightful look at “Taxman” than our own Fest Beatles music expert, Bruce Spizer?! (And let us not forget that in addition to being a Beatles author/historian, Bruce is Board Certified in Taxation by the Louisiana Bar Association, making him a “Taxman” by trade.) In his latest book The Beatles Rubber Soul to Revolver, Bruce reminds us that when Revolver was released, Melody Maker observed that there are “still more ideas buzzing around in The Beatles’ heads than in most of the pop world put together.” (31) Let’s chat with Bruce about those incredible ideas and innovations in “Taxman.”
Jude Southerland Kessler: Bruce, the fact that a George Harrison composition opens Side One of Revolver is significant in many ways. Tell us about this interesting new development in Beatles music history and why it matters.
Bruce Spizer: George had always been intimidated by John and Paul when it came to songwriting. Who wouldn’t be? He had to wonder at first if his songs were good enough to be on a Beatles album. And it only got worse when The Beatles phased out cover versions of songs from their stage act as album material. Any song George got would eliminate a Lennon-McCartney composition, so it had to be good.
Although George had received co-writer’s credit for coming up with the guitar solo on Paul’s early composition “In Spite Of All The Danger” and wrote the Hamburg days instrumental “Cry For A Shadow” with John, John and Paul decided to exclude George from their songwriting team. Harrison would have to go it alone. He got his first proper song, “Don’t Bother Me,” on the group’s second U.K. album, With The Beatles. After being shut out for the next two albums, he had two songs each on Help! and Rubber Soul. But on Revolver, he not only had three songs, but was given the all-important opening track, a show of confidence from George Martin and his fellow band mates.
This validation of his songwriting ability encouraged George to write more songs and to push for having them included on The Beatles albums. He had four songs included on The White Album and two of the best songs on Abbey Road. George no longer lacked the confidence to write songs and was even beginning to push to have more of his songs being included on the group’s albums. When George realized during the Get Back sessions that he could not get his songs recorded when limited to two or three songs per album, the seed was planted for him to put all of his own songs out on a solo album, leading to his excellent LP All Things Must Pass.
So, the placement of “Taxman” as the lead track of Revolver is significant because it contributed to George’s growing confidence as a songwriter, and it forced John and Paul to recognize that George’s songs were worthy of inclusion on Beatles albums even if it meant fewer songs written by John and/or Paul.
AMERICAN NOTE: While fans only familiar with The Beatles’ core catalog of British releases will tell you that Revolver is the first Beatles album to open with a George song, that is not quite correct if one counts songs in which George is the lead vocalist. Capitol’s April 1964 release, The Beatles’ Second Album, opens with George singing lead on Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven.”
BRITISH NOTE: While Revolver is the first British album containing three George compositions, it is not the first to have three George lead vocals. I want to tell you the answer, but I need you to think for yourself. Don’t bother me with asking for clues. The answer is With The Beatles, on which George sings lead on his own “Don’t Bother Me,” Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” and the obscure girl-group song by the Donays, “Devil In His Heart” (gender changed in the lyrics and title to “Devil In Her Heart”).
Kessler: A comparison of the opening of “Taxman” and the opening of “I Saw Her Standing There” on Please Please Me produces some interesting similarities and differences. In Revolution in the Head, for example, Ian MacDonald says that the differences in these two introductions clearly symbolize “a new start in The Beatles career.” How so?
Spizer: In my book The Beatles Rubber Soul to Revolver, I compare the two openings as follows:
“Revolver opens with a slow, lazy “One, two, three, four, one, two” count-in by George augmented by tape sounds and a cough. Paul’s original count-in for the song’s backing track can be heard as well, just as Harrison ends his count. It is a far cry from Paul’s youthful, exuberant “One, two, three, faaa!” count-in that preceded “I Saw Her Standing There,” the opening track on the group’s first Parlophone LP, Please Please Me, and the second song on Capitol’s Meet The Beatles! LP. In comparing those early albums to Revolver, the music and lyrical themes that follow are as different as the count-ins.”
Looking back, Paul’s “One, two, three, faaa!” count-in to the lead track on the Please Please Me LP was a stroke of genius on the part of George Martin. He wanted to get The Beatles’ first album off to a memorable and rousing start with what he described as a “potboiler,” so he chose “I Saw Her Standing There,” a high-energy rocker. He edited Paul’s count-in from Take 9 (with the volume increased) to the opening of the master take of the song. It was the perfect introduction to a great 14-song set of performances taken from The Beatles’ stage show.
In my upcoming book, The Beatles Please Please Me to With The Beatles, I discuss how the Beatles and George Martin selected the songs for the first LP:
“With only a single day available, Martin knew time was an issue. ‘I asked them what they had which we could record quickly, and the answer was their stage act.’ This would consist of a mix of Lennon-McCartney original compositions and cover versions of songs by other artists.”
Although Martin had ruled out recording The Beatles in concert at the Cavern, he wanted to capture that sound in the studio. In my upcoming book I write:
“Engineer Norman Smith placed the microphones further from the amplifiers than what was normally done so that they would pick up not only direct sound from the amplifiers, but also the ambient sound of the room. This gave the songs a more raucous sound, resembling what was heard at the group’s live performances.”
By 1966, the boys had grown up. They and George Martin were no longer looking for that “live-in-concert” sound. As stated on the back cover to The Beatles Rubber Soul to Revolver:
“With Revolver, The Beatles were looking for more color in their recordings, trying new instruments and techniques. But they were not using studio wizardry to cover weaknesses; they were looking for new sounds to enhance their already brilliant songs.”
In effect, the studio became an instrument all its own for The Beatles to experiment with. The whirling tape sounds heard in the introduction to “Taxman” foreshadow the role that recording tape would play on the album – new techniques such as artificial double-tracking, varispeed recordings, backwards tape recordings and tape loops. Although many of these tape tricks are heard throughout the album, it is the album’s final track, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” that takes full advantage of the techniques that the Abbey Road engineers used so effectively on the album.
The Beatles’ next few projects continued to take advantage of the studio, although The Beatles briefly attempted to get back to the sound of their Please Please Me LP during the Get Back project, foregoing overdubs and other tape effects and going for a “live-in-the-studio” sound, culminating with their famous rooftop concert, where their sound bounced around London buildings instead of studio walls.
Paul’s fast and youthful count-in on “I Saw Her Standing There” is appropriate for an album whose ten new songs were quickly recorded in 14 hours on a single day by a group referred to as “the boys.” George’s slow and mature-sounding count-in on “Taxman” is equally appropriate for an album recorded in 300 hours over a two-and-a-half-month span by a group of maturing young men whose musical abilities were evolving at a mind-numbing pace.
AMERICAN NOTE: Americans who bought the Vee-Jay album Introducing The Beatles, which featured 12 of the 14 songs appearing on the Please Please Me LP, were literally short-changed on the opening. Engineer Roger Anfinsen, who worked at Chicago’s Universal Recording Studios, prepared mono and stereo masters of the Vee-Jay album in late June 1963. Either on his own or following instructions from Vee-Jay, Anfinsen edited most of Paul’s count-in at the beginning of the tape, perhaps thinking it did not belong on the album. Thus, both the mono and stereo versions of Introducing The Beatles open with Paul shouting “Faaa!”
Kessler: Although George wrote the lyrics to this song with some assistance from John Lennon, many music experts call “Taxman” a “true group effort.” Do you agree with this observation, and if so, why?
Spizer: I guess people call “Taxman” a “true group effort” because John assisted George with the lyrics, Paul contributed a great lead guitar solo, and all four Beatles play on the song. That was not always the case on Revolver. No Beatle plays on “Eleanor Rigby,” and Paul and Ringo are the only Beatles playing instruments on “Good Day Sunshine” and “For No One.” John also does not play an instrument on “Love You To” or “Here, There And Everywhere.” But over half the songs on the album have all four Beatles fully participating.
Nonetheless, when the album came out in 1966, Melody Maker astutely noted that “The Beatles individual personalities are now showing loud and clear,” with only a few of the LP’s songs really being Beatle tracks. “Most are Paul tracks, John tracks, George tracks, or in the case of ‘Yellow Submarine,’ Ringo’s track.” George’s fascination for Indian music and Paul’s liking of classical music effects clearly come through. Out of George’s three songs on the album, “Love You To” and “I Want To Tell You” are clearly “George tracks,” while “Taxman” is more of a group effort.
As for Paul playing the guitar solo, that had to have been an awkward moment for George. After all, he was the group’s lead guitarist, and it was his song. But the final result was well worth it. According to Paul: “George let me have a go for that solo because I had an idea. I was trying to persuade George to do something…feedback-y and crazy. And I was showing him what I wanted, and he said, ‘Well, you do it.’” Although George may have capitulated with a taste of resentment and sarcasm, he was later appreciative, 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.”
George allowing the band’s bass player to usurp his guitar solo on his own composition shows that George put the group and the quality of the song ahead of his ego. Now that’s a group effort!
AMERICAN NOTE: While the British version of Revolver has 14 tracks, the Capitol version only has 11 songs. This is because Capitol placed three of the British album’s songs on an earlier release, Yesterday And Today. Unfortunately, all three of these songs, “I’m Only Sleeping” “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “Doctor Robert,” were songs with John on lead vocal. This gave Americans the impression that John had contributed very little to the album.
Kessler: Revolver firmly established The Beatles as recording artists rather than a stage band or a touring band. Tell us about some of the techniques used on “Taxman” that would have been difficult to duplicate on stage.
Spizer: Before Revolver was released, Paul was quoted as saying about the album: “They’ll never be able to copy this one!” He was most likely thinking of songs like “Eleanor Rigby,” “Love You To,” “Yellow Submarine,” and “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and to a lesser extent, “For No One” and “Got To Get You Into My Life.” “Taxman” is actually one of the album’s songs that could have been played live; however, it would not have sounded like the album track unless you had an extra guitar player for the song’s solo and people adding tambourine and cowbell. And, of course, you’d need great musicians to handle Paul’s stop-and-start bass guitar riff working in tandem with Ringo’s energetic drumming, not to mention George’s distorted rhythm guitar and Paul’s aggressive guitar solo.
The Fest loves Bruce…and we sincerely appreciate his sharing insights on “Taxman” with us. You can meet Bruce in person, get a copy of his book, and hear him speak throughout the weekend at the
New York Metro Fest for Beatles Fans, 31 March – 2 April at the Hyatt Regency, Jersey City