The song which kicked off Revolver, The Beatles’ 1966 masterpiece, was written by George Harrison and was a bitter attack on Britain’s supertax system.
Inspiration for Taxman came after Harrison discovered how much of The Beatles’ earnings went straight to the Treasury.
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 [96p] 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.
In writing the song, Harrison was grudgingly helped by John Lennon. It was Lennon’s suggestion to use the names of both prime minister Harold Wilson and opposition leader Edward Heath, the first living people to be directly named in a Beatles song.
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.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
— George Harrison (@GeorgeHarrison) August 14, 2017
In the studio
Recording for the song began on 20 April 1966, when The Beatles taped four takes, two of which were complete. They rearranged it overnight, and the following day recorded 11 new takes, the first 10 of which were of the rhythm track only.
The Anthology 2 collection features take 11 of the song, the first with vocals. The most notable difference between this and the Revolver version is the replacement of the ‘Mr Wilson, Mr Heath’ section with Lennon and McCartney’s repeated falsetto “Anybody got a bit of money?” The famous count-in, spoken by Paul McCartney, was from this take.
On 22 April Ringo Starr added his cowbell part, and the ‘Mr Wilson, Mr Heath’ lines made their appearance. Then the track was left alone until 16 May, when the song was mixed for mono.
George Harrison was pleased with McCartney’s guitar solo, particularly the Indian-influenced descending scale at the end. It was recorded on 21 April, and the solo was repeated to close the song during a mixing and edit session on 21 June.
Although it has been claimed that the guitar solo was later reversed, slowed down a tone, edited and used during the instrumental break in Tomorrow Never Knows, the two parts are quite different and were likely recorded on different days.