So you sat down and wrote a hit song that just went multi-platinum. The song grossed $1,000,000 and you go to pick up your royalty check and the secretary hands you a check for $50,000. “Where’d all my money go?” you undoubtedly ask. The secretary, in a less than interested tone says, “taxes.” That’s what was happening to the Beatles in the 60’s when Great Britain’s top tax rate was an eye-popping 95%. You can fight the tax man in court or you can fight him on the air waves. George Harrison chose to write “Taxman” and air his grievances to millions of fans worldwide. Beatles fans got a great classic, but George and the remaining Fab 3 no doubt got a big tax bill.
The lead-off song of the Revolver album, “Taxman” was written by George Harrison and recorded in April and May of 1966. Prior to Revolver, Harrison had difficulty getting his songs onto the album, but “Taxman” became proof that Harrison had arrived as a songwriter.
A little background on 1966 Great Britain is in order. In 1966, the top tax bracket in the UK was 95%; compare that to a top rate of 39.6% today in the US! This was the genesis of the line “There’s one for you, nineteen for me,” a literal description of their tax rate. The Beatles were starting to make some serious income at this point, and as they were all becoming painfully aware of the UK’s tax system, Harrison started writing “Taxman.”
Interestingly, John Lennon did not want to help George on this song at first, but eventually gave in and helped create the anti-establishment song. “I didn’t want to do it. I thought, ‘Oh, no, don’t tell me I have to work on George’s stuff,” Lennon would later say, “But because I loved him and I didn’t want to hurt him, I said OK.”
Also, the line “Ah, ah! Mr. Wilson/Mr. Heath” was originally “Anybody got a bit of money?”, but was changed to add a bit of a barb at the then-heads of Great Britain’s Labor and Conservative Parties, Harold Wilson and Edward Heath. They were the first public figures to be mentioned in a Beatles song.