The Beatles’ ‘Taxman’: A Timeless Classic or a Dated Relic?

The Beatles‘ “Taxman” is one of the most famous songs from Revolver. On one level, it’s horribly behind the times. On the other hand, its message is immortal.

The Beatles’ ‘Taxman’ feels out of touch with 1960s music and out of touch with today

The 1960s saw a wave of famous protest songs. Folk singers like Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger protested the ills of the world, like racism, conformity, and the Vietnam War. Even Elvis Presley, during his poppy Las Vegas years, got in on the trend with “In the Ghetto,” a protest song about the cycle of violence and the cycle of poverty. Meanwhile, The Beatles were protesting taxes.

“Taxman” isn’t even about protesting tax money going to unworthy causes like pork projects or unjust wars. It’s just a song about how taxes are terrible. Considering how much money the Fab Four were bringing in, that’s not the most sympathetic sentiment. At the same time, “Taxman” undercuts the antimaterialist sentiments of other Beatles songs like “Can’t Buy Me Love” or “All You Need Is Love” or even John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

In a time of political polarization, many listeners might think of “Taxman” as an annoying example of the upper class whining about their problems. Celebrities certainly have problems of their own, but do we want to hear rich people complain about not being rich enough?

At the same time, The Beatles put an instantly relatable message into the song

On the other hand, the Fab Four were definitely onto something when they crafted “Taxman.” Rich or poor, few people like paying taxes. Having your hard-earned money taken away from you is never a pleasant experience. The Beatles took that terrible feeling and channeled it into a fun song with some excellent guitar riffs and humor.

The line “If you try to sit, sit / I’ll tax your seat / If you get too cold, cold / I’ll tax the heat / if you take a walk, walk / I’ll tax your feet” is worthy of Lewis Carroll. The song even works for an international audience, even though many people aren’t familiar with Harold Wilson or Edward Heath, the British politicians named in the lyrics as wanting to raise taxes. To some listeners, they probably sound like fictional creations, like Desmond and Molly Jones from “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.”

‘Taxman’ could have been yet another hit from ‘Revolver’

In addition, “Taxman” sounds fantastic. Its groove is like the Batman theme gone wild. Revolver produced three Billboard top 20 singles: “Eleanor Rigby,” “Yellow Submarine,” and “Got to Get You Into My Life.” If it was a single, there’s little doubt “Taxman” would have charted on the Billboard Hot 100. Who knows how successful it could have been?

“Taxman” has its upsides and downsides but it’s definitely a memorable song.

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