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The one George Harrison song that changed The Beatles forever

When George Harrison left The Beatles, he was ready to take on the world, and for a period of time, he was the biggest name that the Liverpudlian outfit had produced. With his solo album All Things Must Pass, Harrison proved what he had already known for a long time; he was a great songwriter.

Back it was back in 1966 that his first song truly landed alongside John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and it was enough to turn the former’s stomach over.

George Harrison’s songwriting contributions continued to increase from the moment he wrote and recorded ‘Don’t Bother Me’, a track which later appeared on the Fab Four’s record, With The Beatles. He composed the material while unwell in bed, and while it is not remembered today as a landmark tune, Harrison once explained its importance: “At least it showed me that all I needed to do was keep on writing, and then maybe eventually I would write something good”.

A great songwriter himself, Bob Dylan, once accurately summed up Harrison’s place within The Beatles when he said, “George got stuck with being the Beatle that had to fight to get songs on records because of Lennon and McCartney. Well, who wouldn’t get stuck?” during an interview back in 2007.

It’s a sentiment that is hard to argue with, and it must have been stifling to sit between two such musical powerhouses as John and Paul. “If George had had his own group and was writing his own songs back then, he’d have been probably just as big as anybody,” Dylan added. Instead, Harrison decided to tough it out and perhaps pick up a few tricks along the way, adding his own compositions to the albums when the time was right.

One such composition, however, would completely change The Beatles forever and ensure that the Lennon-McCartney reign was certainly over. The song in question was the 1966 effort ‘Taxman’. The opening track on The Beatles’ album Revolver, ‘Taxman’ marked not only Harrison using his own life to help him write songs, but the first moment he really ascended to match the levels set by his bandmates.

The song’s anti-socialist message may not have been quite as in-keeping with the tone as others, but the track remains a favourite among fans. Musically, it was rich and textured, while lyrically it was barbed and jagged. “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,” remembered Harrison for Anthology.

“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,” he added. “That was a big turn-off for Britain. Anybody who ever made any money moved to America or somewhere else.”

They did, too. A whole host of British rock stars of the time, targeted by the government, were effectively exiled from Britain as the sought countries with looser taxation laws. But the real ripples of change were felt within the group, not outside it. ‘Taxman’ proved that Harrison had caught up to his bandmates in the songwriting game, and Lennon knew it all too well.

“I remember the day he called to ask for help on ‘Taxman’, one of his first songs,” Lennon told David Sheff back in 1980. “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.”

However, Lennon was still more than happy to help out a friend: “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”.

After the release of ‘Taxman’, things changed. Suddenly Harrison’s songs were taken seriously, or at least more seriously. He was given added license to experiment and write his own tunes. The guitarist would go on a cracking run of songs, too, providing some of The Beatles’ finest cuts, such as ‘Here Comes The Sun’ and ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ to name but two.

It all started with ‘Taxman’, the George Harrison song that changed The Beatles forever.

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