Nobody likes the taxman, so right there George had a head start on a hit song with his composition of that name, which the band finally got a handle on today. It was certainly a subject near and dear to The Beatles’ hearts, or at least their wallets. At the time the British tax system was highly progressive, meaning that it went up steeply as you got into the higher brackets. The rate topped out at around 95%, which is why George sings “one for you, nineteen for me.” It’s also why a lot of British musicians ended up leaving England for countries that were a little less grabby.

I believe that this was the first and only time George got the leadoff track on a Beatles album. But though it was George’s song, if what I’ve been reading is correct, “Taxman” was a team effort. John apparently contributed the lines about declaring the pennies on your eyes, and the guitar solo is a Paul McCartney joint. According to Geoff Emerick, Harrison was unable to nail the solo on his own song, and after many failed takes George Martin suggested that Paul have a go. The rest is history.

While we’re the subject, let’s hear a bit from a recent addition to the library: Tell Me Why, the song-by-song Beatles book by Tim Riley.

George counts off “Taxman” in a low sneer that cuts through the off-mike studio noise behind him; fingers on live guitar strings, coughing, the expectancy of a take in the air. George’s forefront voice is just a fake, though — the real count-off comes from the background (left). The two tempos not only trip up expectations as to where the beat will land; they give a sense of space to the recording: the tension between what’s heard in the foreground and how it’s actually produced behind the scenes. The opening count-off of the first record, Please Please Me, captured the essence of the Beatles’ live sound; “Taxman” uses the same idea to announce the new studio aesthetic of Revolver.

And wow, that’s a lot of analysis for two seconds of audio; the song proper hasn’t ever started yet. But that’s how it is with The Beatles; everything they did, however microscopic, seems worthy of attention. And I’m as guilty as anyone. I’ll be back at it tomorrow.

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