When was it recorded? Apr. 20-22 and Jun. 21, 1966
When was it first released, and on which album? Aug. 5, 1966 on “Revolver”
Who wrote it? Harrison (with noteworthy contribution from Lennon)
Have I heard this song before? Yes
What my research dug up:
According to Rolling Stone, “’Taxman’ represents a crucial link between the guitar-driven clang of the Beatles’ 1963-65 sound and the emerging splendor of the group’s experiments in psychedelia. The song is skeleton funk — Harrison’s choppy fuzz-toned guitar chords moving against an R&B dance beat, but the extra hours he and engineer Geoff Emerick spent on guitar tone on Revolver foreshadowed Harrison’s intense plunge into Indian music and the sitar on later songs.”
“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 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.” — George Harrison (Anthology)
[For what it’s worth the current standard royalty rate per song in America is like nine cents or $1.75 per minute of playing, whichever is greater. Not exactly rolling in the money here.]
Quoth Wikipedia, “As their earnings placed them in the top tax bracket in the United Kingdom, the Beatles were liable to a 95% supertax introduced by Harold Wilson’s Labour government,” so, yikes.
John helped George with the “Taxman” lyrics, particularly the references to Prime Minister and Labor Party leader Harold Wilson and Conservative Party leader Edward Heath.
I’ve seen a surprising amount of dissertation on the opening count-in on “Taxman.” Most sources agree it’s a self-parody of “I Saw Her Standing There” and how it opened their first album, “Please Please Me” (Pollack). Wikipedia said its use in “Taxman” “has been described as an ‘elaborate conceptual joke’ with hints of ‘self-mockery,’” but I failed to find direct sources for those quotes.
The Beatles recorded four takes (two complete) of “Taxman” on Apr. 20, 1966 but then rearranged the song that night. The next day they recorded 10 takes of rhythm track. Take 11 added vocals and appeared on “Anthology 2.” The final version’s count-in actually came from this take.
Not that far off from the finished product.
Ringo added cowbell the following day, and George changed “Anybody got a bit of money?” to the Wilson/Heath reference. The song was mixed for mono on May 16 and mixed again on Jun. 21. Before that final mixing though, Paul re-recorded his guitar solo to use during the song’s close.
George continued to play “Taxman” in his live tours after the Beatles’ split. I don’t blame him – if I wrote a song that rockin’ I would play it all the time, too. Plus, as George noted, “It’s a song that goes regardless if it’s the sixties, seventies, eighties or nineties. “There’s always a taxman.”