“A fool and his money are soon parted,” the old saying goes, “The rest of us wait for tax time!”
And this year that time is on April 18. This cheerless holiday acknowledged by millions of Americans is the day we render unto Uncle Sam what we owe in taxes. Musicians aren’t immune to the vagaries and difficulties that Tax Day represents, and over the years many popular artists have voiced their concern, anxiety and disdain in song. As you write your tax checks this year, perhaps humming along to one of these classic tunes will help ease your pain.
1. Taxman by The Beatles
Best lines: Should five percent appear too small / Be thankful I don’t take it all / ’Cos I’m the taxman
The Iyrics attack the high levels of progressive tax taken by the British Labour government under Harold Wilson when it finally occurred to George Harrison that “even though we had started earning money, we were actually giving most of it away in taxes.” No wonder he and the rest of the Fab Four were mad — the Beatles’ earnings placed them in the top tax bracket in the United Kingdom at the time, making them liable to a 95 percent super tax.
2. Take the Money & Run by The Steve Miller Band
Best lines: Billy Mack is a detective down in Texas / You know he knows just exactly what the facts is / He ain’t gonna let those two escape justice / He makes his livin’ off of the people’s taxes
It’s a romantic outlaw tale of a young duo named Billy Joe and Bobby Sue — think Bonnie and Clyde — who get high, rob a house in Texas and are pursued by police officer Billy Mack.
3. After Taxes by Johnny Cash
Best lines: There goes that bracelet for her arm / There goes that new fence for my farm / There goes that brand new Pontiac / There goes the shirt right off my back
Cash recorded this gently rollicking, piano-driven ballad for his 1978 album, I Would Like to See You Again. Given his status as the patron saint of Outlaw Country music, it’s no surprise that Mr. Cash takes a shot at the paycheck deflators at the IRS with high style.
4. Success Story by The Who
Best lines: Away for the weekend / I’ve gotta play some one-night stands / Six for the taxman / one for the band
This song from the 1975 LP The Who By Numbers is another in a long line of UK rants about how hard it is to be a rock star. The lyrics trace the rise of a hopeful musician who hits the big time only to get bored by the whole deal. Must be rough for these rich blokes.
5. Sunny Afternoon by The Kinks
Best lines: The taxman’s taken all my dough / And left me in this stately home / Lazing on a sunny afternoon / And I can’t sail my yacht / He’s taken everything I got / All I’ve got’s this sunny afternoon
Like their other rock star peers, The Kinks were freaked out by England’s outrageous tax increases in the mid-’60s. This song has irony to spare and Ray Davies’ lilting voice begging “Ah, save me, save me, save me from this squeeze.”
6. 1040 Blues by The Robert Cray Band
Best lines: Taxes gonna break my back, I swear / Don’t you know I play a lot more than my share?
This swinging blues song from the band’s 1993 album Shame + a Sin speaks for itself. How many of us don’t have the blues, short form or long, on Tax Day?
7. Money, Money, Money by Abba
Best lines: I work all night, I work all day / To pay the bills I have to pay / Ain’t it sad / And still there never seems to be / A single penny left for me / That’s too bad
While not overtly about taxes, it sure fits.
8. Taxman, Mr. Thief by Cheap Trick
Best lines: You work hard, you make money / There ain’t no one in the world who can stop you / You work hard, you went hungry / Now the Taxman is out to get you
Cheap Trick’s homage to The Beatles’ Tax Man appeared on its 1977 debut album and even includes a reference to the Fab Four hit in the chorus: “Taxman, Mr. Heath / He’s a thief!”
9. Fortunate Son by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Best lines: Some folks are born, silver spoon in hand / Lord, don’t they help themselves, y’all / But when the taxman comes to the door / Lord, the house looks like a rummage sale, yeah
Most definitely, this song is connected to the war in Vietnam. But it is also a scathing condemnation of the ruling class who send others off to war while hiding their wealth from the IRS.
10. Me and the IRS by Johnny Paycheck
Best lines: How can I keep my arm around my woman / With Uncle Sam’s hand in my pants? / If I can’t pay the fiddler / Well, how the hell am I gonna dance?
Johnny Paycheck, born Donald Eugene Lytle, made his living with blue-collar rebuttals like this — the other being his even more admired Take this Job and Shove It. The man is sure angry, as he bemoans the fact — punctuated by his pedal steel guitar — that “the big man plays while the little man pays, so the hell with the IRS!”
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