Tax Canon, Music Edition

A week and a half ago, Leandra posted some of the history and context of the Beatle’s “Taxman.” It got me thinking about something I’ve been wondering about for a while: what songs are out there that talk about tax?[fn1]

I’ve found a couple places that have addressed the question, but they’re all deficient. “Sound Opinions” did a show on the question this last April, but, in spite of calling it the “Tax Day Special,” they included songs about money broadly, not taxes specifically.

VH1 got the taxes (mostly) right (“Take the Money and Run” is a stretch for my purposes), but limited themselves to 10 songs, and all of the songs are rock songs. (Still, I’m going to steal several of theirs for this.) 

Rules

Here, I’m looking for songs that are (a) about taxes, or (b) have a significant mention of taxes. So, for example, Willie Nelson’s The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories doesn’t count. Sure, the album was released to raise money for Nelson to pay his taxes, but the songs themselves have nothing to do with taxes.[fn2]

Songs About Taxes

Beatles, “Taxman”

(Note that this is Harrison and Clapton; the Beatles’s version isn’t on YouTube, at least not legally.)

No comment on this—Leandra already took care of it.

Johnny Paycheck, “Me and the IRS”

So I don’t listen to a ton of country (I’m a jazz person, myself). But I have a soft spot for outlaw country. And honestly, this strikes me as the US version of “Taxman.” It’s awesome, with lyrics like, “Put your 1040 form where the sun don’t shine, Straighten out your own damn mess, You can write me off ’cause I ain’t givin’, A dime to the IRS,” it’s kind of perfect.

Johnny Cash, “After Taxes”

So this is kind of about withholding; Johnny Cash talks about the realization that your gross income is something different than the size of the check you actually get.

Cheap Trick, “Taxman, Mr. Thief”

Like the Beatles, Cheap Trick mentions Edward Heath by name. Also, it turns out, Cheap Trick really didn’t like taxes.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Tones, “What if We All Stopped Paying Taxes”

Man, I love Sharon Jones. She captures that 60s soul/funk sound so perfectly. This is an anti-war song. The first thing I thought of when I heard this song was Quakers who, as a result of their Peace Testimony, tried conscientiously objecting to paying that portion of their taxes that corresponded to military spending. (Needless to say, they had no luck in court.)

The Kinks, “Sunny Afternoon”

I debated between including this here or in the next section. It’s really only the first verse that explicitly mentions taxes, but the song centers around a rich person who’s feeling the squeeze of life after taxes. Also, it drips irony really nicely. Ultimately, because taxes launch everything in the song, it feels like a song about taxes.

Babylove and the Van Dangos, “Tax Man Ska”

Until like 5 minutes ago, I’d never heard of this band. Here, we have the story of someone who underpaid his taxes (even if the problem was a “miscalculation / on a big computer down at the station,” he’s got to pay the underpaid taxes). Like so many of the songs, it seems to owe a fair amount to the Beatles.

Songs That Mention Taxes

Fats Waller, “We, the People” — “We don’t give a rap about taxation / long as legislators give the nation / syncopation.” (For the record, this is my favorite song on the list; I first heard heard an amazing Catherine Russell version of the song.)

Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Fortunate Son” — “Some folks are born, silver spoon in hand / Lord, don’t they help themselves / And when the taxman comes to the door / Lord, the house looks like a rummage sale.”

The Who, “Success Story” — “Away for the weekend, I’ve gotta play some one-night stands / six for the taxman, one for the band.” (This line sounds like a direct reference to the Beatles’s lyric “There’s one for you, nineteen for me,” only from the band’s point of view.)

Billy Joel, “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song) — “You can pay Uncle Sam with the overtime / Is that all you get for your money?” (FWIW, I’ve seen Billy Joel live twice, in San Diego and at Wrigley.)

L7, “Shove” — “Bill collector called today / IRS has all my pay.”

Other

Jimi Hendrix, “Tax Free” — No lyrics here, so maybe it doesn’t count, but it is a song expressly dedicated to taxes.

Anything Else?

I’m sure I’m missing something (and probably many somethings). What other songs belong in the canon of tax songs?

I’ve also made a Tax Canon Spotify playlist; I’ll update it as more suggestions come in.


[fn1] Larry Zelenak has done the definitive work on the question of tax in sitcoms, but I’m not aware of anything similar for music.

[fn2] Though frankly, I may have to get the album anyway.

8 thoughts on “Tax Canon, Music Edition

  1. Awesome, Leandra, thanks!

    According to Google, “I Paid My Income Tax Today” is an early-1940s Irving Berlin song. I’d be curious if WWII was the height of tax patriotism; I’m going to have to look more carefully at the lyrics (available here). I love the sense of ownership the lyrics evince, though.

    And I can’t believe I forgot Michael Bolton.

    So two more songs that are way more positive toward taxes than the ones I found; they definitely belong in the canon!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for including those in the canon! You’re right that “I Paid My Income Tax Today” is an Irving Berlin song. I believe Gene Autry sang it in the video I linked.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Okay, I should have known the blues would be just as fertile ground for tax songs as British Invasion and country. A few more:

    Songs About Taxes

    Ralph Ellis, “Income Tax Blues”

    This could totally have been Bernie Sanders’s anthem. Ellis doesn’t just complain about the taxes he has to pay, he also complains that the rich aren’t paying their share. Each chorus ends: “I got my income taxes this morning / Yes, it’s got be paid / It’s a shame, it’s a shame / No one taxes what my boss has made.” This is an absolutely wonderful song.

    Steve Marriott and the Pollcats, “Poll Tax Blues”

    “I ain’t going to pay no poll tax / Anymore.”

    Songs That Mention Taxes

    Eddie Vinson and His Orchestra, “Luxury Tax Blues” — “I went to see my baby / She said Daddy just relax / but that night as I was leaving / I paid ten dollars luxury tax.” (The song’s mostly about inflation, and I’m not entirely clear what the luxury tax he paid is, but there it is.)

    Like

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