-By Mike “McBeardo” McPadden
April 15th is upon us and you know what that means, America. The deadline to file income taxes looms like a beast just waiting to pounce on your pocketbook come the stroke of midnight.
If you’re annoyed by how severe a financial bite the government is sinking into you this year, rest assured that decades’ worth of rock stars have shared your misery and frustration. The only difference is that many of them have written and performed some great songs about it.
So, for Tax Day, drown your sorrows in the following playlist of rocking rants in response to each citizen’s so-called civic duty to directly deposit their own money into the pockets of the powers that be.
“Taxman” – Beatles (1966)
Filed Under Protest: “If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street/If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat/If you get too cold I’ll tax the heat/If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet”
John Lennon and Paul McCartney were notorious for not allowing George Harrison’s compositions to make the final cuts on various Beatles albums but in the light of England’s notorious progressive tax of the 1960s (which sent the Rolling Stones, among others, relocating from their homeland), they simply couldn’t resist his witty takedown of governmental greed.
“Sunny Afternoon” – The Kinks (1966)
Filed Under Protest: “The tax man’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”
Similarly freaked out by England’s sudden cancerous tax increases in the mid-’60s, the Kinks fired off the irony-laden “Sunny Afternoon.” Told from the point-of-view of a self-pitying millionaire, the song lays out his laments about losing his fancy home and his pleasure vessel as he ponders the prospect of just sailing away. Unlike Uncle Same, who typically gets blamed for money gluttony stateside, the Kinks see the tax fiend as female, as evident when frontman Ray Davies sings: “Ah, save me, save me, save me from this squeeze/I got a big fat mama trying to break me.”
“Taxman, Mr. Thief” – Cheap Trick (1977)
Filed Under Protest: “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 didn’t wait to become rich and famous rock stars before they flipped a musical bird to the department of revenue. “Taxman, Mr. Thief” appears on the group’s 1977 debut album. What’s more, they even blame an individual agent of the state in the song’s chorus: “Taxman, Mr. Heath/He’s a thief!”
“Success Story” – The Who (1975)
Filed Under Protest: “Away for the weekend, I’ve gotta play some one-night stands/six for the taxman, one for the band”
“Success Story,” from the 1975 LP The Who By Numbers, hails from the tradition of songs about how it sucks to be rock star that has also given us “Limelight” by Rush and “Turn the Page” by Bob Seger. The lyrics trace the rise of a hopeful musician who hits the big time only to get bored by the whole deal: “Back in the studio to make our latest number one/Take two-hundred-and-seventy-six/You know, this used to be fun.” It’s a bit easier to sympathize with when the words are bitching about taxes.
“Fortunate Son” – Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969)
Filed Under Protest: “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”
“Fortunate Son,” an absolutely blistering indictment of the ruling class by Creedence Clearwater Revival takes the unusual (and some might even argue illogical) stance of casting the IRS collector as—gulp!—the good guy. CCR frontman John Fogerty wails in anger against self-anointed patriots and chickenhawks who send others to war, and also blasts the well-to-do who hide their wealth from the state’s agents of confiscation.
It does beg the question that, since the government is committing numerous evils laid out in the song, wouldn’t starving it of funds be a good thing? There’s no answer to any question, of course, except as to whether or not “Fortunate Son” rocks. And that’s an eternal, screaming, “Yes!”
“Take the Money and Run” – Steve Miller Band (1976)
Filed Under Protest: “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”
Steve Miller’s “Take the Money and Run” is a romantic outlaw tale in the tradition of Robin Hood or, more pointedly, the movie Bonnie and Clyde, about adventurous thieves Billy Joe and Bobbie sue, who are “two young lovers with nothing better to do.” As such, Detective Billy Mack is the song’s antagonist: the tax-sucking long arm of the law who extracts restitution at gunpoint and from whom our anti-heroes are on the lam. Billy Mack takes the money and runs his way; Billy Joe and Bobbie take the money and run their way. It’s pretty clear on whose side the song is.
“Movin’ Out” – Billy Joel (1977)
Filed Under Protest: “You can pay Uncle Sam with your overtime/is that all you get for your money?”
“Movin’ Out” paints a charming and vivid portrait of ethnic life in New York’s Little Italy. Joel, in the role of the song’s narrator, observes the futility of Anthony, an grocer who’s forever toiling, and Sgt. O’Leary, a moonlighting bartender cop, as they break their backs to realize their respective dreams of buying a house out in Hackensack and a Cadillac-ac-ac-ac. Particularly galling to Billy is that for all those endless hours they put, the government just helps itself to anything extra. That’s when the singer announces he’s had enough. He’s movin’ out.
“After Taxes” – Johnny Cash (1978)
Filed Under Protest: You can dream about vacation in the sun/You can dream but you can’t never have you one/’Cause by the time your good old Uncle Sam gets done/You’ve got just enough for gas/To see them city limits pass/And if you get back home fourth class/I’d say you won”
Outlaw Country, by its very nature, throws hate toward authority, so naturally the movement’s patron saint, the impeccable Johnny Cast, socks it to the paycheck deflators at the IRS with high style in “After Taxes.”
Other notable black-hatted C&W aimed at the taxman include “Me and the IRS” by Johnny Paycheck, and Willie Nelson’s entire album, The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories?, which was rushed out to pay off a sudden $16 million(!) tax bill the longhaired Texas crooner found himself suddenly stuck with in 1992.
“Tax Free” – Jimi Hendrix (1968)
The hostility Jimi Hendrix felt toward the IRS apparently so burned him up that the guitar master was a loss for words: the ferocious psychedelic freak-out “Tax Free” is an earth-scorching instrumental.
“Shove” – L7 (1990)
Filed Under Protest: “The bill collector called today/the IRS has all my pay!”
Grunge-metal goddesses L7 kick off their landmark 1990 SubPop EP Smell the Magic with “Shove,” a fist-to-the-face declaration of war against the daily irritants plaguing these dangerously angry women. It’s telling that L7 equates the IRS with disapproving parents, neighbors who gripe about noise, a dog-hating landlord, eye-burning smog, and some guy who just pinched singer Donita Sparks in the ass. In other words: they’re the lowest of the low.