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- Scarborough Unfair
An article on how Paul Simon stole Martin Carthy's arrangement of the English folk song "Scarborough Fair"
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Notes on "Taxman"
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This article is from Alan W. Pollack's groundbreaking series "Notes on the Beatles". Links in the orginal article is written in this colour: index to the series, while links I have added appears as standard links. Go here for more information on my site about the song
Notes on "Taxman"
KEY D Major METER 4/4 ---- 2X ---- FORM Intro -> Verse/Refrain -> Bridge -> ---- 2X ---- Verse(guitar solo)/Refrain -> Verse/Refrain -> Outro (fadeout)
General Points of Interest
Style and Form
They seemed to always open their albums with something hard-driving, loud, and relatively up-tempo; you'd think they were running to catch a bus :-) Indeed, the ever-popular American line-up for Rubber Soul which opens with the gentle, folksy "I've Just Seen A Face" would seem to be notably if only *slightly* at odds with this trend; after all, even it is *fast*.
"Taxman" turns out to be George's one-time-only shot at the first track position, and though his offering surely grooves with adequate oomph to match its predecessors, the song is still an album-opening change of pace in terms of its exotic flavor in the music and absence of love interest in the lyrics. I half wonder if the campy count-in is meant as a direct self-parody of I Saw Her Standing There or not.
The form is relatively flat, with many iterations of the same Verse/Refrain "combination" section and a bridge that is musically not much different from the rest of the song.
Melody and Harmony
The song contains a great deal of modal flavor from the extent to which both the tune and the chord choices place stress on the flat 7th degree, i.e. C natural. The choice of mode is difficult to judge (given a choice between Mixolydian and Dorian) because the 3rd scale degree is avoided entirely in the tune, and in the harmony, we are frequently given the tangy Major/minor I chord, which depending on which of the two you think dominates, could indicate *either* Mixolydian or Dorian.
The tune is otherwise pentatonic (C,D,E,G,A) and mantra-like in the way it obsessively noodles around with a limited number of motifs and within a limited range.
The harmony contains relatively few chords; just the Hey Jude trio of I, flat-VII, and IV (i.e. D, C, and G) plus one belated appearance of flat-III (i.e. F) strategically deployed to signal the nearing of the end. In other words, there's no V chord!
The underlying beat, which in most respects is hard driving, is made a bit awkwardly ambling or lurching by virtue of sharp syncopations and uneven section lengths.
On a different plane, the intensity of the music increases and the texture thickens over the course of the song. Perhaps the best previous example of this gambit that that we've seen to-date is "You Won't See Me."
Paul provides yet another effective bassline ostinato figure, and makes an even more impressive "debut" on lead guitar with his rapid- fire and wide-ranging solo; modal inflections, bent notes and all. Ringo too gets yet another chance to show his stuff, as usual, in the joints between formal sections.
George's lead vocal is double-tracked as is his wont. John and Paul provide a varied backing vocal; embossing the lead in each refrain, adding a rejoinder to the lead in the penultimate verse, and reinforcing with a 3-part "TAXMAN" the one-two guitar chops in the guitar solo and final verse.
The track opens up with a phony spliced-in "count off", the effect of which is made whacky by the tone of what sounds like George's artifically slowed-down speaking voice, the sound of a guitar's stray noodling in the background, seemingly random fast-backward tape noises, and the fact the this count off is not in the same tempo as the music which follows. Listen closely and you can hear *Paul* calling out the real count-off (especially by the time he reaches "four!") .
When the music starts, we are given two measures worth of instrumental vamping on the bassline ostinato that pervades the song. The melodic contour and rhythmic pattern of this figure make for an interesting comparison with the ostinati of Day Tripper and "Paperback Writer." Though hard syncopations feature prominently all three of them, the figures of the earlier two songs spread out over two full measures and have an arch-like melodic shape. In our current song, the duration of the figure is one measure only and it's melodic contour, such as it is, is much more like a saw tooth than an arch; overall, it lends the song a feeling of being tense and tightly wound.
The thirteen-measure verse starts off straightforwardly enough with an eight measure (4+4, AA) couplet, but it is asymmetrically balanced off by a five-measure phrase which subdivides into 3 measures of refrain plus the same two measures of vamping from the outro; the underlying effect of which is artfully lopsided:
Verse: --------------- 2X -------------- |D |- |- |- | D I Refrain: |C |- |G |D |- | flat-VII IV I
A strong hint of the 12-bar blues manages to assert itself in this verse in spite of the asymmetry by virtue is the 'AAB' form, the rhetorical obligatto-filled space at the end of each 'AA' phrase, the flat 3rds in the rhythm guitar chords and flat 7ths in the tune. Even the flat-VII-to- IV harmony of the 'B' phrase manages to sound like a paraphrase of the traditional V-to-IV cliche of the 12-bar frame.
Those obligatto-filled spaces at the end of the 'AA' phrases are where the ever increasing intensity over the course of the song, mentioned above, is manifested. The tone is set right off in the first verse with those D Major/minor guitar chords sharply executed on 1-2, and reinforced by sizzling cymbal slashes; the second verse adds tambourine first and later cowbell to the percussion backing; the third verse adds more cowbell plus those "Ha, ha, Mr. etcetera" backing vocals in falsetto; and in the final verse we get "TAXMAN" in 3-part bold-italic harmony sung at the top of their lungs, an effect first introduced at the very beginning of the guitar solo and that returns at the start of the intro.
The bridge is nine measures long and parses out as an AA' couplet of parallel phrases, the second one of which is elongated an extra measure for rhetorical emphasis:
|D |- |- |C | I flat-VII |D |- |- |C |- | I flat-VII
The lead and backing vocals create a special effect in this section, with the vocal ensemble harmonizing on the first portion of each phrase, and then allowing the lead to finish the phrase while the backers sustain the last syncopated word of the first half-phrase.
The guitar solo fills the verse segment of "just another" Verse/Refrain section, though without the usual vocal cues you almost don't notice that aspect even though the one-two cymbal slashes *do* fall out in measures 3 and 7 as they usually do. You can trace an affinity of the Boys for this kind of half-to-two-thirds instrumental at least as far back as ` "From Me To You."
Paul's guitar solo is hot stuff; fast triplets, exotic modal touches, and a melodic shape which traverses several octaves and ends with a breathtaking upward flourish. Barry, my erstwhile sysops guy back at mirror.tmc.com, used to say this solo had all the earmarks of being improvised an inveterate bass player, pointing out the extent to which this solo was motivically linked to the bassline ostinato. On the other hand, this solo has always sounded to my ears almost as though it were Clapton's own handiwork, only sped up to the frantically comical pace of the Keystone Cops :-)
Once the lead guitar finishes his solo, note how he stays on as a more ongoing presence for the rest of the piece, more or less doubling the bassline ostinato an octave or two higher. It's a subtle but definitely calculated contribution to the effect of ongoing increased intensity over the course of the song.
The final refrain is modified in chord choice and extended an additional measure in length in order to provide the kind of implicit deceleration that typically signals the end is near:
|Refrain: |Outro: chords: |C |- |G |D |F |- |D |... bassline: |F
E D C|D ... flat-VII IV I flat-III
The bassline provides an unusual, small twist of "counterpoint" in the way it helps fill out the sustained two measures on the surprising F Major chord. Once the D chord is reached, we head into the fadeout with a more or less literal reprise of the guitar solo.
Some Final Thoughts
What goes around comes around. Here we have George's turn at the wordy, droning, modal, technologically whimsical (yet topically serious) Song Type. It's actually aged more gracefully over the years than many another "political" song from the 60s or any other period. Must be something about the perenial inevitability of the subject matter; no joke or exaggeration -- I heard it played over the P.A. system at the local post office one recent ides of April. Cheap joke, huh ?
In "Taxman"'s original historical context of "Paperback Writer" and R, though, you'd think, to paraphrase a popular Peanuts video (of all things), that the Beatles suddenly could find No Time For Love. In this respect, it's a shame the technology couldn't have supported a three-sided single; heck, add "Eleanor Rigby", and you'd have either the makings of an EP or a quartet for bridge.
Regards, Alan (firstname.lastname@example.org) --- "So Wilson said to Dubrovniev, 'come on, boy, we gotta swing'". 010594#92 --- H X L B D
Copyright (c) 1994 by Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved
This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains intact and in place.
These articles were originally posted in the News Group rec.music.beatles. The content from this newsgroup is archived at http://www.recmusicbeatles.com/, and Alan W. Pollacks "Notes On" series can be found at http://www.recmusicbeatles.com/public/files/awp/awp.html. I used to link to the versions published in Soundscapes before I decided to include them on my own site.
If you want to learn more about the musical side of song writing, chord progressions, harmony and theory through The Beatles songs (and/or The Beatles in particular), I recommend the following book:
Artist: Dominic Pedler
Arranged by The Beatles
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