Ben Franklin once said that two things in life are certain: death and taxes. But as long as there are taxes, you can also count on complaints about taxes. And as long as there are songwriters who have difficulty paying their taxes, there will be songs about taxes. So, no offense to Franklin, but there are really at least four sure-bets. So here, for your listening pleasure, are ten of our favorite songs that deal with the issue at hand.
The Who (1975)
In 1975, John Entwhistle wrote this autobiographical song about the rise to rock stardom, including the lines "I've gotta play some one-night stands/Six for the tax man and one for the band." When the Who started out in the mid-'60s, the top income tax rate was 91.5 percent on incomes above 1115,000 pounds, prompting many British musicians to invade the United States or other countries with more favorable tax rates.
This Kinks track seems to echo Entwhistle's complaint, beginning with "The taxman's taken all my dough." Writer Ray Davies was being facetious, as he proves with lines like "I can't sail my yacht; He's taken everything I've got" and has said the song, told from the view of an old-money conservative, was meant to mock the idle rich.
Paycheck's 'Take This Job and Shove It' made him a working-class hero and gave him a huge crossover hit. Building off that momentum a year later, this country song again takes up the working man's plight, this time telling the IRS to take their 1040 forms and shove 'em. Ironically, Paycheck would file for bankruptcy in 1990 after tax problems with the IRS.
Billy Bragg (1986)
In this song, Bragg, a liberal activist and punk/folk singer, sang that people who pay taxes expect certain things -- school books, hospital beds and peace -- but that those in power use taxes to help only themselves. Putting his money where his mouth is, Bragg refused to pay his taxes in 2010 unless the government curbed the excessive bonuses awarded to executives at the Royal Bank of Scotland, which received generous bailout money from the public.
Knowing that some people would never have to fight the war in Vietnam, CCR frontman John Fogerty wrote this song about the privileged few. In the song, the fortunate ones are born with silver spoons in hand, but pretend to be poor when the taxman arrives. "It was the time of the Vietnam War and there were all these politicians and other people at the top who stood around waving the flag," Fogerty told the L.A. Times in 1993. "But they were able to manipulate things so that their children weren't touched. And that angered me a lot... in terms of who served in the war, who pays taxes and who doesn't."
In this song, released just before tax deadlines, Cray derides the IRS, singing, "I hate taxes." But, he told the Birmingham News, the tune was tongue-in-cheek. "It's kind of a joking little song. The idea for it came up last year about this time when I was trying to get my (tax) paperwork together."
In this tune from a suddenly socially conscious Gaye, the frustrated narrator sings about the crime, war and financial struggles of the urban poor, suggesting he's ready to throw up his hands and give up. As Gaye sings, "Bad breaks, set backs/Natural fact is, I can't pay my taxes."
Much of the meager wages the fictional factory worker earns in this song goes to paying taxes. But, as Nelson sings, the bills are always paid on time. Funny enough, this wasn't always the case for Nelson himself, who was served with a $32 million bill for delinquent taxes in 1990. That led to the album 'Who'll Buy My Memories? (The I.R.S. Tapes),' assembled just so Nelson could pay off his tax debt.
The message in this Cheap Trick song is quite clear. You: hard-working, broken back, hungry slave. Taxman: hates you, loves your money, ain't human. This song drew inspiration from the Beatles' anti-tax classic 'Taxman,' with the chorus playing off "Tax Man, Mr. Heath," the Beatles line referring to former Prime Minister Edward Heath.
In this George Harrison-penned track, a tax collector declares, "There's one for you, 19 for me," reflecting a 95 percent tax rate, which was almost true for top British earners in 1966. Of course, Harrison was presumably thankful the taxman didn't take it all. When he died in 2001, his estate was valued at $231 million.