Tax Day Blues: 10 Cool Songs to Soothe the Pain
For those who prepare their own taxes, it’s pretty much a toss-up regarding which is worse: the drudgery of filling out those forms, or writing that check to Uncle Sam. To make the process less painful, we’ve compiled a list of cool songs that address issues related to money, the government and the I.R.S. Our “1040 playlist” won’t reduce your tax liability, but hopefully it will soften the blow that happens every April 15.
“Don’t Worry about the Government” – Talking Heads
This sunny pop rocker, from Talking Heads’ debut album, is sung from the perspective of a naïve worker who’s just scored a government job in Washington, D.C. At least one scribe has noted that the song exudes the “lunatic optimism” that was occasionally a hallmark of David Byrne’s writing. “Some civil servants are just like my loved ones,” sings Byrne. No word as to whether he was referring to I.R.S. agents.
“After Taxes” – Johnny Cash
This gently rollicking ballad was recorded by Cash for his 1978 album, I Would Like to See You Again. “From those total wages earned / Down to that net amount due / I feel a painful sense of loss between the two,” sang Cash. Fittingly, the chorus kicks off with the line, “There goes that bracelet for her arm.” For reasons that are unclear, country music seems packed with more “tax” songs than other genres.
“Taxman” – The Beatles
George Harrison wrote this song for The Beatles’ Revolver album after learning the extent to which the band’s earnings were being siphoned off by the British tax system. Lennon pitched in with some one-liners, while McCartney handled the guitar solo. The song features some of the most angular rhythm guitar Harrison ever committed to tape.
“Me and the I.R.S.” – Johnny Paycheck
Lots of weepy pedal steel punctuates this honky-tonk classic. Never one to pull punches, Paycheck moans that “the I.R.S. ain’t gonna rest until they think they’ve got it all.” It’s worth noting that the singer filed for bankruptcy in 1990 after--you guessed it--encountering troubles with the I.R.S.
“Sunny Afternoon” – The Kinks
The Kinks scored a massive hit in 1966 with this breezy, music-hall-flavored song. “The tax man’s taken all my dough and left me in my stately home,” sang Ray Davies, “lazing on a sunny afternoon.” It’s probably no coincidence that during the period in which Ray Davies wrote this song, the Kinks were confronting legal issues that prevented them for touring in the U.S.
“Who’ll Buy My Memories” – Willie Nelson
Nelson wrote this song as the title track for his 1992 album, The IRS Tapes—an album he recorded specifically to help garner funds to settle his debt to Uncle Sam. A considerable portion of Nelson's assets had been auctioned by the I.R.S. prior to the album’s release, but most of the items were returned to Nelson by the people who purchased them. The IRS Tapes was a critical and commercial success, generating $3.5 million that went into Uncle Sam’s coffers.
“Take the Money and Run” – Steve Miller Band
This country-tinged rocker tells a modern day Bonnie-and-Clyde story of two young lovers on the lam in the wake of a robbery gone awry. Although it’s not hard to envision tax evaders adopting the song as their anthem, Miller specifically intended it to be a “road trip” song—upbeat and fun. In 2001, Miller agreed to let rappers Run-D.M.C. sample the track for their final album, Crown Royal.
“Wall Street Shuffle” – 10cc
This terrific riff-driven rocker was the lead track on 10cc’s classic 1974 album, Sheet Music. Fitted with sweeping power chords, the song namechecks John Paul Getty, the Rothschild family, and Howard Hughes. The main melody popped into band member Eric Stewart’s head as the group was crossing Wall Street in a stretch limousine.
“Money” – Pink Floyd
Roger Waters came up with the defining riff for this classic-rock mainstay--the only track from the Dark Side of the Moon album to reach the Top 20 on the U.S. singles chart. David Gilmour’s brilliant solo earned the Number 62 spot in a Guitar World “100 Greatest Guitar Solos” reader’s poll conducted in 2008. Many people have commented on the song’s odd time signature, which deliberately shifts to 4/4 time during the solo in order to accommodate Gilmour.
“Success Story” – The Who
The late John Entwistle wrote this wry rocker, which offers a witty, ironic look at the rock and roll lifestyle. Buried in the lyrics is a jab at the oppression of taxes. “Away for the weekend / I’ve gotta play some one-night stands / Six for the tax man and one for the band.” The song was wittily featured in the documentary The Kids Are Alright, in a scene where Entwistle is shown skeet-shooting gold records.