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Nov 09

The Most Important Game Ever Made #19: Oh, Ha Bloody Ha

FT/1 comment • 259 views

Time to get political with ‘Taxman’:

That’s Junior Parker’s ultra-slow, ultra-mellow version, a chuckling drawl (“Aw, now this is awful…”) that makes it clear that Junior is having a whale of a time lounging in the shoes of the man to whom all monies flow. He’s recasting the callous bureaucrat as some kind of blaxploitational Kingpin Of Crime, divorcing the song completely from one cultural milieu – what does Junior Parker care about the Wilson government? – and plugging it into a completely different one, with frankly gorgeous results.

Great stuff! Not relevent, though. Let’s get back to the Beatlebots.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YP90WVTRFqA

Georgebot seems to be getting into it – as usual, the rail-thin michinima figure with the sharply defined cheekbones works with the lyrics to suggest some saturnyne tempter-figure, and the angry sarcasm of the performance converts into sneering devilry when it comes out of that smirking robot mouth.

You can still feel that anger, despite the robot Beatles’ cheerily bland nature, and the deadening aspect of the tour stages. Harold Wilson had been elected in 1964; on the one hand, he’d been responsible for the Beatles getting their MBEs – a fairly controversial but populist move – but on the other hand, his ‘super tax’ of 95% for top earners hit the Beatles right in the pocket. “One for you, nineteen for me” wasn’t an idle bit of exaggeration. It was actually a slight shock to find that out – history was never my strong point, and while I have read plenty of cultural histories of the sixties, what sticks in the mind are the jucier tidbits like George Brown’s drinking problem. I probably thought ‘oh yeah, 95%, bit steep’ then forgot about it entirely as Gorgeous George raged across another alcohol-sodden page.

When I thought Harrison was exaggerating for comic effect, it made the song seem – well, comedic. Cuddly. It still sounds comedic, but it’s a savage, bitter comedy now. If Budokan is all about fame and celebrity, this is the downside – the crashing reality of finding out what it actually means to have all your dreams come true. Neil Gaiman, in one of his better lines, said that the price of getting what you want is getting what you once wanted, and this is George finding out that what he wanted, apparently, was to lose 95% of his income. What’s worse is that this is a recent development – the Wilson government is only a couple of years old at this point (Wikipedia, don’t fail me now! DON’T JUDGE ME) so effectively, while George was playing the fame game on the level of an Elvis or a Sinatra – better, even – someone snuck in and changed the rules on him. “Sorry, George, it’s opposite day! So actually, you lose.” No wonder he felt like lashing out.

If the song as a whole now sounds snarling and savage, the solo is the concentrated essence of that savagery, a sudden burst of caterwauling guitar noise that breaks out of the regimented growls of the chords into a brief, caged, sonic tantrum. In the game – the guitar part, at least – it’s a sudden burst of intense difficulty that draws all your attention even as it messes the player up completely. (See above for an example.)

What was that? Thinks the player. It feels like that moment when you’re talking to someone you don’t know as well as you think you do – you think you’ve been sharing a joke, and then the person you were joking with starts blazing with anger at you and you realise he was taking the joke very seriously. Up until now, I thought George was joking – turns out he was serious. Whoops.

NEXT: Leaving Budokan, and touring, with perhaps my favourite Beatles song in the game.

Comments

  1. 1
    Tom on 4 Nov 2009 #

    Yeah the worst bit of the “Taxman” lyrics isn’t so much George’s anger at the 95% band*, which in effect was a maximum wage policy, but “Don’t ask me what I want it for / If you don’t want to pay some more” – like, dude, this isn’t the mafia! Still love the song though

    *though of course creatives are often poor understanders of the concept of tax bands, obviously a 2 minute song doesn’t have room for the idea of “95% at the margin” so “1 for you 19 for me” sounds a lot harsher than it might have been. The Beatles probably ended up losing more money through their shite merchandising deals.

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