Latest Score: Kinks one, Beatles nil.

Making comparisons between pop groups is invidious and ultimately pointless. But I was listening to a song at work yesterday, Sunny Afternoon by The Kinks and attempted to explain the song to a younger colleague in its temporal and political context. As an example I quoted the Beatles song, Taxman, as I knew she was a Beatles fan . It was the first time I had considered the songs side by side and, for once, The Beatles came off second best.

Taxman was one of George Harrison’s first compositions for the Beatles and was pretty much a rant (bleat?) against the ridiculous tax regime introduced by Labour PM Harold Wilson which taxed big earners at up to 95%. It begins:

Let me tell you how it will be
There’s one for you, nineteen for me
‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman

Should five per cent appear too small
Be thankful I don’t take it all
‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah I’m the taxman

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.

I have to admit, it’s not one of my favourite Beatles numbers but I always found it evocative of the time and agreed, pretty much, with the sentiment. However, as with John Lennon’s Working Class Hero, I found it difficult to swallow whole – coming as it did from a millionaire rock star. But that’s another matter.

Sunny Afternoon was written and released in the same year, 1966, and I must suppose for pretty much the same reason. Here, yet again, I must profess my love for the song and my respect for the writer, Ray Davies, who produced some of the best pop songs of the 1960s and early seventies. What a shame the band had such problems delivering quality albums; the songs on even their best vary from sublime to risible. But at their best they were a match for anyone. And Sunny Afternoon is definitely The Kinks at their magnificent peak. Compare the lyrics and approach:

The tax man’s taken all my dough
And left me in my stately home
Lazing on a sunny afternoon

And I can’t sail my yacht
He’s taken everythin’ I’ve got
All I’ve got’s this sunny afternoon.

So there you have it. Ray Davies has made the argument much more eloquently than I ever could.


About Bob Neilson

Bob Neilson lives in Dublin with his wife, two daughters, son, two dogs, one cat and a growing feeling of claustrophobia. In partnership with his wife he runs a successful retail business in Dublin city. His short fiction has appeared extensively in professional and small press markets and he has had two plays performed on RTE and one on Anna Livia FM. He also presented a radio show on Anna Livia for a year. He has had two short story collections published, Without Honour (1997, Aeon Press) and That’s Entertainment (2007, Elastic Press) as well as several comics and a graphic novel. His non-fiction book on the properties of crystals is a best-seller in the UK and Ireland.
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13 Responses to Latest Score: Kinks one, Beatles nil.

  1. art mugalian says:

    Also, the argument is made with wit, charm, and humor, not with a blunt-force blow to the side of the head. And the speaker is not the “rock star;” the speaker is a third person. Ray Davies was, and still is, a master of this kind of songwriting.

  2. Bob Neilson says:

    Ah! Wit, charm and humour, sdaly lacking form today’s charts.

  3. Magnus Hägermyr says:

    Wasn’t “Sunny Afternoon” quite ironic, or even selfironic in Ray Davies position as newly rich popstar, considering that The Kinks released “Dead End Street” just a couple of months earlier the same year? And who know, maybe that goes for George Harrison too hence “Living In The Material World”.

  4. Bob Neilson says:

    George was just beginning to see the monetary results of his Beatles fame, so there’s less irony in his rant. At heart he was still a working-class kid. I can just imagine making loads of money for the first time and then the gov. changing the rules so that I’d get much less. I doubt I’d be able to take it as well as Ray Davies did. Is that attitude the reason Ray never became a multi-millionaire rock star?

  5. Steve Crews says:

    Ray’s beautiful song, I believe, is more of a laid back, defeated and melancholy, reflection on how his personnel situation has turned bleak. In addition to the gov’t taking “all my dough,” his girlfriends ran off with his car, back to her parents where she labels poor Ray (perhaps unfairly) a drunk and abuser.

    George is speaking up for the successful people in Britain, who, after achieving success through hard work, have their earnings confiscated by the gov’t. Perhaps he’s speaking for their friends, the Rolling Stones, who within a few years, fled Britain for the South of France to flee this same tax system, where they famously wrote and recorded “Exile on Main St.”

  6. Magnus Hägermyr says:

    I think Rays concerns was more the burdens created by shrewd and greedy managers, record compamies and the musicbusiness in general. Listen to the album “Lola Versus Poweman And The Moneygoround” for instance.

    But I don’t think we have to worry about his economic status. In a list of the 100 richest rockartists in UK in Uncut Magazine maybe 10 years ago Ray was around place 60 good for roughly 20 million pounds. Number one was Sir Paul worth 650 000 000 dito.

    Glad it worked out well for them after all.

  7. Bob Neilson says:

    If the Wilson government’s tax regime helped produce Exile on Main Street, then all I can say is it was one of their best results. I bought the vinyl LP recently and reckon it is the best album the Stones ever made.

    • Steve Crews says:

      I couldn’t agree more. I’ve got the old vinyl, the CD, the re-released CD, the remastered vinyl and the new material CD. Hmmmm. Wonder if it’s available on 8 track? Thank you, Mr. Wilson.

      • Bob Neilson says:

        Funnily enough, I bought it on cassette tape first off and didn’t get into it. Glad to see the back of cassettes, Though I bought Prefab Sprout’s From Langley Park to Memphis on cassette for a quid and enjoyed it enough that I bought it on vinyl a while back.

  8. Magnus Hägermyr says:

    Ray Davies concerns was also relevant in the Stones tax escape story. As Jagger said at the time: “After working for eight years I discovered that nobody had pay my taxes”. That was their managers responsibileties. Insted Allen Klein had withhold 17 millions of Stones money for himself. Add to that that a large amount of thier money was frozen becuse Stones first managers was suing each other for breach of contract. That’s the reasons why The Rolling Stones was broke and couldn’t pay thier taxes whatever ones perspective is of Wilsons tax-philosophy.

    So one more score for Ray Davies then.

    But I argee, if George wasn’t ironic and Wilson (but also Heath is mentioned in the song) really took 95 % of The Beatles income (which I have a hard time to belive), that IS too much!

  9. Bob Neilson says:

    It was ninety five per cent of income above a certain level. It still left pleanty for ordinary Joes, but at any level to have 95% of your cash taken is depressing adn a disincentive to earning big.

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