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Ode to the IRS

A song to celebrate tax day, or at least lift spirits.

The Internal Revenue Service doesn't inspire lots of celebratory songs.

Irving Berlin's little-known and rarely-recorded "I Paid My Income Tax Today" may be one of the few tunes to sing of the joys of the federal income tax.

The song appears on a new CD featuring Associate Professor of Music Tim Harbold and his colleagues Benjamin Sears, Bradford Conner and Valerie Anastasio, who call themselves the "Smart Set" quartet.

Berlin's lyric about the joy of paying taxes betrays not the least bit of ambivalence.

I paid my income tax today
I never felt so proud before
To be right there with the millions more
Who paid their income tax today
I'm squared up with the U.S.A.
See those bombers in the sky?
Rockefeller helped to build 'em, so did I
I paid my income tax today

Berlin believed in paying his income taxes, even though he was in a high bracket. “I came to this country from Russia and look what’s happened to me," he once said. "This country has been wonderful to me. I love this country. I love to pay taxes.”

The song appears on The Smart Set's new CD Marching Along with Time, which presents Berlin's songs  from 1935 to 1945. The recording reflects the great variety in Berlin’s songwriting of the period, from songs uniquely tailored to Fred Astaire to stirring anthems, revival songs, hymns, novelty songs, ballads, and more. Harbold serves as the arranger and pianist for this latest recording. The CD is the sixth installment in a series from Oakton Recordings highlighting notable songs from Berlin's prolific opus.

The latter half of the new CD features music from the war years, including several songs from This Is the Army (1942), which both celebrated and satirized Army life.   The show would take Berlin's attention for the duration of the war; he was functioning as songwriter, producer, and performer, touring with the show throughout the United States, Europe, and the Far East.

Berlin’s war efforts were not solely for his Army show.  In 1941 Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau asked Berlin for a song in support of the War Defense Bond and Savings Stamp Drive, and Berlin responded with Any Bonds Today?  

After the U.S. entered the war, Berlin revised the lyric early in 1942 as Any Bombs Today? for the “Buy Bombers with Defense Stamps” drive sponsored by the New York Journal-American.  On the CD, these numbers are presented in a medley with I Paid My Income Tax Today, a celebration of how taxes were used to support the war effort. These are believed to be one of a very few recordings for both Any Bombs Today? and I Paid My Income Tax Today.

--Adapted from the CD liner notes for Marching Along with Time, by Benjamin Sears.  Sears is also the editor for The Irving Berlin Reader, published this year by Oxford University Press.