Rocky Raccoon

The Beatles (White Album) artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 15 August 1968
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Ken Scott

Released: 22 November 1968 (UK), 25 November 1968 (US)

Paul McCartney: vocals, acoustic guitar, bass guitar
John Lennon: backing vocals, harmonica, harmonium, six-string bass
George Harrison: backing vocals
Ringo Starr: drums
George Martin: piano

Available on:
The Beatles (White Album)
Anthology 3

A jokey song about a cuckolded young American man seeking revenge against a love rival, Rocky Raccoon was written in India by Paul McCartney in early 1968.

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Paul [wrote it]. Couldn’t you guess? Would I go to all that trouble about Gideon’s Bible and all that stuff?
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

McCartney wrote the song on the roof of the ashram in Rishikesh, with John Lennon and Donovan Leitch also helping out.

Rocky Raccoon is quirky, very me. I like talking blues so I started off like that, then I did my tongue-in-cheek parody of a western and threw in some amusing lines. I just tried to keep it amusing, really; it’s me writing a play, a little one-act play giving them most of the dialogue. Rocky Raccoon is the main character, then there’s the girl whose real name was Magill, who called herself Lil, but she was known as Nancy.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

The song was originally titled Rocky Sassoon, but was changed by McCartney to make the main character sound “more like a cowboy”.

There are some names I use to amuse, Vera, Chuck and Dave or Nancy and Lil, and there are some I mean to be serious, like Eleanor Rigby, which are a little harder because they have to not be joke names. In this case Rocky Raccoon is some bloke in a raccoon hat, like Davy Crockett. The bit I liked about it was him finding Gideon’s Bible and thinking, Some guy called Gideon must have left it for the next guy. I like the idea of Gideon being a character. You get the meaning and at the same time get in a poke at it. All in good fun. And then of course the doctor is drunk.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

McCartney is said to have got the idea for the drunken doctor from an road accident he was involved with in 1966.

Paul had a moped which he came off one day in May 1966. He was a bit stoned at the time and cut his mouth and chipped his tooth. The doctor that came to treat him was stinking of gin and because he was a bit worse for wear he didn’t make a very good job of the stitching which is why Paul had a nasty lump on his lip for a while.
Margo Bird, Apple scruff
A Hard Day’s Write, Steve Turner

In the studio

The Beatles recorded Rocky Raccoon during a single session on 15 August 1968. They recorded nine takes of the basic rhythm track, with McCartney on vocals and acoustic guitar, Starr on drums and Lennon on bass.

Onto the master, take nine, The Beatles added another bass and drum track. Lennon then overdubbed a harmonica part, George Martin played the honky-tonk piano solo, and Lennon, McCartney and Harrison contributed backing vocals.

The rejected take eight was included on Anthology 3 in 1996. The opening lyrics are significantly different from the final version:

Rocky Raccoon, he was a fool unto himself
And he would not swallow his foolish pride
Mind you, coming from a little town in Minnesota
It was not the kind of thing that a young guy did
When a fella went and stole his chick away from him.

According to Mark Lewisohn, the lyrics underwent a number of changes throughout the session:

For a song recorded and completed so quickly, Paul was surprisingly uncertain of the lyrics, formulating them as he went along and leaving the following rejected ideas in his wake: “roll up his sleeves on the sideboard”; “roll over, Rock… he said ooh, it’s OK doc, it’s just a scratch and I’ll be OK when I get home”; “This here is the story of a young boy living in Minnesota… fuck off!”; and “move over doc, let’s have none of your cock”. As Paul himself later said, between takes, “I don’t quite know the words to that verse yet!”
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

13 responses on “Rocky Raccoon

  1. Michael Ezra

    I’ve long preferred the Anthology 3 version (Take 8), mainly because of McCartney’s accidental comingling of “smelling” and “stinking” after the instrumental, after which he just rolls with it:

    The doctor came in
    Sminking of gin (laughs) ‘Sminking?’
    And proceeded to lie on the table
    He was really sminking of gin
    And it did him in in the end
    Poor doc!
    Meantime, back on the table

    (Still makes me laugh every time I listen to it.)

  2. Ally

    I love it, despite Paul’s rather weak, jokey American accent – a source of much amusement to my friends and I (who are also from the UK), whom, as kids would often say to each other “rocky din’ lach thacht!”, with the last two words in raw scouse… I guess you had to be there ;-)

  3. Doug Cannon

    Once again (and completely overlooked) is the use of recording the piano at “half-speed” in order to create the chimey piano tone upon playback at normal speed. This would also explain the death-defying speed that George Martin achieved in his performance. It was an actual “tack” piano (possibly an upright) unlike the Boogie Woogie double-speed grand on “You Never Give Me Your Money” and the more famous use of double-speed piano – the baroque influenced solo on “In My Life.” To confirm the use of recording a piano at half speed, listen to a normal piano when slowed down to half it’s speed. It will have no clarity or dynamics. The piano (at half-speed) on all three of these songs not only has clarity, but you can now hear subtle mistakes (nuance) that are completely covered up when played back at normal speed.

  4. Bulldog

    I’ve always loved Paul’s story songs, and this is definitely no exception. I especially enjoy the humor he threw in there. Considering how great most of the White Album is, I still can’t say if I think this is a highlight, but I do really enjoy it.

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