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.

Paul [wrote it]. Couldn’t you guess? Would I go to all that trouble about Gideon’s Bible and all that stuff?

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 got the idea for the drunken doctor from a traffic accident he had in 1965.

I did once have an accident in Liverpool where I fell off a moped and busted my lip open, and we had to get the doctor round to my cousin Betty’s house. That was around this same time, when I was twenty-something and going out on the moped from my dad’s house to Betty’s house. I was taking a friend, Tara Guinness. He died later in a car accident. He was a nice boy. I wrote about him in ‘A Day In The Life’: ‘He blew his mind out in a car/He didn’t notice that the lights had changed’. Anyway, I was with Tara and had an accident – fell off my moped, busted my lip, went to Betty’s, and she said, ‘Get a doctor, get a doctor. It needs stitches.

So they got this guy, and he arrived stinking of gin. This guy was so drunk. ‘Hello, Paul. How are you?’ ‘Great.’ ‘Oh yes, that’s going to need stitches. I’ve brought my bag.’ So be brings his black bag and now he’s got to try and thread a little needle, a curved surgical needle, but he’s seeing three needles at least.

I think I said, ‘Let us do it.’ And we threaded it for him. I said, ‘You’re just going to do this with no anaesthetic?’ He said, ‘Well, I haven’t got any.’ I think I might have had a slug of scotch or something. He just put the needle in and pulled it round. And then the thread came out and he said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I have to do that again.’

So he had to do it a second bloody time, and I was trying not to scream. To be honest, he really didn’t do a marvellous job, and I had this bump in my lip for a good while after. I can still feel it. And I was black and blue and really quite a mess. So I decided to grow a moustache. Then the other Beatles saw it and liked it, so they all grew moustaches too. John got so into it that I think somebody bought him a moustache cup with a little lid that sort of stops the moustache from getting wet when you drink. That’s where I think this ‘stinking of gin’ image came from – from this little painful memory.

In the studio

The Beatles taped ‘Rocky Raccoon’ during a single session on 15 August 1968. They recorded nine takes of the basic rhythm track, with Paul McCartney on vocals and acoustic guitar, Ringo Starr on drums, and John Lennon on six-string bass guitar.

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 George 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!”

Paul McCartney's handwritten lyrics for Rocky Raccoon

Previous song: ‘Piggies’
Next song: ‘Don’t Pass Me By’
Published: |