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The Beatles Songs: Rocky Raccoon

The history of this classic Beatles song

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The Beatles Songs: Rocky Raccoon

The original UK sheet music for "Rocky Raccoon"

tracks.co.uk

Rocky Raccoon

Working title: Rocky Sassoon
Written by: Paul McCartney (100%)
(credited to Lennon-McCartney)

Recorded: August 15, 1968 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: August 15, October 10, 1968
Length: 3:41
Takes: 10

Musicians:

John Lennon: backing vocals, harmonica (Hohner), harmonium (Mannborg), bass guitar (1964 Fender Bass VI)
Paul McCartney: lead and backing vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar (1967 Martin D-28)
George Harrison: backing vocals, bass guitar (1964 Fender Bass VI)
Ringo Starr: drums (Ludwig)
George Martin: piano (1905 Steinway Vertegrand "Mrs. Mills")
Available on: (CDs in bold)

The Beatles (a/k/a "The White Album"; UK: Apple PMC 7067-8; US: Apple SWBO 101; Parlophone CDP 7 46443 2; CDP 7 46444 2)

History:

  • One of several acoustic songs written during the Beatles' spring 1968 stay in Rishikesh, India, "Rocky Raccoon" started out as a parody - or, in Paul's words, a "pastiche" - of two distinct and different styles of music: One was the Western folk song which detailed the accomplishments (and usually death) of a Wild West gunslinger, and the other was a music-hall type of comedy song practiced by the band's hero George Formby, a ukelele player who made quite a name for himself in Britain performing wacky and somewhat naughty storytelling numbers in a high tenor emblematic of the "trad jazz" movement. The result was a Dylanesque song, complete with harmonica, but with high notes Dylan could never reach.
  • Assisting in the genesis, if not the actual creation, of "Rocky Raccoon" was John Lennon and folk singer Donovan, both of whom were at the group singalong where Paul first began to sculpt this number. Originally, Rocky's last name was "Sassoon," and he was a miner in Minnesota, but Donovan, who had a habit of crafting alliterative song titles like "Jennifer Juniper" and "Maria Magenta," also suggested his last name begin with an R. This no doubt lit the spark in McCartney's muse and triggered the eventual scene change to the "black mountain hills of Dakota."
  • It appears that most of the lyrics were written by the time Paul recorded the demo at George's home in Esher in late May 1968, although that version is notably missing the song's spoken-word intro and the verse about the drunken doctor. The spoken word intro made while rehearsing the actual recorded version still has Rocky in Minnesota, although that may have been sparked by an off-mic comment by John. Nevertheless, "Rocky" was recorded in one session on August 15, keeping the loose, campfire-singalong feel of the India version, much as was done one week earlier with John's The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill."
  • Parody or not, many consider this a lyrical high point for McCartney, and not just because of the clever wordplay and satiric tone ("Her name was Magill / And she called herself Lil / But everyone knew her as Nancy"). Our hero Rocky attempts to exact justice by killing the man who stole his woman, but in a break from traditional Hollywood endings, he's too slow on the draw and is wounded. The doctor who is sent to fix him up is drunk, so Rocky returns to his room, finds a Bible, and reads it, ostensibly learning the futility of revenge. This was a radical notion at the time, even more so than today.

Trivia:
  • Paul himself reportedly had just such a run in with a drunken doctor when he cut his lip during a moped accident in Liverpool back in December 1965; at least one associate claims its where the line came from. John was often thought to have contributed the lyrical twist at the end, which was of his usual caliber, but he categorically denied it - "Would I have gone to all that trouble about Gideon's Bible and all that stuff?" - probably because he was already known for his skepticism towards Christianity.
  • John actually played bass on the track when it was originally recorded, but it was never John's best instrument, leading Paul to give George an even rarer bass overdub. John confined himself to some coloring, playing the harmonium and, for the last time on any Beatles song, his harmonica.

Covered by: Richie Havens, Jimmy Buffett, James Blunt, Jack Johnson, Ramsey Lewis, Phish, Lena Horne, Andrew Gold, Crowded House, Maureen McGovern, Benny Goodman, Jessie Baylin, Steel Train, Andy Fairweather-Low, The New Vinton County Marching Band

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