- Published on 1968
- Author: Lennon/McCartney
- Track 13 on “The Beatles – White Album“
PAUL 1968: “I was sitting on the roof in India with a guitar– John and I were sitting ’round playing guitar, and we were with Donovan. And we were just sitting around enjoying ourselves, and I started playing the chords of ‘Rocky Raccoon,’ you know, just messing around. And, oh, originally it was Rocky Sassoon, and we just started making up the words, you know, the three of us– and started just to write them down. They came very quickly. And eventually I changed it from Sassoon to Raccoon, because it sounded more like a cowboy. So there it is. These kind of things– you can’t really talk about how they come ‘cuz they just come into your head, you know. They really do. And it’s like John writing his books. There’s no… I don’t know how he does it, and he doesn’t know how he does it, but he just writes. I think people who actually do create and write… you tend to think, ‘Oh, how did he do that,’ but it actually does flow… just flows from into their head, into their hand, and they write it down, you know. And that’s what happened with this. I don’t know anything about the Appalachian mountains or cowboys and indians or anything. But I just made it up, you know. And the doctor came in stinking of gin and proceeded to lie on the table. So, there you are.”
PAUL circa-1994: “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. The bit I liked about it was him (Rocky) 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.”
About “Rocky Raccoon”
“Rocky Raccoon” is a standout track from The Beatles’ 1968 double album, widely known as the White Album. Penned primarily by Paul McCartney, it bears the iconic Lennon-McCartney credit. The song’s genesis dates back to Rishikesh, India, where The Beatles immersed themselves in Transcendental Meditation in early 1968. During this time, both John Lennon and Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan, who were part of this retreat, contributed to its creation. Notably, Richie Havens’ cover version of the song charted at number 76 in Canada in 1969.
Regarding its composition, McCartney initially conceived the character as “Rocky Sassoon,” but opted for “Rocky Raccoon” because of its more cowboy-like feel. The name “Rocky” was reportedly influenced by Roky Erickson, the American rock band’s frontman. It’s suggested that McCartney drew inspiration from Robert Service’s poem “The Shooting of Dan McGrew.” Furthermore, there’s a belief that McCartney based the lyrics on a story shared by Canadian photographer and filmmaker Paul Saltzman during their time in Rishikesh.
The song is a country ballad featuring an Old West-style honky-tonk piano played by producer George Martin. Notably, “Rocky Raccoon” is the final Beatles track showcasing John Lennon’s harmonica skills. The narrative depicts a love triangle, with Rocky’s girlfriend, known as Nancy, leaving him for a man named Dan, culminating in a dramatic showdown.
One distinctive musical element is Ringo Starr’s emphasized snare drum beat, cleverly mimicking the sound of a gunshot. An amusing anecdote involves McCartney’s flub during a recording, replacing “stinking of gin” with “sminking,” prompting laughter and a creative ad-lib.
In terms of legacy, McCartney humorously acknowledged the song’s pastiche style, while Lennon credited McCartney with its creation. Marking its 50th anniversary, “Rocky Raccoon” was ranked at number 22 in The Independent’s assessment of the White Album’s 30 tracks. The song was lauded for showcasing McCartney’s songwriting versatility and benefited from the vibrant piano work of longtime producer George Martin.
Meaning of “Rocky Raccoon”
“Rocky Raccoon” narrates a tale set in the Old West. Rocky Raccoon arrives at a room, finding Gideon’s Bible, suggesting an old-fashioned setting. Armed and seeking revenge, he confronts his rival, Dan, who has taken Nancy, the girl Rocky cared for. Nancy’s full name is revealed to be Lil Magill, but she prefers Nancy. They’re in a nearby room, possibly at an event.
Rocky enters with confidence, grinning, and declares it a showdown. However, Dan acts swiftly, firing his gun before Rocky can. Rocky is wounded and falls. A doctor, somewhat inebriated, examines him and suggests Rocky’s met his match. Rocky insists it’s merely a scratch and he’ll recover swiftly.
Returning to his room, Rocky once again finds Gideon’s Bible, hinting that someone named Gideon had been there before him.
The song paints a vivid picture of a love triangle involving Rocky, Nancy (Lil Magill), and Dan. Rocky seeks revenge on Dan, but the confrontation ends with Rocky being shot. The lyrics have a whimsical, almost folkloric quality, and the narrative is presented in a way that evokes a story or fable from the Old West.
- Paul McCartney – lead vocals, acoustic guitar
- John Lennon – backing vocals, harmonium, six-string bass, harmonica
- George Harrison – backing vocals, bass
- Ringo Starr – drums
- George Martin – honky-tonk piano
- Yoko Ono – backing vocals