This coming weekend I’m going to attempt a Beatles album ranking post which I’ve never done… so I’ve been listening to the White Album. Rocky Raccoon is a great way to start out the week
I bought the White Album in the winter of 1981 right after John Lennon was murdered. It has remained my favorite album ever by far. You have such a variety on this album and it gives you different glances at the Beatles without many studio tricks and sounds.
This song starts with a strumming guitar and then comes Paul talking/singing in his best western voice. Now somewhere in the Black Mountain Hills of Dakota
There lived a young boy named Rocky Raccoon.
The main character was originally called Rocky Sassoon but McCartney changed it to Raccoon, as he thought the name was more cowboyish.
The original title of the album was going to be “A Doll’s House“… but the band Family used the title Music from a Doll’s House for its debut album, so The Beatles scrapped the idea. The album’s real name ended up being “The Beatles” but the plain white cover nickname soon took over. From some accounts here is the original cover.
In 1968, McCartney got the idea for it when he was playing guitar with John Lennon and Donovan Leitch at the Maharishi’s camp in India. Rocky in the song is a cowboy in the old west and challenges Dan when Dan ran off with Rocky’s girl. In the gunfight, Dan is too quick and shoots Rocky wounding him. When the song was recorded… Beatles producer George Martin played the piano in an old-west saloon style.
Rocky in this song is not a raccoon but a boy whose girl runs off with his rival, Dan. The song is set in the Old West, so Rocky does what any self-respecting cowboy would do: he challenges Dan to a gunfight. Unfortunately for Rocky, he Dan is quick on the draw and shoots him first, wounding Rocky and proving himself worthy of the girl.
The album peaked at #1 in the US, Canada, UK, and just about everywhere in 1968.
Paul McCartney: “Rocky was me writing (speaks-sings in a baccy-chewing old prospector voice), ‘It was way back in the hills of Dakota-or Arkansas-in the mining days. And it was tough, picking shovels, and we were underground 24 hours a day…’ I could have taken this serious route, researched it – ‘Take This Hammer’ (a prison work song recorded by British skiffle star Lonnie Donegan in 1959), stuff I’d been brought up on. But at that point I was a little tongue-in cheek. So I crossed it with a (British singer and banjo player popular in the 1940s) George Formby sensibility, where John and I would go (sings a bit of doggerel in a choppy rhythm) – Stanley Holloway, Albert in The Lion’s Den (the comic poem The Lion and Albert, written by Holloway’s creative partner Marriott Edgar in 1932). We were very versed in all that stuff (sings opening lines of Rocky Raccoon in the same choppy way). The scanning of the poetical stanza always interested me. Somehow this little story unfolded itself.
I was basically spoofing ‘the folk-singer.’ And it included Gideon’s Bible, which I’ve seen in every hotel I’ve ever been in. You open the drawer and there it is! Who’s this guy Gideon! I still don’t know to this day who the heck he is. I’m sure he’s a very well-meaning guy. Rocky Raccoon was a freewheeling thing, the fun of mixing a folky ramble with Albert In The Lion’s Den with its ”orse’s ‘ead ‘andle,’ ha ha.”
Many cover versions have been recorded. Some of the artists are Richie Havens, Ramsey Lewis, Jack Johnson, Andrew Gold, James Blunt, Phish, Jimmy Buffett, Maureen McGovern, Kingston Wall, Charlie Parr, and Andy Fairweather Low.
Now somewhere in the Black Mountain Hills of Dakota
There lived a young boy named Rocky Raccoon
And one day his woman ran off with another guy
Hit young Rocky in the eye
Rocky didn’t like that
He said, “I’m gonna get that boy”
So one day he walked into town
Booked himself a room in the local saloon
Rocky Raccoon checked into his room
Only to find Gideon’s Bible
Rocky had come, equipped with a gun
To shoot off the legs of his rival
His rival it seems, had broken his dreams
By stealing the girl of his fancy
Her name was Magill, and she called herself Lil
But everyone knew her as Nancy
Now she and her man, who called himself Dan
Were in the next room at the hoe down
Rocky burst in, and grinning a grin
He said, “Danny boy, this is a showdown”
But Daniel was hot, he drew first and shot
And Rocky collapsed in the corner
Now the doctor came in, stinking of gin
And proceeded to lie on the table
He said, “Rocky, you met your match”
And Rocky said, “Doc, it’s only a scratch
And I’ll be better, I’ll be better, Doc, as soon as I am able”
Now Rocky Raccoon, he fell back in his room
Only to find Gideon’s Bible
Gideon checked out, and he left it, no doubt
To help with good Rocky’s revival