Rocky Raccoon - The Beatles

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"Rocky Raccoon" - The Beatles (1968)

McCartney said of "Rocky Raccoon":

“I just made it up. It was a difficult song to record because it had to be done all in one take and it would have been hard to edit because of the quirkiness of the vocals. So I had to do couple of takes until I got the right sort of feel.”

Like many of McCartney’s songs at the time, this was a pastiche, in this instance of folk songs. He explained in 2008:

“I’ve got to admit a lot of my stuff is pastiche. I’d learned by then that pastiche would work because inevitably behind it would be something more. 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.”

While the song was credited to the songwriting team of Lennon-McCartney, the notion that Lennon had anything to do with the song’s composition bothered John terribly. He said in 1980:

“Would I go to all that trouble about Gideon’s Bible and all that stuff?”

The country and western style of Rocky Raccoon’s narrative ballad begins as overt and broad parody. The boogie-rhythmic tune is, however, so infectious that the comic squalid story is imbued with poetry.

The harmonica and accordion helped give the song its cowboy flavor. The accordion sounds like a 12-bass instrument and it is played badly- suggesting that perhaps McCartney intended the accordion to represent the drunken. The mild treatment of the story, as evidenced by the song’s corny, hokey tone, contrasts well with the violent nature of the song. The difference in tone to content gives the listener a strange sense of ambiguity.

In the lyric “her name was Magil, and she called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as Nancy”, McCartney elaborates on the German philosopher and mathematician Gottlob’s Frege’s sense/reference distinction: two different aspects of some terms’ meanings. A term’s reference is the object to which the term refers, while the term’s sense is the way that the term refers to that object.

McCartney could also have based the song on a poem by Robert W. Service, an early 20th century scribe who specialized in rustic tales from the Canadian Frontier. First published in 1907 in a collection entitled The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses, it details a saloon showdown not unlike that in Paul’s composition. Some common elements are there: the love triangle turned violent, the regimented cadence. But while “McGrew” is deadly serious, Paul plays his saga strictly for laughs. No one dies in Rocky Raccoon; instead, the title character is left wounded but reflective.

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