Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rocky Raccoon

Today we'll move from a song that I love but that so many people hate, to a song that a lot of people seem to love in a way that I completely can't understand. I want to make it clear that I don't HATE "Rocky Raccoon." How could I? It's kind of cute and guileless, and I like it exactly as much as it deserves to be liked, in my opinion. But are you aware, reader, of the deep, deep love that people have for this song? I've witnessed it. It makes no sense. Perhaps you love it yourself. If you do, I'd appreciate any insight into this love in comments.

"Rocky Raccoon" was something that Paul began farting around with on his guitar during the Beatles' retreat in Rishikesh, inspired, probably, by the folksy guitar picking styles that Donovan was teaching everybody. (It's thanks to Donovan that we have the guitar parts on songs like "Blackbird" and "Mother Nature's Son" and probably "Dear Prudence," too.) Paul started with the name "Rocky Sassoon" (this always makes me laugh, because it reminds me of Vidal's brother, or something) but changed it to "Raccoon," which he felt better fit the feel of the cowboy ballad he'd written. Like a traditional ballad, the song uses repetitive musical material to tell its complex story of love and betrayal and honor somewhere in the Dakotas.

Maybe that's what makes it feel slight to me, honestly. Paul didn't write this kind of thing very often, preferring to write pop songs with a requisite pop structure-- verses, choruses, middle eights, and bridges and so forth-- so maybe it's that that makes "Rocky Raccoon" feel like it just runs on forever and ever. But the other thing that irritates me is that, if you're going to write a long ballad that tells a story, your words need to be pretty good, because in the absence of a lot of musical variation people are going to fixate on them. And it's clear that Paul never took the song seriously enough to really write good lyrics. The Anthology 3 version is an early take of this song that I actually kind of love, because it's funny, but that take makes it clear that Paul really wanted to retain an improvisatory feel to this thing. (You can hear other lyrical variations in bootlegs versions of the song, too. Paul essentially wrote the lyrics as he was singing it in the studio.)

And, you know, there's nothing wrong with that. It just makes it slight, is all-- "Rocky Raccoon" inevitably reminds me of "Junk" and "Teddy Boy" and other McCartney songs that he wrote around this time that he never felt the need to work that hard at revising. But this is why I don't get the "Rocky Raccoon" love. I have had more people than you might believe tell me that this is one of their favorite Beatles songs, and it just flummoxes me. Am I missing something?

Anyway, the story of poor Rocky ends in tragedy, but the arrangement stars a fun ragtime-ish piano solo courtesy of producer George Martin. We get a bit of harmonica from John as well, and apparently John and George are both doing a bit of backup vocal work. But "Rocky Raccoon" is clearly Paul's baby. And it's cute and funny and certainly pleasant enough, Lord knows. It's a nice song to hum to yourself as you go about your business through the day. I like it. Is what I'm saying.

"Rocky Raccoon," released in the U.K. side B track 5 of The Beatles a.k.a. the White Album, November 22, 1968; in the U.S. November 25, 1968.


  1. Deep love, no. But comparing it to Junk and Teddy Boy? I can't abide by that.

  2. Only in that it feels like it was dashed off.

  3. Meg, you wrote yesterday that sometimes you just want to be entertained. Well, that's what this song does. I love this song, and i think you're missing it.

    First, i think the lyrics are great. Very witty. Take: "Her name was McGill, she called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as Nancy." What a great way to say she was a prostitute. At least, that's my take on it. I think the rhymes are great throughout. So much of the song is like this giant run on sentence, but all the rhymes inside just flow out of it.

    It is like no other song they or anyone has done. Just so much fun to sing along with it. And that part with the honkey tonk piano is simply wonderful. How does that not grab you and make you want move?

    Do i rate this a great innovative rock and roll song? No. But it's a fun fun song, and well done.

    Listen again, sing along, enjoy.

  4. Okay, you know what? When you compare it to "Mr. Moonlight," I think I see what you're getting at. You've convinced me. And like I say, I always LIKED it, but I think now I like it a lot more. Thanks!

    (I still don't see it as a favorite, or even in the top 20, but I do think I understand it more now.)

  5. No way that it makes my top 20 either. But i enjoy listening to it any and every time i come across it. And I'll hum or sing some of the lyrics for hours afterwards.

  6. I love this one, too. For no coherent reason. Just love to hear it, love to sing along to it. I thought this song was intended to be a parody of Bob Dylan's song "John Wesley Harding"?

    My final 2 cents: I love Paul's "Junk." (Ok, that could have multiple meanings, but I mean the song.)

  7. Hee! I also love Paul's "Junk" more than I probably should. If I'm honest.

    But it annoys me when he doesn't FINISH things. It's like I'm his mom. Seriously. It's stupid.

  8. Me again, the "Junk" lover. Musically, I'm just not sophisticated enough to understand what people mean when they say "Junk" isn't "finished." To me, it's a lovely song with an ahead-of-its-time message. Given its theme -- letting go of our need for so much stuff -- the song's construction seems just right. But again, I don't pretend to understand musically what people mean when they say this song or others are unfinished.