"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.