When was it recorded? Aug. 15, 1968
When was it first released, and on which album? Nov. 22, 1968 on “The Beatles”
Who wrote it? McCartney (with noteworthy contribution from Lennon and Donovan)
Have I heard this song before? Yes
What my research dug up:
I read the greatest album review last year. I don’t remember what the album was, and alas, I’ve misplaced the article, but the reviewer said the CD was “like The White Album if every track had been ‘Rocky Raccoon.’” I don’t know why that cracked me up as much as it did, but I was in stitches.
According to the Beatles Bible, “McCartney wrote the song on the roof of the ashram in Rishikesh, with John Lennon and Donovan Leitch also helping out.” Donovan is a Scottish musician who emerged from the British folk scene but has his own eclectic style. That’s really the best I can do to summarize his music. He’s a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame if you’re looking for more information.
“Rocky” was by Paul’s admission “basically spoofing the folksinger” (Mojo, 2008). Quoth Paul, “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. I just tried to keep it amusing, really; it’s me writing a play, a little one-act play giving them most of the dialogue” (Barry Miles, Many Years From Now). Paul originally called the eponymous character Rocky Sassoon but decided Rocky “sounded more like a cowboy” and evoked the image of a frontiersman in a raccoon-skin cap.
According Margo Bird, one of the regulars who hung around outside Apple studios, Paul drew the drunken doctor in the song from personal experience.
“Paul had a moped which he came off one day in May 1966. He was a bit stoned at the time and cut his mouth and chipped his tooth. The doctor that came to treat him was stinking of gin and because he was a bit worse for wear he didn’t make a very good job of the stitching which is why Paul had a nasty lump on his lip for a while.” — Margo Bird (Steve Turner, A Hard Day’s Write)
Like most White Album songs, an Esher demo of “Rocky Raccoon” was recorded.
The Beatles recorded “Rocky” in nine takes on Aug. 15, 1968. Take 8 appeared on “Anthology 3.” As Mark Lewisohn noted, “For a song recorded and completed so quickly, Paul was surprisingly uncertain of the lyrics, formulating them as he went along and leaving the following rejected ideas in his wake: ‘roll up his sleeves on the sideboard;’ ‘roll over, Rock… he said ooh, it’s OK doc, it’s just a scratch and I’ll be OK when I get home;’ ‘This here is the story of a young boy living in Minnesota… fuck off!;’ and ‘move over doc, let’s have none of your cock.’ As Paul himself later said, between takes, ‘I don’t quite know the words to that verse yet!’” (The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions)
The Beatles added overdubs to Take 9, with George Martin performing the honky-tonk piano solo.
I don’t know — Alan Pollack wrote in his notes that subtle variations keep the repeated form of “Rocky Raccoon” from getting boring, but I must need better ears because I find it pretty tedious. On a barely-related note, I was just in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Not a bad place to be this time of year, and a very fitting setting for this song’s narrative.