The Beatles song Paul McCartney wrote as a “one-act play”

Of all the varied material that appeared on The White Album, ‘Rocky Raccoon’ found Paul McCartney indulging in some of his most cheeky storytelling. The Beatles track a part country ballad/part barrelhouse piano rocker/part folk song that tells a more-or-less cohesive story about love, fights, faith, and vengeance. For McCartney, ‘Rocky Raccoon’ proved to be an album highlight.

“‘Rocky Raccoon’ is quirky, very me,” he claimed in the book Many Years From Now. “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. Rocky Raccoon is the main character, then there’s the girl whose real name was Magill, who called herself Lil, but she was known as Nancy.”

The recording was the final time that John Lennon ever played harmonica on a Beatles song. After prominently featuring the instrument of songs like ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘Please Please Me’ during the band’s earlier years, Lennon had only briefly returned to the instrument before discarding it after 1968. Lennon remained relatively unimpressed with the final result. “Paul [wrote it]. Couldn’t you guess? Would I go to all that trouble about Gideon’s Bible and all that stuff?” Lennon told David Scheff in 1980.

One of the stranger characters in the song’s narrative comes as Rocky is recovering from a gunshot wound given to him by his rival, Dan. The doctor who tends to Rocky’s wound comes in “stinking of gin”, with Rocky insisting that the gunshot is “only a scratch”. McCartney might have been predicting a Monty Python joke half a decade before Holy Grail came out, but the drunk doctor actually had its basis in a real incident.

“I did once have an accident in Liverpool where I fell off a moped and busted my lip open, and we had to get the doctor round to my cousin Betty’s house,” McCartney wrote in The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present. “That was around this same time, when I was twenty-something and going out on the moped from my dad’s house to Betty’s house. I was taking a friend, Tara Guinness. He died later in a car accident. He was a nice boy. I wrote about him in ‘A Day In The Life’: ‘He blew his mind out in a car/He didn’t notice that the lights had changed’. Anyway, I was with Tara and had an accident – fell off my moped, busted my lip, went to Betty’s, and she said, ‘Get a doctor, get a doctor. It needs stitches.’”

“So they got this guy, and he arrived stinking of gin,” McCartney wrote. “This guy was so drunk. ‘Hello, Paul. How are you?’ ‘Great.’ ‘Oh yes, that’s going to need stitches. I’ve brought my bag.’ So he brings his black bag and now he’s got to try and thread a little needle, a curved surgical needle, but he’s seeing three needles at least.”

“I think I said, ‘Let us do it.’ And we threaded it for him. I said, ‘You’re just going to do this with no anaesthetic?’ He said, ‘Well, I haven’t got any.’ I think I might have had a slug of scotch or something,” McCartney recalls. “He just put the needle in and pulled it round. And then the thread came out and he said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I have to do that again.’

“So he had to do it a second bloody time, and I was trying not to scream. To be honest, he really didn’t do a marvellous job, and I had this bump in my lip for a good while after. I can still feel it,” McCartney recalled. “And I was black and blue and really quite a mess. So I decided to grow a moustache. Then the other Beatles saw it and liked it, so they all grew moustaches too. John got so into it that I think somebody bought him a moustache cup with a little lid that sort of stops the moustache from getting wet when you drink. That’s where I think this ‘stinking of gin’ image came from – from this little painful memory.”

Check out ‘Rocky Raccoon’ down below.

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