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notes on ...

Notes on "Rocky Raccoon"


Notes on ... Series #141 (RR)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: C Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Refrain A | Verse | Verse | Half Verse (climax) |
                  | Refrain B | Verse | Refrain A |
                  | Refrain B | Outro (with complete ending)
        CD: "White Album", Disc 1, Track 13 (Parlophone CDS7 46443-8)
  Recorded: 15th August 1968, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 22nd November 1968 (LP "White Album")
US-release: 25th November 1968 (LP "White Album")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note This light-heartedly delivered number about the very serious subject of an almost fatal romantic showdown finds Paulie dressed up again in something ordered from the costume party store; this time, it's a getup from the Wild, Wild American West.
  Next note Compositionally, the song is a clever triumph of formal articulation over rote monothematicism by virtue of controlled, subtle variation in a number of departments. That's an excessively highfalutin way of saying, gee, the whole three and a half minute track is played out over the same unvarying eight-bar chord progression, and yet, rather than sounding painfully monotonous, it creates the impression of a something developed with the full formal scale and variety you typically expect from a "song"!
  Next note The secret is in the handling of the vocal style, lyrics, and instrumentation. And it bears some comparison with the way Messrs. Berry and Penniman (et al) know how to create a high-level form out of what is otherwise an unvarying series of twelve-bar frames.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The tune stays closely within a pentatonic scale (G - A - C - D - E) for the most part, ignoring for the moment the constant chromatic filling out of the downward sweep from E to C. If you bother to trace it carefully, you'll find that the places in the melody where either of the notes B or F occur are few and far between; you might even say they are strategically chosen: look to the half-spoken first verse and the two scat-sung choruses.
  Next note The harmonic content of the song consists of a simple chord progression repeated seventeen (count 'em, seventeen!) times in a loop:
  Midline: |G       |-       |F#      |-       |
 Bassline: |A       |-       |D       |-       |
   Chords: |a       |-       |D       |-       |
        C:  vi7               V-of-V

  Midline: |F nat.  |-       |E       |-       |
 Bassline: |G       |-       |C       |B       |
   Chords: |G       |-       |C       |-       |
        C:  V                 I

   [Figure 141.1]
  Next note Note the descending chromatic scale fragment running through this progression in an inner voice; you can hear this most clearly when the backing voices show up late in the song.
  Next note The bassline descends to B in the eighth measure, and I adjure you to "hear it" as a simple passing note under a sustained C-Major chord, rather than an event that causes the harmony to "progress" from C to e minor in the 6/4 (second) inversion.


  Next note An acoustic guitar, simply strummed, runs throughout the piece. It is supplemented at times by combinations of drum kit (sparingly), bass guitar, tack piano, harmonica, and backing vocals. I think I even hear a concertina or accordion in the last third of the track, but perhaps that's just still more harmonica.
  Next note Supporting instruments are progressively added and subtracted in the service of articulating form and and a sense of forward progress.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The opening section of four measures of just acoustic guitar strumming is nicely atmospheric, yet the a-minor seventh choice of chord is tonally ambiguous.

Assorted Verses and Refrains

  Next note Watch how Paul sculpts something approaching traditional song form out of his seventeen looped iterations, especially impressive when you consider that the ballad-level "story" is told almost continuously, throughout:
  Next note Call the first two loops an extension of the intro, or perhaps and "easing ones way" into the song, proper. In contrast to the rest of the song, this pair is half sung with the words declaimed against the underlying beat, Paul's ol' Western accent is comically exaggerated, and the rhyme scheme tentative, at best.
    1. Somewhere ...
    2. ...eye.  Rocky didn't like that ...
  Next note The next pair could be called a verse section, but I'm going to take the liberty of labeling it "refrain A" because of the way in which the title phrase appears on the downbeat of the section, and the way in which the same gesture reappears much later in the song. The first line of each couplet contains its own internal rhyme ("Raccoon" and "room"; "come" and "gun"), but the pair of them is held together by the rhyme created by the end of each couplet ("Bible" and "rival"). Paul's singing now with his full voice, and the addition of the harmonica help set this off from what preceded.
    3. Rocky Raccoon checked into his room ...
    4. Rocky had come ...
  Next note Next is a "plain" verse, with the story continued, and the rhyming scheme just like the previous one. Add cymbals and bass guitar to the backing track.
    5. His rival it seems ...
    6. Her name was Magill ...
  Next note Followed by another "plain" verse, with the same rhyming scheme again. Now add some drums.
    7. Now she and her man ...
    8. A - Rocky burst in ...
  Next note The climax (and exact midpoint) of the song includes only a single loop iteration; the only place like this in the whole track!
    9. But Daniel was hot ...
  Next note "Refrain B" shifts to scat singing in the lyrics and adds the piano to the backing track. We're back in the paired loop business. The tempo remains constant, but the shift here to an oompah polka beat sets this section off from the rest of the song.
   10. Da da da da da ...
   11. Do do do do do ...
  Next note The next verse returns to the earlier rhyming scheme and strumming beat, and it drops the piano from the backing track. Do we also have a return of the harmonica, or is this a new part for concertina or the like?
   12. Now the doctor came in ...
   13. He said, Rocky you met your match ...
  Next note Let's call the next section the return of "refrain A". True, the story continues here, but the echo of the title phrase on the downbeat in combination with another reference to a certain edition of the Holy Bible usually found in hotel rooms resonates strongly, don't you think? Note the unique application here of the backing vocals.
   14. Rocky Raccoon, he fell back in his room ...
   15. Gideon checked out ...
  Next note And of course, we complete the song with a reiteration of the scat sung "refrain B".
   16. Da da da da da ...
   17. Do do do do do ...


  Next note Just where an eigthteenth iteration of the loop might begin, the song ends with an implied four measures of the C-Major (I) chord sustained, a sort of balancing out the four-measure intro.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note Continuing with our series of Esher demo checks [**] ... the earlier run through of this song (not to be confused with the studio outtake of it on "Anthology", Volume 3) is completely missing the loop iterations labeled here as 1 and 2 (the extended introduction) and 12 and 13 (the "Doctor" verse). The addition of the former sets a more befitting leisurely pace for the song, and the latter spreads out what is otherwise an unrelieved series of "refrains".
  Next note On the detailed level, we find that in the demo, Paul doesn't include the bassline passing note, B, in measure 8 until the very middle of the song. I'm wondering if the idea of the passing note first occurred to him in real time as he performed this demo, or he was thinking of it all along and merely "forgot" to play it until halfway through.
  Next note Yeah, I know it's a nitpicking point, but remember: if it weren't really there then I couldn't call your attention to it :-) Besides, this particular question I'm wondering about actually has a definitive answer; if only Paul might remember; or care about it.
  [** The so-called Esher demos consist of 26 demos recorded at George Harrison's Esher bungalow, between the return of Lennon and Harrison from Rishikesh, India, in April 1968 and the start of the recordings for the "White Album" on the 30th of May 1968. Some of these were released on "Anthology", Volume 3.]
  Alan (010598#141)
Copyright © 1998 by Alan W. Pollack. All Rights Reserved. This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains intact and in place.