Here's a link to PopMatters' exploration of the second side of "the White Album."
I think my piece on "Rocky Raccoon" slightly exceeded the established word limit (or perhaps parts just weren't necessary) because several sentences didn't make the final cut. So it goes.
Here's the unedited and righteously uncompromised (jk) version:
From the Beatles’ splintering artistic unity came the musical madhouse that is "The White Album." Their 1968 double LP is a generous gathering of experiments, sideshows, and flights of fancy. It’s thirty tracks of creative impulse run wild. And it’s the rare breed of album where eccentricities and curiosities, like an acoustic Western ditty about spurned love and revenge, can fit in simply because they stand out.
The inspiration for “Rocky Raccoon” hit Paul McCartney while the Beatles were visiting India in the late ‘60s. An Eastern influence, though, is not anywhere evident. “Rocky Raccoon” is a thoroughly American number, complete with a backwoods setting, shootouts, hoedowns, a copy of the Bible, and dubious health care. It almost plays like a send-up of a Johnny Cash tune about the failed wiles of a likeable underdog. Its frontier-folk nature even compels Paul into character. He drops the refinement and light Britishness of his usual vocal in favor of rootsy, more roughhewn inflections. The way he mumbles through “black mining hills of Dakota”, his down-home delivery of “that boy”, and his mispronunciation of “Gideon” (“Gidjin”) all insert Paul, as a sympathetic narrator, into the song’s comic theatrics. His bumbling-bard persona is of a piece with the mood and spirit of “Rocky Raccoon”.
The story itself is a well-worn account of shame and jealousy-sparked revenge, or the attempt at it anyway. Young Rocky Raccoon, a good-hearted if impetuous chap, loses Nancy Magill, “the girl of his fancy”, to another guy named Dan. With a shiner on his face and bad blood in his heart, Rocky plots his vengeance. It would be a showdown at the camp hoedown. But once there, Dan proves a quicker draw and shoots Rocky first, leaving him laid up and in the brief care of a boozy doctor. Down and out, Rocky ends his hoped-for reckoning by defiantly vowing a comeback.
Paul collaborated with John Lennon and Scottish folkster Donovan in fleshing out the concept for “Rocky Raccoon”. The broad outline is fairly standard but it’s in the story’s seeming marginalia, its tossed-off narrative details, that this trio of delightfully whimsical and imaginative minds brings the song to life. Like how the divine seems to maintain a watchful presence in the form of Gideon’s Bible or how Rocky intends to harm Dan by shooting off his legs. Perhaps the funniest scene is when the doctor, “stinking of gin”, arrives to aid Rocky and immediately lies down on a table himself. These sorts of quirks aren’t unexpected coming from a late-period McCartney composition but they still surprise with their blithe oddity.
As a piece of music, “Rocky Raccoon” is exquisitely textured, though it takes its time in achieving that form. It develops gradually, with Paul’s acoustic guitar initially at the center, garnished by Ringo’s light high-hat crunches and John’s (unusual) go at a thudding six-string bass, which, when emphasized, sounds like a brass section. The smoky grayness of the song’s beginning then gives way to an inventive flow of lively and colorful instrumentation: short spurts of harmonica, George Martin’s slinky, saloon-style piano on the bridges, and warm patches of an accordion-like harmonium. The story of Rocky’s travails is too screwy for just an acoustic folk backdrop. That wouldn’t have done him justice. And this is "the White Album" where sonic simplicity isn't often the preferred method.
All added up, this is a tune full of charm, wit, and oddball pop pleasure. The Beatles were peerless in their capacity for such songwriting. But can you imagine it without the snappy name “Rocky Raccoon”? Would it have been so lasting and memorable under a different title, like “Rocky Sassoon”, which was Paul’s original idea? He later determined that “Raccoon” was more cowboyish and, thus, a better match. In fact, the pairing of “Rocky” and “Raccoon” perfectly captures the character’s mix of macho bluster and lowly inadequacy. It’s absurdly well-calibrated. Rocky is a lovable buffoon who, from the outset, doesn’t appear likely to prevail and probably won’t learn his lesson after he falters. The name “Rocky Raccoon” renders him an open book. But the details of his story and the baroque sounds that accompany it are far from predictable. That is truly the hallmark of "the White Album" as a whole. It careens, it deviates, it undermines, and it positively wows. The Beatles may have been in collapse, but their art was still soaring.