The Beatles’ “Rocky Raccoon” and the Real-Life Drunken Doctor Who Inspired The Fourth Verse

The story behind the Beatles’ 1968 track “Rocky Raccoon” might seem as simple as Paul McCartney’s fictitious take on a spaghetti Western saloon shootout. But there’s more truth behind this tongue-in-cheek song than one might think.

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Most of the characters presented in the ‘White Album’ song are McCartney’s imaginative musings: the titular Rocky, Gideon, dream-breaking Dan, and the woman named Magill who called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as Nancy.

But according to the Liverpool native, one figure present in the song’s rolling narrative could be traced back to a fateful doctor’s visit McCartney had in 1965.

The Story Behind “Rocky Raccoon” Wasn’t All Western Fiction

“Rocky Raccoon” follows the scorned main character from somewhere in the black mining hills of Dakota as he sets out to shoot off the legs of his rival. Dan, the rival, stole the girl of Rocky’s fancy, and the two men face off in a local saloon shootout. Unfortunately for Rocky, he was the slower draw. Daniel was hot, McCartney sings in the third verse. He drew first and shot.

By the fourth verse, McCartney introduces the last character of the story. The doctor came in, stinking of gin, and proceeded to lie on the table. The liquor-drunk doctor tending to the injured Rocky sounds like another melodramatic element of McCartney’s made-up folk tale. But as the singer later explained, it was based on an actual doctor’s visit he had after busting open his lip in a moped accident.

Paul McCartney’s Painful Memory Turned Into The Penultimate Verse

As McCartney explained in The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present, he first met the man who would inspire the fourth verse of “Rocky Raccoon” in the early 1960s. McCartney fell off his moped while driving from his father’s home to his cousin, Betty, who also lived in Liverpool. Upon seeing McCartney bruised and bleeding, Betty rang for a doctor who could stitch the musician’s lip.

“They got this guy, and he arrived stinking of gin,” McCartney explained. “This guy was so drunk. 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.” McCartney said the doctor didn’t give him any anesthetic, but “I might have had a slug of scotch or something. 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,” the Beatle continued. “I was trying not to scream. To be honest, he really didn’t do a marvelous job. I had this bump in my lip for a good while after. I can still feel it.”

Another Unexpected Consequence Of McCartney’s Doctor’s Visit

That painful doctor’s visit at his cousin’s house gave McCartney far more than a verse and scar. It also prompted an aesthetic style change that would ripple out into the rest of the Beatles. McCartney explained in The Lyrics that after getting stitched up by the drunken doctor, he had significant bruising on his face that he tried to cover up by growing a mustache. “The other Beatles saw it and liked it, so they all grew mustaches, too,” the musician recalled. 

Indeed, what started as a functional vanity choice for McCartney quickly became a prominent feature of the Fab Four’s later years. And, of course, if one were to assume that Rocky Raccoon or his sharpshooting rival, Dan, matched other typical Western stereotypes, they, too, would likely have mustaches, adding another element of life imitating art in the classic Beatles track.

Photo by John Pratt/Keystone/Getty Images

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