Rubber Soul Sessions, 1965
EMI Studios, London
Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) :: The Beatles
from the album, Rubber Soul
Breakfast With the Beatles Sunday
Quite possibly my favorite song by The Beatles, Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) (also known as simply Norwegian Wood) is a song by the Beatles, mainly written by John Lennon, with the middle eight co-written with Paul McCartney, released on the 1965 album Rubber Soul. It was the first example of a rock band playing the sitar in one of their songs; it was played by George Harrison.
Harrison was new to the Sitar and took many takes to get it right. He bought the instrument, which he described as “crummy,” and taught himself to play. It was David Crosby of The Byrds who introduced Harrison to the sitar shortly after the Folk musician Shawn Phillips had shown him the basic steps. A few months later, Harrison studied the Sitar with Indian musician Ravi Shankar, who helped Harrison explore Eastern music and religion.
In an interview with Rolling Stone in 1971, John Lennon explained why it was decided to use the sitar on this song. He recalled:
“I think it was at the studio. George had just got the sitar and I said ‘Could you play this piece?’ We went through many different sort of versions of the song, it was never right and I was getting very angry about it, it wasn’t coming out like I said. They said, ‘Well just do it how you want to do it’ and I said, ‘Well I just want to do it like this.’ They let me go and I did the guitar very loudly into the mike and sang it at the same time and then George had the sitar and I asked him could he play the piece that I’d written, you know, dee diddley dee diddley dee, that bit, and he was not sure whether he could play it yet because he hadn’t done much on the sitar but he was willing to have a go, as is his wont, and he learned the bit and dubbed it on after. I think we did it in sections.”
John Lennon started composing the song on his acoustic guitar in January 1965, while on holiday with his wife, Cynthia, in the Swiss Alps. Lennon later explained that the lyric was about an affair he had been having:
“I was very careful and paranoid because I didn’t want my wife, Cyn, to know that there really was something going on outside of the household. I’d always had some kind of affairs going on, so I was trying to be sophisticated in writing about an affair. But in such a smoke-screen way that you couldn’t tell. But I can’t remember any specific woman it had to do with.”
John Lennon indicated that Paul McCartney helped him finish off the lyric. McCartney explained the title and lyric, as follows:
“Peter Asher (brother of McCartney’s then-girlfriend Jane Asher) had his room done out in wood, a lot of people were decorating their places in wood, Norwegian wood. It was pine, really, cheap pine. But it’s not as good a title “Cheap Pine”, baby. So it was a little parody really on these kind of girls who when you’d go to their flat there would be a lot of Norwegian wood. It was completely imaginary from my point of view but in John’s it was based on an affair he had. This wasn’t the decor of someone’s house, we made that up. So she makes him sleep in the bath and then finally int he last verse I had this idea to set the Norwegian wood on fire as revenge, so we did it very tongue in cheek. She led him on, then said, “You’d better sleep in the bath.” In our world the guy had to have some sort of revenge…so it meant I burned the place down.”
There has been various speculation as to the subject of Lennon’s affair; his friend Pete Shotton suggested a journalist of their acquaintance, possibly Maureen Cleave (though Cleave has said that in all her encounters with Lennon there was “no pass”) while writer Philip Norman claimed that the woman was Sonny Drane, the first wife of Beatles photographer Robert Freeman.
The song is described by writer Mark Lewisohn as “pure Lennon genius … one of the most original pop music songs recorded to date“, and by music critic Richie Unterberger as”. In 2004, Norwegian Wood was ranked # 83 on Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time“.
The song is a lilting acoustic ballad featuring Lennon’s lead vocal and signature Beatles’ harmonies in the middle eight.
Norwegian Wood was one of several songs on Rubber Soul in which the singer faces an antagonistic relationship with a woman. In direct contrast to earlier Beatles songs such as She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand, the songs on Rubber Soul were considerably darker in their outlook towards romantic relationships.
The exotic instrumentation and oblique lyric represented one of the first indications to fans of the expanding musical vocabulary and experimental approach that the group was rapidly adopting.
Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) (live) :: Alanis Morissette
My choice for favorite cover version of Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) is Alanis Morissette’s live version. I love that she does not swap the gender in the lyrics.