Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
|"Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)"|
|Song by the Beatles from the album Rubber Soul|
|Released||3 December 1965|
|Recorded||12 and 21 October 1965,
EMI Studios, London
|Genre||Folk rock, raga rock|
|Label||EMI, Parlophone, Capitol|
|Rubber Soul track listing|
"Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" 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 including a sitar in one of their songs, played by lead guitarist George Harrison.
Composition and lyrics
Lennon started composing the song on his acoustic guitar in January 1965, while on holiday with his wife, Cynthia, in the Swiss Alps. He 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.||”|
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 those 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 in the 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 that he made "no pass" at her), while writer Philip Norman claimed that the woman was model Sonny Drane, the first wife of Beatles photographer Robert Freeman.
"Norwegian Wood" was initially composed in D major, but was played in E major in the version on Rubber Soul (with a capo on the second fret). It is in triple time. An earlier take, released on Anthology 2, is in the key of D major. The song opens with I (E) chord and a vocal melody B-natural (on the word "I") which is the 5th scale degree in E Mixolydian. This shifts to a D natural harmony (supported by scale degree 7 in E Mixolydian) with a (Dadd9) chord on "she" and "once", to return, via a passing C# on "had", to the tonic (E maj.), supported in the vocal line by a double entendre 5th (B) melody note on "me" (an octave below the opening B-natural on "I"). Meanwhile the bass emphasizes the E tonic in a static harmony. In the bridge (in Em key) the root chord begins at "She asked me", transforms to an IV chord (A) at "where", goes back to i (Em) at "looked" before the bridge runs back to the major verse with a ii7 (F#m7)- V (B) progression that resolves on the appropriate E chord of "I sat on a rug."
Harrison—who would later be strongly influenced by Indian culture and become a practitioner of transcendental meditation—decided on using a sitar when the Beatles recorded the song on 12 and 21 October 1965. He later said:
|“||During the filming of Help! there were some Indian musicians in a restaurant scene and I kind of messed around with a sitar then. But during that year, towards the end of the year anyway, I kept hearing the name of Ravi Shankar. [...] So I went out and bought a record and that was it. It felt very familiar to me to listen to that music. It was around that time I bought a sitar. I just bought a cheap sitar in a shop called India Craft, in London. It was lying around. I hadn't really figured out what to do with it. When we were working on Norwegian Wood it just needed something, and it was quite spontaneous, from what I remember. I just picked up my sitar, found the notes and just played it. We miked it up and put it on and it just seemed to hit the spot.||”|
- John Lennon – double-tracked vocal, acoustic guitar
- Paul McCartney – bass, harmony vocal
- George Harrison – double-tracked sitar
- Ringo Starr – tambourine, maracas, finger cymbals
Reception and legacy
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 "undoubtedly the Beatles' greatest lyrical triumph during their folk-rock phase". In 2004, "Norwegian Wood" was ranked number 83 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time".
Cover versions of the song were performed by many artists, including Sergio Mendes, Herbie Hancock, Herbie Mann, Count Basie, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Jr., P.M. Dawn, Tangerine Dream, Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush, Arjen Anthony Lucassen, Jan & Dean, Buddy Rich, and José Feliciano. The British band Cornershop recorded a version of the song in the Punjabi language for the album When I Was Born for the 7th Time.
The standard Japanese translation of the song's title is Noruwei no Mori. The popular 1987 Japanese novel Norwegian Wood, which often mentions the song, takes its name from it. The novel was adapted into a film in 2010, which featured the song.
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- Alan W. Pollack's Notes on "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)"
- How the sitar came to be heard in western pop music