Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
|"Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)"|
The 1966 Australian single release of the song, backed with "Nowhere Man"
|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 English rock band the Beatles, written by the songwriting partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and was first released on the album Rubber Soul, on 3 December 1965. Musically influenced by the introspective lyrics of Bob Dylan, "Norwegian Wood" was a contributing factor to the Beatles' progression as complex songwriters. In addition, the recordings of studio musicians during the Help! filming sessions, and Ravi Shankar inspired lead guitarist George Harrison to incorporate the sitar into the song.
Although "Norwegian Wood" was not the first song to feature an Eastern-inspired sound in a rock composition, or even the first Beatles track, it is credited as influential in the development in raga rock and psychedelic rock. Not long afterwards, Indian classical music became popularised in mainstream Western society, and several Western musical artists integrated the style. Accordingly, "Norwegian Wood" is recognised as a bona fide raga-rock song, as well as fundamental in the early evolution of the genre later regarded as world music. Since its initial release, the song has been released on several compilation albums and cover versions.
The song's lyrics are about an extramarital affair that John Lennon was involved in, as hinted in the opening couplet: "I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me". Though Lennon never revealed whom he had an affair with, it is speculated that it was either close friend and journalist Maureen Cleave, or Sonny Freeman. Paul McCartney explained the term "Norwegian Wood" was a parody on the cheap pine walls in guitarist Peter Asher's bedroom. McCartney continues with the conclusion of the song, saying, "In our world the guy had to have some sort of revenge. It could have meant I lit a fire to keep myself warm, and wasn't the decor of her house wonderful? But it didn't, it meant I burned the fucking place down as an act of revenge, and then we left it there and went into the instrumental".
According to Lennon, the lyrics were primarily his creation, with the middle eight being credited to McCartney. In 1980, Lennon changed his claim, saying it was "my song completely". Since Lennon's death, however, McCartney has contended that he conceived the initial idea for "Norwegian Wood", and contributed lyrics to Lennon's unfinished draft. Regardless, it was Lennon who began writing the song in February 1965, while on vacation at St. Moritz in the Swiss Alps with his wife, Cynthia Lennon, and record producer, George Martin. Over the following days, Lennon expanded on an acoustic arrangement of the song, and showed it to Martin while he recovered from a skiing injury.
Before Lennon began writing "Norwegian Wood", between 5 April and 6 April 1965, while filming the second Beatles movie, Help!, at Twickenham Film Studios, George Harrison first encountered the sitar, a prominent feature in the song. A group of Indian session musicians sparked Harrison's interest when they performed the instrumental "Another Hard Day's Night", a medley of three Beatles compositions – "A Hard Day's Night", "Can't Buy Me Love" and "I Should Have Known Better" – arranged to feature the sitar, among other instruments. It was not the first instance in which Indian influence was evident, the raga-like drone was found in The Kinks' rare foray into psychedelic rock with the song "See My Friends". The Yardbirds also created a similar sound with a distorted electric guitar on their composition "Heart Full of Soul". On 25 August 1965, during the Beatles' American tour, Harrison's friend David Crosby of The Byrds discussed in detail about Indian classical music, and the work of sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. Harrison became enamoured with Shankar's recordings and purchased his first sitar, soon immersing himself in learning how to play the instrument.
The first take of "Norwegian Wood", under the working title "This Bird Has Flown", was recorded on 12 October 1965 at EMI Studios in London, with George Martin producing the session. After completing "Run for Your Life" and an extensive rehearsal session, the group recorded the rhythm track, featuring two 12-string acoustic guitars, bass, and a faint sound of cymbals, in one take. Harrison introduced the sitar to the recording, with the take emphasising the drone quality further than the album's version. Moreover, sound engineer Norman Smith recalls the difficulty in recording the sitar, saying: "It is very hard to record because it has a lot of nasty peaks and a very complex wave form. My meter would be going right over into the red, into distortion, without us getting audible value for money. I could have used a limiter but that would have meant losing the sonorous quality." In addition, Lennon's vocals were overdubbed and double tracked at the end of every line in each verse. This version was designed as a comedic number, exhibiting a less folk-orientated sound, highlighting laboured vocals, along with an unusual sitar conclusion. However, the band was unsatisfied with the song and would return to it nine days later. The original version of "Norwegian Wood" finally saw its first release on the 1996 compilation Anthology 2.
The Beatles reconvened at EMI Studios on 21 October 1965 to conduct three additional takes, including the master. It saw the group experimenting with the arrangements, with the second take introducing a double-tracked sitar opening that complemented Lennon's acoustic melody. Though the group completely reshaped "Norwegian Wood", it was far from the album version. Harrison's sitar playing is still brought to the forefront, alongside heavy drumbeats. The take was not considered suitable for overdubbing, so the band scrapped it, and reevaluated the arrangement. By the third take, the song went under the title "Norwegian Wood", and the group lifted the key, originally in D major, to E major. Afterwards, The Beatles skipped the rhythm section, and decided to jump to the master take. In all, the rhythm section accommodates the acoustics, with the band concluding a folk style was an improvement over more exotic early run-throughs. Therefore, the sitar is an accompaniment, consequently affecting the droning sound evident in past takes.
"Norwegian Wood" 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."
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". Music critic Richie Unterberger wrote, "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, The Clumsy Lovers, José Feliciano and Jackie Mittoo, (mistitled as "Darker Shade of Pale"), Milton Nascimento and Beto Guedes. 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. Beach Boys member Brian Wilson has since cited "Norwegian Wood" as the song from Rubber Soul that inspired him most to create their 1966 album Pet Sounds.
The standard Japanese translation of the song's title is Noruwei no Mori. The popular 1987 novel Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, 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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- Paul McCartney – bass guitar, harmony vocal
- George Harrison – 12-string acoustic guitar, double-tracked sitar
- Ringo Starr – tambourine, maracas, bass drum, finger cymbals
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