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Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


"Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" is a song by The Beatles which first appeared on the 1965 album Rubber Soul. While credited to Lennon-McCartney, it was primarily written by John Lennon, though Paul McCartney contributed to the middle eight section. It is notable as one of the first Western pop songs with an Indian musical instrument — John Lennon's guitar is accompanied by George Harrison on the sitar. The song is a lilting acoustic ballad featuring Lennon's lead vocal and signature Beatle 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 more negative in their outlook towards romantic relationships.

As the second song on the Rubber Soul album (following the more conventional "I've Just Seen a Face" on the US release or "Drive My Car" on the UK version), 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.

Eastern influence

It was Harrison, who would later be strongly influenced by transcendental meditation and eventually become a Hindu for the remainder of his life, who decided on using a sitar when the Beatles recorded the song on October 12 and 21, 1965. As he recounted later: "We were waiting to shoot the restaurant scene [in Help! the movie] ... where the guy gets thrown in the soup and there were a few Indian musicians playing in the background. I remember picking up the sitar and trying to hold it and thinking, 'This is a funny sound.' It was an incidental thing, but somewhere down the line I began to hear Ravi Shankar's name. The third time I heard it, I thought, 'This is an odd coincidence.' So I went and bought a Ravi record; put it on and it hit a certain spot in me that I can't explain, but it seemed very familiar to me. It just called on me ... I bought a cheap sitar from a shop called India Craft in London. I hadn't really figured out what to do with it. But when we were working on 'Norwegian Wood' it just needed something. It was quite spontaneous ... I just picked it up and found the notes and just played it. We miked it up and put it on and it just seemed to hit the spot."

Complementing the Indian instrumentation, most of the song is in the mixolydian musical mode. Although the motif for the melody, the first six notes, sounds like it is directly lifted from the third movement of Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony, they are in fact drawn from the antarã [upper-octave variation] of a well-known gat [fixed composition set to a rhythmic accompaniment] of the late-night rāga Bageshree, in Hindustani classical music.


The lyrics of the song sketch an encounter between the singer and an unnamed girl (or "bird" in British slang). They drink wine in her room and talk into the night. Their flirtation is apparently unconsummated, as the singer "crawl[s] off to sleep in the bath". When he wakes up the following morning, the singer is alone and lights a fire.

The exact meaning of the title "Norwegian Wood" remains a mystery. The name of the song is mentioned in the first verse ("She showed me her room / Isn't it good? / Norwegian wood?") and again in its last line ("So, I lit a fire / Isn't it good? / Norwegian wood?"). Some say that "Norwegian Wood" may be a pun with a nickname of a strong variety of marijuana. Others claim the final line of the song implies that the singer burned the home of the girl using the furniture as fuel, or burned the girl's furniture in the fireplace. Others claim the word "wood" is a metaphor for an erect penis. Another version claims that the use of "Norwegian Wood" was self-censorship of the true, highly suggestive lyric "knowing she would". Norwegian Wood was the name of a furniture manufacturer that made similar quality furniture to that of IKEA today.

McCartney was apparently the inspiration for the singer's revenge on his partner in the end of the song. As he explained: "Peter Asher, brother of McCartney's then-girlfriend, Jane Asher had just done his room out in wood, and a lot of people were decorating their places in wood. Norwegian wood. It was pine, really, just cheap pine. But it's not as good a title, is it, 'Cheap Pine'? It was a little parody, really, on those kind of girls who, when you'd get back to their flat, there would be a lot of Norwegian wood. It was completely imaginary from my point of view, but not from John's. It was based on an affair he had. She made him sleep in the bath and then, finally, in the last verse, I had this idea to set the Norwegian wood on fire as a revenge. She led him on and said, 'You'd better sleep in the bath.' And in our world, that meant the guy having some sort of revenge, so it meant burning the place down ..."

On the recordings for "The Beatles Anthology part two disc 1"; the lyrics for that version of "Norwegian Wood" sound almost slurred, which has inspired an interpretation of the phrase "norwegian wood" itself to be a coy way of saying, "knowing she would". Such suggestive lyrics were often not permitted for broadcast at that time; for example, lyrics to The Rolling Stones song "Let's Spend The Night Together" were modified to "let's spend some time together" for television performance.

Inspiration from infidelity

The song was apparently inspired by Lennon's extra-marital flings. Ironically, he wrote it while he was on a holiday with his wife, Cynthia, at St. Moritz in the Swiss Alps. They were joined by the Beatles' producer George Martin, who had injured himself early in the holiday, and his wife. Martin recalled: "It was during this time that John was writing songs for Rubber Soul, and one of the songs he composed in the hotel bedroom, while we were all gathered around, nursing my broken foot, was a little ditty he would play to me on his acoustic guitar. The song was 'Norwegian Wood'." [1]

Lennon said of the song: "I was trying to write about an affair, so it was very gobbledegooky. I was trying to write about an affair without letting my wife know I was having one. I was sort of writing from my experiences ... girl's flats, things like that." He also said: "'Norwegian Wood' is my song completely. It was about an affair I was 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's friend, Pete Shotton, speculated that the woman in question was a journalist of their acquaintance (possibly Maureen Cleave), although it is equally likely that the woman was one of the numerous groupies or fans constantly following the Beatles. The producer/fifth-Beatle George Martin was asked what the text was about and answered:

My wife is going to give me a hard time for saying this. It was one of John's indiscretions. I remember we were sitting at the veranda outside our hotel rooms in St. Moritz and John was playing at his guitar and working out the text: I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me. He felt that Cynthia had tricked him to marry her.


Lennon acknowledged being strongly influenced by Bob Dylan during this time period, and the rather opaque lyrics of "Norwegian Wood" seem to reflect this. Dylan responded with "4th Time Around", a song boasting a similar melody, subject matter and lyrical delivery. Rock journalists and even Lennon himself felt it to be a rather pointed parody of "Wood" (some thought the song's closing line - "And I, I never took much/I never asked for your crutch/Now don't ask for mine" - to be directed toward Lennon), though Lennon later told his biographer that he considered Dylan's effort to be more a playful homage.

"Norwegian Wood" has been covered many times by such artists as Buddy Rich, Herbie Hancock, Alanis Morissette, P.M. Dawn, Victor Wooten and Cornershop; Cornershop's version, from their album When I was Born for the 7th Time, is entirely in Hindi. It was played live during U2's Vertigo Tour. Artist Frank Zappa recorded a version satrising the sex scandal involving Jimmy Swaggart, but it is only available on bootleg recordings.

The song has had impact outside musical circles as well. For instance, Japanese author Haruki Murakami wrote a novel entitled Norwegian Wood, a reference to the song. Norwegian-American presidential nominee Walter Mondale was nicknamed "Norwegian Wood" during the 1984 presidential election.

The Norwegian music festival Norwegian Wood which takes place in Oslo is named after the song.


  • Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) (file info) — play in browser (beta)
    • A sample from the song.
    • Problems listening to the file? See media help.


  • The Ultimate Beatles Experience. Retrieved Sept. 7, 2004.
  • Retrieved Sept. 7, 2004.
  • Retrieved Sept. 7, 2004.
  • Retrieved Sept. 7, 2004.

External links

  • Alan W. Pollack's analysis of "Norwegian Wood"
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