Beatles – Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)

This song made me look for a sitar to buy for a time…unfortunately I never could find one in Nashville at the time. You just don’t see them hanging up in pawn shops.

This was the first pop song to use a sitar…George Harrison played it. Harrison was new to the sitar and attempted many takes until it was right. He bought a cheap sitar and and taught himself to play. Later on Harrison studied the instrument with the Indian musician Ravi Shankar, who helped Harrison explore Eastern music and religion.

The song was on the Rubber Soul album released in 1965. The album peaked at #1 in the Billboard Album Charts, Canada, and the UK. The song was not released as a single in America.

John Lennon: “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. 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: “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.”

From Songfacts

There are not many lyrics in this song, but they tell the story of a man who gets invited to a girl’s house. When she won’t let him into her bed, he sleeps in the tub. When she leaves the next morning, he sets the place on fire. It was one of the first songs Lennon wrote that told a complete story.

Norwegian Wood is a fake wood that was used to make cheap furniture. John Lennon claimed he had no idea where the title came from, but Paul McCartney said he came up with it, inspired by the Norwegian Wood in the Asher household, where he was staying. McCartney was dating Jane Asher, and was good friends with her brother, Peter Asher from the duo Peter & Gordon.

The Beatles recorded this on October 12, 1965, the first day of the Rubber Soul sessions. The first take of the song, which is included on the Anthology 2 CD and includes George’s sitar much more prominently, was originally going to be put on Rubber Soul until a remake was made a week or two later. The notes in the Anthology 2 album verify this. 

Ringo played the finger cymbals on this track.

Bob Dylan wrote a parody of sorts to this song called “Fourth Time Around,” which appears on his 1966 album Blonde On Blonde. His song uses a similar melody; it also tells a story about a strange encounter with a girl.

It was Paul McCartney who came up with the album title Rubber Soul. Lennon told Rolling Stone that he supposed it was a pun meaning English Soul. He added: “There is no great mysterious meaning behind all of this, it was just four boys working out what to call a new album.”

Some of the many artists to cover this song include José Feliciano, Herbie Hancock and Buddy Rich. The mellow rap group P.M. Dawn also did a version on their 1993 The Bliss Album, and Cornershop covered it on their 1997 album When I Was Born for the 7th Time – the one with their #1 UK hit “Brimful Of Asha.”

Norwegian Wood

I once had a girl
Or should I say she once had me
She showed me her room
Isn’t it good Norwegian wood?

She asked me to stay
And she told me to sit anywhere
So I looked around
And I noticed there wasn’t a chair

I sat on a rug biding my time
Drinking her wine
We talked until two and then she said
“It’s time for bed”

She told me she worked
In the morning and started to laugh
I told her I didn’t
And crawled off to sleep in the bath

And when I awoke I was alone
This bird had flown
So I lit a fire
Isn’t it good Norwegian wood?

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

56 thoughts on “Beatles – Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”

      1. Not as bad now… from $600 up but you can now find cheap ones for 200…but you will have to order it. In the 90s when I was searching they were much higher…

        Liked by 1 person

  1. one of my first Beatles favorites as a kid, that sitar really gave it a different sound. No, you don’t see a lot of sitars lying around, but in Nashville you never know!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I was really looking for one in the 90s…but…when you think about it…how many songs are you actually going to use it on? Not many but it would be a fun instrument to learn.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Well that is a problem…lol… no…oh I’m laughing as I’m typing.
        It’s a good song…love the sitar in it

        Like

  2. After that album hit, the drummer in our rock band bought a Sitar. A drummer, you ask? Yes, the guy was a musical genius and played many instruments. He never mastered the beast but could play decent enough. I tried it, and dang..the strings killed my fingers, so I have much respect for Shankar and his bloody digits. One tough instrument.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yea the drummer is the last person I would have thought of. The strings look so far apart…it is different. I have played a sitar-guitar…those guitars that drone out but of course it’s not in the same ballpark in sound.

      I record some and I would like a cheap one just for flavor…but yea I would never master it. I’ve read where it takes years.

      Like

      1. When I woke up this morning
        I was feeling mighty good.
        My baby understood had to do what she should
        Lying near a pile of wood.
        Laying it on some,
        Playing with it some
        When I, I woke up with wood.
        I was lying there thinking ’bout basketball
        Trying not to lose my mind
        My baby came to help and I let out a yell,
        She grabbed me from behind.
        Laying on it some,
        Playing with it some
        When I, I woke up with wood.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I just listened to it…it is funny… it does have that Eliminator sound…man that guy helped them find that…they didn’t let it go.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. By the way next Friday Night we are going live with Frank the promoter in the Crocks documentary 5 bucks at the Door.
        Were going to drill Frank on all the bands that rolled through town.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Happy Friday!

    I just went to reacquaint myself with that Dylan song, and oh yes, that melody is a one-off of Norwegian Wood and he played it in a weird way. Thanks for making that connection in your post. Also didn’t consider he burned the house down at the end, but what a GREAT metaphor for Lennon, especially if “Cyn” figured out it was his having an affair with someone and ruining their marriage over it. I know Lennon has written a zillion good songs and I appreciate his output, but every new bit of info I learn about the guy the more I think of him as an ass. His cavalier comments about George’s playing the sitar here make me steaming mad. The sitar elevates the song from ok to iconic.

    About you picking up a sitar and learning some songs, you would probably end up learning some tunes written for the sitar. Youtube probably has many how-to videos also.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Happy Friday Lisa!!!
      The song is great and yea it was a good way to hide it and admit it at the same time I guess…that’s a different type of therapy that applies to rock stars.

      If I see one cheap enough I would love to have one to add to recordings. They make a an electric guitar/sitar…a guitar that sounds like a sitar but you don’t get the depth of course.

      Isn’t that picture of George cool?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yea it was in the 90s when I looked…the good ones are expensive but you can get a cheaper one now if you order it. I would love to try to play one

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That album was the start of what probably is their best period to some…I’m biased…I like all lol. It is a great album that led up to Revolver then Sgt Pepper. How they got from “She Loves” You to there is interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I always liked this song — a lot of elements happening in two minutes and fifteen seconds or so. The sitar, obviously, but also McCartney’s Everly Brothers’ style harmony on it. Then there is the actual story as well. I think this is the first time I learned “bird” was the American equivalent of “chick.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is one of the few songs to that point they did to resolve itself…. It took me a while to learn the “bird” phrase.
      It made me look at “And Your Bird Can Sing” in a different light.

      Have you ever played a sitar?

      Like

  5. I’ve always loved that song. And, of course, the sitar. As for picking it up, it’s supposed to be one of the most challenging instruments to learn. I do seem recall reading somewhere it’s not even possible to fully master it in a lifetime, though perhaps it also depends on the level sophistication you’re aiming to reach. But, yeah, owning one to fool around with, I’d be up for that! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What I would like to do is to color some songs while recording…kinda like what George did…yea no way would I even try to master it…. to play it right would take years. Even George put it down after a while.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. fab song, a world away from She Loves You and increasingly adult and sophisticated. John always wore his heart on his sleeve, but I think I preferred the lyrical imagery without the background story – I mean it’s no surprise he was cheating on Cynthia, but I’d not put the two together for this song.

    Oops!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The backstory that I liked was the story of the sitar…and how it got brought in…loved when they colored songs with different instruments.

      Liked by 2 people

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