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This Mystery And Credit Of "Norwegian Wood" Unraveled

Entertainment | November 27, 2021

The boys of "Norwegian Wood."

“Norwegian Wood,” The Beatles’ 1965 hit off their Rubber Soul album exemplifies the iconic group in many ways. First and naturally foremost, it features a battle for writing credit between the ever quarreling John Lennon and Paul McCartney. On the song also known as “This Bird Has Flown”, George Harrison played a strange instrument, the sitar, introducing it to the world at large. And all the while Ringo Starr quietly played the finger cymbals, hoping someone would notice.

“Norwegian Wood” only reached the #1 spot in Australia but Rolling Stone did rank the adulterous song as #83 on their 2004 list of the 500 greatest songs ever. So what is “Norwegian Wood,” and who came up with it? Read on to find out.

The battle for credit ultimately unraveled The Beatles and "Norwegian Wood" stood as a prime example of that. metv

Writing Credit

Like many Beatles songs, parsing out who wrote it, turns into a job suited for Inspector Clouseau. According to Lennon, the song stemmed from his predilection to commit adultery.

“‘Norwegian Wood’ is my song completely. 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."

Perhaps if you’re looking to hide infidelity from your wife, writing a hit song about it might not be the most effective way of going about it. But hey, they say you should write what you know!

Their memories of the song writing process differ wildly. thefest

McCartney’s Perspective

Of course, Sir Paul McCartney remembers it differently:

“I came in and he (Lennon) had this first stanza, which was brilliant: ‘I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me.’ That was all he had, no title, no nothing. I said, ‘Oh yes, well, ha, we’re there.’ And it wrote itself. Once you’ve got the great idea, they do tend to write themselves, providing you know how to write songs. So I picked it up at the second verse, it’s a story. It’s him trying to pull a bird, it was about an affair. “

For his part, Beatles’ producer George Martin, recalls Lennon playing with the ditty while on vacation in the Swiss Alps with their wives… “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.’”

Harrison was early in his learning of the Sitar. paulfrasercollectibles

George Harrison Tries A Sitar

Meanwhile, as the lead dogs fought for credit, Harrison was experimenting with different instruments. “I went and bought a sitar from a little shop at the top of Oxford Street called Indiacraft – it stocked little carvings, and incense. It was a real crummy-quality one, actually, but I bought it and mucked about with it a bit. Anyway, we were at the point where we’d recorded the ‘Norwegian Wood’ backing track and it needed something. We would usually start looking through the cupboard to see if we could come up with something, a new sound.”

Rubber Soul was meant as a play on English Soul. youtube

Recording Angst

During the recording of “Norwegian Wood,” Lennon became frustrated with the lack of progress. “We went through many different sorts 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.' 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."

An extremely underrated album. youtube

What Exactly Is “Norwegian Wood?”

Lennon famously couldn’t remember where the title came from but conveniently, McCartney did. “Peter 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 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. 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.”

So to recap, the word ‘cloud’ for “Norwegian Wood” would look like: adultery, cheap pine, and a crummy sitar. You know, just the usual elements of an all-timer.

Tags: George Harrison | John Lennon | Paul McCartney | Ringo Starr | Rubber Soul | The Beatles

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!