was a landmark recording for The Beatles
The first Western pop song to feature the sitar
A plucked stringed instrument used mainly
in Hindustani music and Indian classical music
John Lennon had the idea for the song
while on a skiing holiday with his wife Cynthia
in St Moritz in the Swiss Alps
They were joined by George Martin
who injured himself early on in the holiday
and his future wife Judy Lockhart-Smith
"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."
The song demonstrated the continuing influence of Bob Dylan
upon The Beatles' music
Dylan himself responded with 4th Time Around
on 1966's Blonde On Blonde album
which shares a similar melody and lyrical theme
was about an extra-marital relationship
Lennon was having at the time
His friend Pete Shotton later suggested
that the woman in question was a journalist
possibly Maureen Cleave a close friend to Lennon
"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, 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."
"Although begun in Switzerland
Norwegian Wood was completed as a collaboration
between Lennon and Paul McCartney"
Talking to Rolling Stone in 1970
Lennon attributed the middle section to McCartney
although in a 1980 interview with Playboy
he called it "my song completely"
"I came in and he 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. John told Playboy that he hadn't the faintest idea where the title came from but I do. 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. 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. 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."
"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, and I picked the sitar up - it was just lying around; I hadn't really figured out what to do with it. It was quite spontaneous: I found the notes that played the lick. It fitted and it worked."
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, 'Just do it how you want to do it,' and I said, '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, 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 learnt the bit and dubbed it on after. I think we did it in sections.
John Lennon, 1970
In The Studio
John Lennon: double-tracked vocal, acoustic rhythm guitar
Paul McCartney: bass guitar, harmony vocal
George Harrison: 12-string acoustic guitar, double-tracked sitar
Ringo Starr: tambourine, maracas, bass drum, finger cymbals
Written by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: October 12th & 21st of 1965
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith
Album: Rubber Soul
Released: December 6, 1965