John Lennon's Inspiration for Writing Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)

August 20, 2017

Norwegian Wood

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."

George Martin

 

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

 

Norwegian Wood

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."

John Lennon

"Although begun in Switzerland

Norwegian Wood was completed as a collaboration

between Lennon and Paul McCartney"

George Martin

 

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."

Paul McCartney

"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 Harrison

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

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