Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

"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 darker in their outlook towards romantic relationships.

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 12 October and 21 October 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.... 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. The Beatles Anthology

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 as if 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. They drink wine in her room and talk into the night. However, at 2 A.M. the unnamed girl ceases their flirtation, which the speaker may have been hoping to end in consumation, declaring "it's time for bed", leaving him to crawl off to "sleep in the bath" alone.

"Norwegian Wood" refers to the cheap pinewood that often finished the interiors of working class British flats. The last verse states that the singer lights a fire, the implication being that the singer in fact sets fire to the girl's flat, presumably as revenge for not sleeping with the singer.

McCartney himself states the final line of the song indicates that the singer burned the home of the girl. 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....

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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