The Beatles – Norwegian Wood ( This Bird Has Flown) (1965)
from the album “Rubber Soul”.
I grew up thinking that The Beatles was the bee’s knees, the saviours of the universe, God in four musical shapes on earth.
Let’s just say my parents, and my mother in particular, are huge Beatle-fans.
When I finally got around to realizing their genius, in my early teen years, a lot of friends were still left in the dark about this, wondering what I could possibly see in this silly old band that they felt had no relevance at all to today’s teenagers. To my friends, The Beatles were just “She Loves You” and nothing more, just something that your grandmother would like, something very harmless and thus very uninteresting and very unchallenging.
When discussing this with my mother, we got into also discussing what exactly made The Beatles change.
Because they did.
Of course, if you’re deep into rock history and mythology as I am, you have to take things into context. Even early Beatle songs were before their time, and even “She Loves You” was miles ahead their contemporaries.
I don’t think you can hear it at first. But like I said, if you spend days, and weeks, and months, and even years, like me, digging into every tidbit of pop nostalgia that comes your way, you come to the conclusion that it was still the top of the cream around this time.
Rock’n’roll hardly even existed, at least it didn’t really exist outside the black soul and blues scene of America.
But, something did change, and it changed radically. And so, I asked my mother, what was the game changer for The Beatles?
She said: “Rubber Soul”.
Didn’t have to say much more than that, I suppose.
When listening to this record, something has grown, deepened. The Beatles grew up and matured, and I don’t think there’s a better song off the album that showcases that more than this, which is one of my absolute favourite Beatle songs ever.
It’s here where George starts getting spiritual and incorporating the sitar into his work, it’s here where John starts getting a bit more bizarre in his songwriting and starts moving away from the silver lined clouds of falling love as a topic of his songs. In this song, he sets his girls house on fire instead, or at least that’s one of the most common interpretations of the songs final verse;
“And when I awoke, I was alone, this bird had flown
So I lit a fire, isn’t it good, norwegian wood.”
Also noticeable is how Lennon and McCartney clearly shifts away from a happy go-lucky and outward expression, to a more introspective lyricism.
This is where they start getting druggy, if you so will, and the slight start of the psychedelia movement.
The subject of the song is said to be about an extra-marital affair that Lennon had sometime, a one-night stand gone wrong:
“I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me…”
And when she’d had him, she basically left him there, and that’s about what the song can reveal to us through its lyrics, which focuses more on depicting the surrounding environment of the happening than anything else;
“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”
This had more to do with Lennon cleverly trying to smoke-screen what the song was really about, but it comes out as almost mysterious and as a somewhat loose idea, a fleeting moment that was just.. there.
Even the title of the song is kind of weird, when you think about it. What does Norwegian wood have to do with the subject of the song, or about John’s affair? What has it got to with the girl leaving him? According to McCartney, it was also just one of those “fleeting” ideas, an idea from an ocean of influences that were surrounding the band at this particular point in their career, a tongue in cheek inside joke about cheap wooden furniture and the fashion fad of decorating your flat in wood that was apparently popular at the time.
And the bird that had “flown”, just adds more to the somewhat exotic image of a two people alone in a norwegian wood and cottage, and “bird” being a slang-word for “girl” gives it a whole other meaning.
All of these things just came together for one short but incredibly beautiful song.
As George Harrison neatly put it; “We were growing very quickly and there were a lot of influences. That was the best thing about our band, we were very open-minded to everything.”
(The Beatles Off The Record, p.190, 2000).
They don’t make ’em like this anymore, folks.