Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
Composer(s) : Lennon and McCartney
Year : 1965
Chords/Tabs: Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
Notes on "Norwegian Wood" (NW)
KEY E Major
METER 3/4 (6/8)
FORM Verse (Instrumental Intro) -> Verse -> Bridge ->
Verse -> Verse (Instrumental Solo) -> Bridge ->
Verse -> Outro (w/complete ending)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- This understated and characteristically oblique song of John's is
also admirably economical in terms of both form and content, with
everything but the bridges being derived from the same hook motif. In
lesser hands, the large amount of unvaried repetition and static harmony
of this piece might have resulted in a moribound, boring mess. The
Beatles leverage it all in favor of and unity and focus.
- It is also another one of the very few Beatles songs in a ternary meter;
this time, most lilting and very un-waltz-like.
- The much commented-upon use of a sitar was surely ground breaking
enough at the time per se. What I am particularly struck by, given
the novelty-numbing distance of time, is the extent to which the
psychadelic buzzing of that exotic instrument is so uncannily
complemented here by the high level of percussive noise achieved
by using a hard pick on the otherwise standard 12-string guitar.
Melody and Harmony
- The extent to which they must have *known* in their souls that
they had an especially fine hook going for them in this song is
likely borne out by the way in which it is used repeatedly throughout
to almost hypnotic effect.
- This so-called hook would, indeed, make a for a lovely and sophisticated
textbook example of one of the archtypal melodic paradigms; i.e. the
prevaling downward sprial, as distinct from the arch (do pardon the
clunky analogue used here in place of a true music staff):
| |C# | | | | | | |
|B | B | | | | | | |
| | A | | A | | A | | |
| | |G# | G#| | | | |
| | | |F# | | | | |
| | | | |E | | | |
| | | | | |D | | |
| | | | | | C#| | |
| | | | | | |B |- |
- The melodic contour of the above essentially lays out an octave descent
with a mix of linear and disjunct motion. The initially simple gesture
of a downward scale that turns around its upper neighbor tone is further
developed twice-over by a pattern in which the overall downward progression
is marked by a two-jumps-down/one-jump-up kind of subfigure in which the
jumps are increasingly wider. The modal use of the melodic flat 7th
(D natural) adds some additional spice.
- The hook phrase stretches out liesurely over eight measures that are
bound to an harmonic "envelope" on the I chord (E). We could likely
argue all night about whether or not one hears equally implicit
chord changes during this hook, but we've got better things to
do all night than that, right, buddy ? In any event, this drone-like
element in the harmony combines with the sound of the Indian sitar to
create a stylistic "sound" which, if you stop to think about it,
anticipates here in "a John song" what would soon become very much
a specifically Harrisonian trademark.
- The bridge strays briefly into the parallel minor (shades of
"I'll Be Back"
and other earlier Beatles tunes) and provides some welcome
harmonic movement, but interestingly, the melodic gesture of those
otherwise contrasting sections still remains previalingly downward.
- The instrumental backing is acoustic in flavor, and, quite typically
for the Beatles, is worked out to a finer level of detail than at
first meets the eye or ear. Examples of this are the staggered
opening; the way in which melodic-versus-rhythmic interest is
traded back and forth between guitar and sitar even to the point
where they double each other in several places; a tamboura-like
buzzing drone sound from the sitar that kicks in during the verse
following the first bridge; and the clinking of finger cymbals which
starts in the second bridge and follows through the final verse and
- John sings the wry lead vocal fully exposed in single track with
Paul taking the the top part for the bridges, which although it
is actually the melodic line of that section, is ironically mixed
- The intro is sixteen measures long and consists of a verse-like
two-fold presentation of the hook phrase; the first, for solo acoustic
guitar followed by the entrance of the sitar (which then carries the
melody) and bass guitar.
- All the verses follow the pattern set up in the intro with John
carrying the tune, the guitar stepping back into a role of rhythmic
support, and the sitar occasionally providing a mockingbird reprise
of the hook's ending as a rejoinder (e.g. verse #1 and the first half
of the final verse).
- The bridge is also sixteen measures long and though we finally
feel the release of some harmonic movement, the slowness of the
harmonic rhythm helps maintain the measured mood established
|e |- |- |- |A |- |- |- |
|e |- |- |- |f# |- |B |- |
i ii V
- The use of the Major IV chord in context of a minor key lends an
antique, modal touch that resonates with the melodic flat 7th used in
the verse hook. In context of the Beatles we're much more used to seeing
the reverse trick of the *minor* iv chord in a Major key. In fact,
the only other time we have seen this Major IV/minor key gambit used
in a Beatles song was way back in George's
"Don't Bother Me."
- The outro provides one repeat of the hook. Two repeats would have
been more consistent with the established pattern of the rest of the
song, but specifically breaking the rule at this point is what good
art and composition are all about (IMHO).
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- The preliminary though fully worked-out Take 1 version of this
song has been widely available on Beatlegs ever since "Ultra Rare
Trax", volume 3, appeared on vinyl. It makes for a number of provoking
comparisons with the official version (mixed down from Take 4):
- - Take 1 was apparently performed in the lower key of D, though
in light of the recent debate in this newsgroup regarding the
speed of the Decca tapes, I'll have to grant that this observation
may be an artifact of an off-speed bootleg copy. Still, I think
John sounds vocally out of breath on the low notes in this outtake,
hence the motivation for transposing the song upward.
- - The arrangement of Take 1 is not only different per se from
the official version, but is in many respects more fussily
detailed than it, perhaps too much so:
- - The tempo may be close in speed but the whole feel of the
beat is more lumberingly deliberate, even a bit mechanical.
- - The solo section in the middle contains only one iteration
of the hook phrase.
- - John double tracks the end of every phrase in every verse.
- - The phrases "biding my time/drinking her wine" are reversed.
- - The sitar playing is rather clunky sounding but it holds all
the instrumentally melodic interest, relegating the guitar to a
role of entirely rhythmic support.
- - The sitar provides a mockingbird rejoinder in the bridges
instead of the verses, and it also throws in a corny "that's all
folks" little riff at the very end.
- - Finger cymbals are used throughout, with marracas and a
tambourine added for the bridge.
- Lewisohn seems to judge the official remake as the "heavier" of the
two treatments, but I'd be happy to argue him back the opposite way.
While some of the differences in the later version (all of 1 week
on the calendar!) may be explained by their simply having the song
that much better under their fingers, I dare say the more substantive
changes may be traceable to a better-judgment consideration of the
aesthetic principle that "less (not to mention a lighter, faster
touch) is more."
"I showed ya!" 031893#78
Copyright (c) 1993 by Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved
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