George Harrison
George Harrison


I once had a girl
Or should I say
She once had me?
She showed me her room.
Isn’t it good
Norwegian wood?

        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".

        She told me she worked in the morning and started to laugh.
        I told her I didn’t and crawled off to sleep in the bath.

And when I awoke
I was alone.
This bird had flown.
So I lit a fire.
Isn’t it good
Norwegian wood?

Norwegian Wood was the first recorded popular song available to the public that used a sitar. The sitar, more than any other instrument, produced the signature sound of the psychedelic music. Although both the Yardbirds and the Kinks had used Indian influences in their music, Norwegian Wood is the song that sparked a musical appetite for the sound of the exotic instrument in the mid-1960s. George Harrison had been introduced to Indian classical music and the sitar earlier in 1965 while filming Help! That interest later was fuelled by fellow Indian music fan David Crosby of the Byrds, whom Harrison met and befriended in August 1965, according to Tim Connors in his book Fifth Dimension. Harrison soon became fanatically interested in the instrument and began taking sitar lessons from renowned Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar.

George Harrison: “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]

I am told that "Norwegian wood" refers to the cheap pine that often finished the interiors of working class British flats. But the poverty of the apartment depicted in the lyric seems so extreme that the poor girl doesn’t even have a chair. One assumes there is a bed, but no other furnishings are mentioned but a rug and bath. The Norwegian wood might be a double entendre, given the circumstance, meaning having a boner for a Norwegian girl.

There’s a few other double entendres in the lyric to justify some guesses, like the turn on “had” in the first verse. The poet didn’t really “have” the girl in a sexual sense, according to the lyric, but the girl “had” him in the sense of leading him on like a cock tease. When the girl remarks that she needs to go to bed, the poet claims he doesn’t work in the morning (perhaps because he is a rock musician). However, the lyric “I told her I didn’t” [work] is so weak to my ear that I never heard it as it is written. I thought the line went I told I hadn’t been called on to sleep in the bath. That makes more sense to me, but it implies that the poet slept with the girl (or bird) and the written lyric suggests just the opposite.

There’s a lot of ambiguity in this song, and if, as legend has it, Norwegian Wood is a confession of an extramarital affair, it is done is such a manner that it never reveals having slept with the girl. The ambiguity is so great that the interpretation of the “fire” in its conclusion is up for grabs. John Lennon himself said in an interview that the poet burns the house down. If so, there is nothing in the tone and delivery of the song to imply such violence. Others suppose that “Norwegian wood” is some form of marijuana, and the poet means to say he lit a joint. I always thought he put a log in the fireplace, and perhaps the log itself was Norwegian wood.

Lennon acknowledged being strongly influenced by Bob Dylan during this time period, and the rather opaque lyrics of Norwegian Wood seem to reflect this. Dylan responded with 4th Time Around, a song with a similar melody, subject matter and lyrical delivery on his album Blonde on Blonde. It has been reported that Lennon himself felt 4th Time Around to be a rather pointed parody of Norwegian Wood (some even went as far as to think the song's closing line—"And I, I never took much/I never asked for your crutch/Now don't ask for mine"—was a slap directed at Lennon). However, Lennon told an interviewer that he considered Dylan's effort to be more of a playful homage.