Norwegian Wood - Reviews

Quoted from Recording Sessions: p.181-183

Tuesday 12 October. Studio Two: 2.30-7 .00pm. Recording: 'Run For Your Life' (takes 1-5). P: George Martin. E: Norman Smith. 2E: Ken Scott/Phil McDonald. Studio Two: 7.00-11.30pm. Recording: 'This Bird Has Flown' (working title of 'Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)') (take 1). P: George Martin. E: Norman Smith. 2E: Ken Scott.

The Beatles had released two albums of new material in 1963 and 1964, and now in 1965 they had to do the same again. The problem was, they had very little material to work with and time was getting on. John and Paul, really for the first time in their lives, had to force themselves to come up with more than a dozen new songs - which they later admitted was "very impossible"; then, with George and Ringo, they had to zip through a crash series of recording sessions in order to have the LP in the stores by early December. These did not even begin until 12 October.

How very ironic then that the resulting LP, Rubber Soul, was acclaimed then and now, and quite rightly so too, as both a high quality product and a major turning point in the group's career, in terms of musical composition and recording technique. Rubber Soul has proved a durable and very necessary platform between the impeccable pop music of Help! and the experimental ideas of Revolver.

John Lennon later admitted that in having to write and record songs so quickly, he would sometimes rely on other records for his initial ideas. Certainly he did this for the first song to be taped in this new set of sessions, 'Run For Your Life', lifting two lines of lyrics from 'Baby Let's Play House', recorded by Elvis Presley. John later admitted this to be one of the reasons he "hated" 'Run For Your Life'. But while his opinion was his prerogative as songwriter, it sounds like a very good song to most other people. It was recorded in five takes, but take five was the only complete version, with added overdubs of acoustic guitar, backing vocals and tambourine.

Even if the first song was "forced", the second to be taped was pure Lennon genius, and one of the most original pop music songs recorded to date. At this stage it was called 'This Bird Has Flown', though it became 'Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)' when it was re-made nine days after this first attempt. The word re-make can of ten signify that the first recording had imperfections. Not so for 'This Bird Has Flown' , for while it may not have been an exact realisation of what composer Lennon wanted, it was still a brilliant recording, quite different but equally as dazzling as the version which ended up on the LP.

'This Bird Has Flown' was recorded in just one take although much rehearsing, head-scratching and overdubbing meant that it took 4.5 hours to complete. John's droll vocal, double-tracked in places, of lyrics which gave a new dimension to the usual boy-meets-girl situation (the song was an oblique reference to an extra-marital relationship ), being augmented by George Harrison's double-tracked sitar, the Indian instrument being used on a pop record for the first time [though, interestingly, George Martin produced a Peter Sellers session employing both a sitar and a tabla, on 16 October 1959 for the song 'Wouldn't It Be Loverly' on the LP Songs For Swingin' Sellers], by superb Paul McCartney vocal harmonies - a naturally acquired and underrated forte - and by Ringo's interesting percussion work, in which he forsook drums in favour of finger cymbals, tambourine and maraca. Add acoustic guitar and bass guitar and you have all the ingredients for ... an unreleased Beatles recording, but one which would have graced any album then and indeed now.

The Beatles felt that it wasn't right and gave the song a somewhat heavier approach on the re-make.

Thursday 21 October. Studio Two: 2.30-7.00pm. Recording: 'Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)' [re-make] (takes 2-4). Studio Two: 7.00-12.00pm. Recording: 'Nowhere Man' (takes 1-2). P: George Martin. E: Norman Smith. 2E: Ken Scott.

The re-make of 'This Bird Has Flown', or rather 'Norwegian Wood'. The title was in the process of changing, hence engineer Norman Smith's talkback announcement "This Bird Has, er. .. er. .. Norwegian Wood take three". In the end John compromised and included both elements in the title.

Each of the three takes recorded on this day, numbered two to four (four being 'best'), was different to its predecessor. Take two had a heavy sitar introduction and was recorded without drums or bass. Take three was predominantly acoustic, with two acoustic guitars and Paul's bass, and nothing else bar vocals from John and Paul. This take saw the introduction of the acoustic opening which was to remain for the final version. Take four was that final version, with sitar reinstated.

Norman Smith remembers the difficulty in recording the sitar satisfactorily. "It is very hard to record because it has a lot of nasty peaks and a very complex wave form. My meter would be going right over into the red, into distortion, without us getting audible value for money. I could have used a limiter but that would have meant losing the sonorous quality."

The only other song recorded on this day was John's 'Nowhere Man' , and after a period of rehearsal two takes were attempted, one an immediate false start the other only an electric guitar rhythm track recording, save for an elaborate - and later discarded - idea to introduce the song with high register three-part harmony work by John, Paul and George. This was evidently enough for John to realise that the song needed more work, which he must have done quickly for the Beatles taped a re-make the next day.

Monday 25 October. Studio Two (control room only): 10.00am-1.00pm. Mono mixing: 'Drive My Car' (from take 4); 'In My Life' (from take 3); 'If I Needed Someone' (from take I); 'Day Tripper' (remix I, from take 3); 'Norwegian Wood (This Bird has Flown)' (from take 4); 'Nowhere Man' (from take 4). P: George Martin. E: Norman Smith. 2E: Ken Scott.

Mono remixes for the LP and single. All made the cut except for 'Day Tripper' , a better remix of which was made on 29 October.

Tuesday 26 October. Studio Two (control room only): 10.00am-12.30pm. Stereo mixing: 'Drive My Car' (from take 4); 'Day Tripper' (from take 3); 'In My Life' (from take 3); 'If I Needed Someone' (from take I); 'Norwegian Wood (This Bird has Flown)' (from take 4); 'Nowhere Man' (from take 4). P: George Martin. E: Norman Smith. 2E: Ron Pender.

Stereo remixing for the LP. The Beatles were still attending very few of these sessions at this time. Indeed on this occasion they had a prior and perhaps more important engagement - collecting their M.BEs from the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Posted: 30 apr 2017

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