Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Released: December 3, 1965
Appears on: Rubber Soul
Lead vocal: John
Saying that Rubber Soul proves that The Beatles were maturing is an understatement. "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)", written by John, proves this. The song is about a rather obvious affair, where the girl acts in a bizarre, strange manner. Each verse seems to put the singer in a stranger situation. In the first verse, the singer reluctantly admits that that the girl was the dominating one. Later, during the bridge that Paul helped write, he wants to sit down, but there aren't any chairs. In the next bridge, he is stuck crawling off to sleep in the bath. The two don't even sleep together and when he wakes up, "this bird has flown". He ends up lighting a fire and "isn't it good, Norwegian Wood?".
The imagery in this song is what always gets to me. Even if you ignore the first appearance of a sitar on a Beatles recording, John has never painted a clearer picture with a song. This is definitely a result of the Dylan influence. Throughout Dylan's electric trilogy (Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde), his lyrics paint an exact picture (most of the time, anyway). This is something that Beatles songs hardly ever did up to this point because the songs were hardly ever about anything concrete. They never had any stories, until now. "No Reply" was really John's stepping stone to "Norwegian Wood".
As for the sitar, well...that's a nifty sound, isn't it? The Beatles felt that the song was lacking something, so George, who was learning how to play sitar after encountering one on the set of HELP!, made the suggestion. George admitted in I, Me, Mine that he was really just doodling on the song. After you listen to the song, go to "Love You To" or "Within You Without You" and you can hear how great a sitar sounds if professionally played.
Apparently, John (and critics) liked to think that Dylan's "4th Time Around" was a parody of the song. It appears on Blonde On Blonde and does have a similar melody. However, Dylan wrote the song prior to Rubber Soul, so this obviously can't be true. Beyond the similar plot and melody, the songs have nothing in common. If you know anything about Dylan's own issues in 1965 and 1966, you can see that he had more things to worry about than parodying a Beatles song.
"Norwegian Wood", like everything else on Rubber Soul, was not issued as a single. Even in the States, Capitol refrained from issuing an obvious album track with a questionable subject as a single. The song did appear on 1962-1966, Love Songs and the non-US set, The Beatles' Ballads.