I’ve always wanted to know—what does the title of the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” mean, anyway? Is it an Ikea reference?
No, that would be Swedish wood. According to John Lennon, the sitar-inflected “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” was about an affair he was having; Lennon was routinely unfaithful to his first wife, Cynthia. The title comes after the narrator has had an unconsummated evening with a girl and goes to sleep in the bath at 2 AM. He wakes up alone and sings, “So I lit a fire, isn’t it good, Norwegian wood.” Lennon said he wrote the song by himself—”‘Norwegian Wood’ is my song completely”–but soon before his death in 1980, he expressed bafflement on the song’s title, saying “I don’t know how the hell I got to ‘Norwegian Wood.'”
Paul McCartney, however, said he knew–because he came up with the title himself. In 1965, McCartney was living in an upstairs room with the Asher family in London, which he found a most congenial arrangement: he enjoyed all the domestic comforts of home; he saw his girlfriend, actress Jane Asher, on a regular basis; and he spent hours hanging out with her brother, Peter Asher (of the folk duo Peter and Gordon). “Peter Asher had his room done out in wood, a lot of people were decorating their places in wood. Norwegian wood. It was pine really, cheap pine. But it’s not as good a title, ‘Cheap Pine.'”
So although Lennon thought the song was all his, McCartney remembers it as a collaboration; from his perspective, the affair was completely imaginary, so he felt free to embellish the girl’s home with inexpensive wood panels. Discussing the song’s ending, McCartney said that he and Lennon identified with the spurned narrator: “In our world, the guy had to have some sort of revenge. It could have meant ‘I lit a fire to keep myself warm, and wasn’t the décor of her house wonderful?’ But it didn’t, it meant ‘I burned the fucking place down as an act of revenge.'”
(Excerpted from the 2006 book Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton’s Little John?: Music’s Most Enduring Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed, published by Three Rivers Press, written by Gavin Edwards.)