Jun 272012

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

John wanted to write about an affair he had without letting his wife know. Paul suggested ending the song with the protagonist burning the house down. George thought the song needed something special, and spontaneously picked up the sitar he’d recently bought. Ringo laid off the drums and gave the song the gentler percussion it needed. Together, they crafted “Norwegian Wood,” one of the highlights of Rubber Soul and the entire catalog of the Beatles.

When a song like “Norwegian Wood” breaks so much ground, it’s hard to imagine it being taken somewhere higher. It’s to the great credit of the following artists that they’re able to do so. All classics deserve to be heard with fresh ears; many thanks to these five for enabling that to happen.

Buddy Rich – Norwegian Wood (The Beatles cover)

In Bill Graham Presents, Graham tells the wonderful story of bringing Buddy Rich to the Fillmore and convincing him to open the set with “Norwegian Wood” (read it here). One listen to this and you can understand why all those twentysomethings who didn’t know Buddy Rich from Richie Rich would be glued to the stage by the work of a foul-mouthed man in his fifties.

Jeremy Messersmith & Zach Coulter – Norwegian Wood (The Beatles cover)

The Minnesota Beatle Project is designed to support art & music education in Minnesota public schools. So far, they’ve compiled three CDs of Minnesota artists performing Beatles songs; 100% of the net proceeds from these CDs fund the project. You can learn more about them here; in the meantime, enjoy Messermith & Coulter’s reworking of “Norwegian Wood,” which they jokingly claim “freed it from the trappings of a ’60s boy band.”

Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66 – Norwegian Wood (The Beatles cover)

Mendes gave the Lennon-McCartney catalog a lot of attention over the years; here, with Brasil 66, he shows what could happen when Liverpool was hit by a South American front. Don’t like the result? Blame it on the bossa nova.

P.M. Dawn – Norwegian Wood (The Beatles cover)

P.M. Dawn made some of the lushest and gentlest urban pop of the early ’90s. On The Bliss Album…?, they take “Norwegian Wood” and set it adrift on rich clouds of warmth and rapture – memory bliss, if you will – and show the power gained from setting your reimagination free.

Alan Copeland Singers – Mission: Impossible / Norwegian Wood (The Beatles cover)

The Alan Copeland Singers won a 1969 Grammy (Best Contemporary Performance by a Chorus) for this recording; years later, it appeared on Golden Throats 4, the all-Beatles entry of Rhino’s memorable series of bad-music compilations, with a portion of the lyrics serving as description (“Isn’t it good? No -“). But today the song sounds ahead of its time, both in its lounge sound (outdated then, retro-cool now) and its combining the Beatles with a TV theme that still sounds great into a song that could be called a proto-mashup. How can something so square be so sweet? Hear for yourself.

“Norwegian Wood” can be found on iTunes and Amazon. Bill Graham’s fantastic book can also be found on Amazon.

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  8 Responses to “Five Good Covers: Norwegian Wood (The Beatles)”

Comments (7) Pingbacks (1)
  1. Huh… what about the Cornershop version (in Punjabi) on 1997’s “When I Was Born For The 7th Time”?

  2. Love to have watched that Buddy Rich cover live.

  3. Cool write up, especially noting the Alan Copeland version.

  4. To be fair to those “no-nothing twentysomethings”, Buddy was known – rightly or wrongly – as the greatest drummer alive, and was a regular on TV shows, including The Tonight Show. Just like now, where people assume twentysomethings don’t know anything about music that happened before they came of age (ridiculous), the twentysomethings back then didn’t live in a vaccum. Bill Graham’s story is great – and getting him to open with “Norwegian Wood” was a good call, but the guy was on Ed Sullivan, the Jerry Lewis show, the Tonight Show, the Merv Griffin show, he was a fixture on television, so….I’m not so sure they had “no idea” who Buddy Rich was.

  5. PS: Vic Caeser’s version of “Norwegian Wood” is fantastic, though good luck finding it…

  6. Herbie Hancock’s version from “The New Standard”?….

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