There are songs you need to know, and there are songs you need to hear to believe they existed in the first place. Such is the case with this newly reissued cover of the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” by the long-defunct Hour Glass, the short-lived band featuring Duane and Gregg Allman before they formed the Allman Brothers Band.
On the original version, from Rubber Soul, the Beatles took all sorts of risks — from introducing their fans to the sitar (the Indian stringed instrument played by George Harrison) to sneaking in a lyric about the married John Lennon having an affair. The Allmans went out on something of a limb themselves when they cut this version. The Hour Glass emerged from two Southern bands, one of them (Allman Joys) featuring both the brothers. Relocating to Los Angeles for their shot at the big leagues, the renamed Hour Glass wound up recording two albums in 1967 and 1968, neither of them particularly satisfying experiences for Gregg and Duane. Their repertoire included songs by Curtis Mayfield, Jackson Browne, and Carole King and Gerry Goffin, but the pop direction in which they were pushed didn’t satisfy either brother. (Nor did the Nehru jackets Gregg would later complain about.)
That said, there’s still plenty worth hearing on the band’s two albums, Hour Glass and Power of Love, both newly available by way of the Allman Brothers Band Recording Company. Certainly, little in the Allmans’ catalog approaches the outright weirdness of their take on “Norwegian Wood,” from Power of Love. To blatantly copy the Beatles’ version, Duane plays an electric sitar, but the band turns the song into a vampy instrumental; instead of hearing Gregg’s voice sing, “I sat on a rug biding my time/Drinking her wine/We talked until two, and then she said, ‘It’s time for bed,'” we hear an organ solo. Imagine a lounge band that decided to stretch out by taking acid and covering Lennon-McCartney tunes, and you have the Hour Glass on this song.
Around the two-minute mark, things get just a little bit weird. The band strays off the melody, the keyboards momentarily lose their way, and Duane starts noodling around on the sitar fretboard. The song is over before you know it, but that moment is alone worth hearing — it’s a small taste, the tiniest of appetizers, of the improvisatory side that would fully blossom the following year with the start of the Allman Brothers Band. Just don’t expect to hear the surviving members of the last version of the ABB play this at Madison Square Garden next week at the 50th anniversary Allmans tribute show. This song has flown — from their repertoire.
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