The Weight

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"The Weight"
The Weight cover.jpg
Single by The Band
from the album Music from Big Pink
B-side "I Shall Be Released"
Released8 August 1968 [1]
RecordedJanuary 1968
Studio A&R Recorders (studio A), New York City
Label Capitol
Songwriter(s) Robbie Robertson
Producer(s) John Simon
The Band singles chronology
"The Weight"
"Up on Cripple Creek"
Audio sample

"The Weight" is an original song by the Canadian-American group The Band that was released as a single in 1968 and on the group's debut album Music from Big Pink . Written by Band member Robbie Robertson, the song is about a visitor's experiences in a town mentioned in the lyric's first line as Nazareth. "The Weight" has significantly influenced American popular music, having been listed as No. 41 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time published in 2004. [4] Pitchfork Media named it the 13th best song of the Sixties, [5] and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame named it one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. [6] PBS, which broadcast performances of the song in Ramble at the Ryman (2011), Austin City Limits (2012), [7] and Quick Hits (2012), describes it as "a masterpiece of Biblical allusions, enigmatic lines and iconic characters" and notes its enduring popularity as "an essential part of the American songbook." [8]


"The Weight" is one of The Band's best known songs, gaining considerable album-oriented rock airplay even though it was not a significant hit single for the group in the US, peaking at only No. 63. [9] After it was released, the record debuted just six days later on KHJ's "'Boss 30' records" [10] and peaked at No. 3 there three weeks later. The Band's recording also fared well in Canada and the UK – in those countries, the single was a top 40 hit, peaking at No. 35 in Canada and No. 21 in the UK in 1968. The song had three cover releases in 1968 and 1969 with arrangements that appealed to a diversity of music audiences. Aretha Franklin's 1969 soul music arrangement was included in her This Girl's in Love with You album, which peaked in the U.S. at No. 19 on the Hot 100 and No. 3 on the soul chart and also peaked in Canada at No. 12. [11] Jackie DeShannon's 1968 pop arrangement, debuting on the Hot 100 one week before The Band's, peaked at No. 55 in the US and No. 35 in Canada. A joint single rhythm and blues arrangement, released by Diana Ross & the Supremes and The Temptations in 1969, hit No. 46 in the US and No. 36 in Canada. The Band's and Jackie DeShannon's versions never mentioned the title. The Band's version—in its original release, not counting certain other releases later—credits the group's individual members—Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson and Levon Helm—on the record label, rather than The Band as a single entity. The group had signed to Capitol as The Krackers and the name "The Band" had yet to be arrived at when Music from Big Pink was issued. The group was not identified as "The Band" until their second album.


Inspiration and influences

The inspiration for and influences affecting the composition of "The Weight" came from the music of the American South, the life experiences of band members, particularly Levon Helm, and movies of filmmakers Ingmar Bergman and Luis Buñuel. [12] There are also hints of influences involving drug deals and the band's relationship with known drug dealer Cathy Smith. [13]

The original members of The Band performed "The Weight" as an American Southern folk song with country music (vocals, guitars and drums) and gospel music (piano and organ) elements. The lyrics, [14] written in the first-person, are about a traveler's experiences arriving, visiting, and departing a town called Nazareth. According to Robertson, this is based on Nazareth, Pennsylvania, because it was the home of Martin Guitars. He wrote the guitar parts on a 1951 Martin D-28. [12] The singers, led by Helm, vocalize the traveler's encounters with people in the town from the perspective of a Bible Belt American Southerner, [15] like Helm himself, a native of rural Arkansas.

The colorful characters in "The Weight" were based on real people that members of The Band knew, as Levon Helm explained in his autobiography, This Wheel's on Fire . In particular, "young Anna Lee" mentioned in the third verse is Helm's longtime friend Anna Lee Amsden, [16] and, according to her, "Carmen" was from Helm's hometown, Turkey Scratch, Arkansas. [17] "Crazy Chester" was an eccentric resident of Fayetteville, Arkansas, who carried a cap gun. Ronnie Hawkins would tell him to "keep the peace" at his Rockwood Club when Chester arrived.

According to Robertson, "The Weight" was inspired by the movies of Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel. Buñuel's films are known for their surreal imagery and criticism of organized religion, particularly Catholicism. The song's lyrics and music invoke vivid imagery, the main character's perspective is influenced by the Bible, and the episodic story was inspired by the predicaments Buñuel's film characters faced that undermined their goals for maintaining or improving their moral character. Of this, Robertson once stated:

(Buñuel) did so many films on the impossibility of sainthood. People trying to be good in Viridiana and Nazarín , people trying to do their thing. In "The Weight" it's the same thing. People like Buñuel would make films that had these religious connotations to them but it wasn't necessarily a religious meaning. In Buñuel there were these people trying to be good and it's impossible to be good. In "The Weight" it was this very simple thing. Someone says, "Listen, would you do me this favour? When you get there will you say 'hello' to somebody or will you give somebody this or will you pick up one of these for me? Oh? You're going to Nazareth, that's where the Martin guitar factory is. Do me a favour when you're there." This is what it's all about. So the guy goes and one thing leads to another and it's like "Holy shit, what's this turned into? I've only come here to say 'hello' for somebody and I've got myself in this incredible predicament." It was very Buñuelish to me at the time. [18]

This is also related in Robertson's 2016 autobiography, Testimony.

Notable performances of "The Weight" by The Band

The Band's performance of "The Weight" in the 1968 studio recording included

The official recording credits on the single belong to the above names, in that order, not to The Band per se. In 2005, a remix of the song with Richard Manuel's organ restored was released as a download-only bonus track for the iTunes Music Store version of A Musical History .

An edited version of the studio recording was included in the popular American counterculture film Easy Rider , which was released in July 1969. "The Weight" played while the protagonists, hippie motorcyclists, enjoyed a ride through Monument Valley. The version on the soundtrack album is performed by Smith due to a failure to negotiate the rights to the original recording.

On August 17, 1969, The Band performed "The Weight" as the tenth song in their set at Woodstock. The Woodstock arrangement was more elaborate than the comparatively elemental and spare studio recording. It retained Robertson's simple folk guitar introduction, but Helm's slow studio performance drum bangs were replaced by a short drum roll that provided the feel of a faster tempo though the actual tempo was the same as the studio performance. Manuel's organ, which was mixed out of the studio recording, was prominent; and Robertson participated vocally in the choruses.

In the 1970s, "The Weight" appeared on three live albums by The Band, Rock of Ages , Before the Flood , and The Last Waltz .

Just after their November 25, 1976, "farewell concert," The Band performed a gospel arrangement of "The Weight" with The Staple Singers that was filmed for The Last Waltz . Mavis and Pops Staples sang second and third verse lead vocals, respectively, and Robertson performed with an electric guitar. This performance of "The Weight" was included on the 1978 soundtrack album from the film. The Band's performance of the song during the concert itself was later included in a 2002 extended re-release of the soundtrack album.

In 1989, when The Band was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, "The Weight" was performed by Garth Hudson, Rick Danko, and Robbie Robertson, with Blue Rodeo accompanying.

Songwriting credit dispute

The songwriting credit to Robbie Robertson for "The Weight", like credit for many of the songs performed by The Band, was disputed years later by Levon Helm. Helm insisted that the composition of the lyrics and the music was collaborative, declaring that each band member made a substantial contribution. In an interview, Helm credited Robertson with 60 percent of the lyrics, Danko and Manuel with 20 percent each of the lyrics, much of the music credit to Garth Hudson, and a small credit to himself for lyrics. [19]

Diana Ross & the Supremes and The Temptations version

"The Weight"
The Supremes & The Temptations - The Weight (Netherlands).png
Single by Diana Ross & the Supremes and The Temptations
from the album Together
B-side "For Better or Worse"
ReleasedAugust 21, 1969 (1969-08-21)
Studio Hitsville U.S.A. (Studios A & B)
Label Motown
Songwriter(s) Robbie Robertson
Producer(s) Frank Wilson
Diana Ross & the Supremes singles chronology
"No Matter What Sign You Are"
"The Weight"
"I Second That Emotion"
The Temptations singles chronology
"I Can't Get Next to You"
"The Weight"
"Psychedelic Shack"
Together track listing


Chart (1969)Peak
Canada Top Singles ( RPM ) [20] 36
US Billboard Hot 100 [21] 46
US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs ( Billboard ) [22] 33
US Cashbox Top 100 [23] 39
US Record World 100 Top Pops [24] 37
US Record World Top 50 R&B [25] 21

Other versions

"The Weight" has become a modern standard, and hence has been performed by many artists, including Little Feat, the Chambers Brothers, Eric Church, Chris Stapleton, Stoney LaRue, The Staple Singers, Waylon Jennings, Joe Cocker, Travis, Grateful Dead, Blues Traveler, New Riders of the Purple Sage, O.A.R., Edwin McCain, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Black Crowes, Spooky Tooth, Hanson, Old Crow Medicine Show, Panic! at the Disco, Shannon Curfman, Aretha Franklin, Joan Osborne, John Denver, Trampled by Turtles, Cassandra Wilson, Miranda Lambert, Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield, Deana Carter, New Madrid, Dionne Warwick and Gillian Welch. Mumford & Sons, RatDog and Bob Weir are also known to cover this song from time to time. Additional notable versions are by Zac Brown Band, Hoyt Axton, Lee Ann Womack, Smith, Weezer, the Allman Brothers Band, the Marshall Tucker Band, Free Wild, Brian Fallon and Aaron Pritchett. [26]

As a recording session guitarist, Duane Allman played lead slide guitar on Aretha Franklin's and King Curtis's versions of the song. These are included on Allman's An Anthology (1972) and An Anthology Volume II (1974) respectively.

Jackie DeShannon's cover of the song for Imperial Records in 1968 reached #55 on the U.S. Pop chart, and #35 in Canada. The song was recorded by Diana Ross and The Supremes with The Temptations in 1969 for their album Together on Motown Records. Country artist Sammi Smith included a cover of the song on her 1971 album Lonesome.

Folk singer Michelle Shocked covers the song as part of her 2007 gospel album ToHeavenURide . Charly García covered the song in Spanish under the title "El Peso," and Czech singer Marie Rottrová covered the song with the band Flamingo in 1970. Jeff Healey covered it on his album Mess of Blues in 2008. Jensen Ackles also covered a portion of the song along with Jason Manns in 2010. [27]

Conan O'Brien performed the song as an encore during his The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour.

In 1993, Australians Jimmy Barnes and The Badloves covered "The Weight" and released it as the fourth single from Barnes' seventh studio album Flesh and Wood . It peaked at number six on the Australian ARIA Charts.

Aaron Weiss is known to perform the song during acoustic sets following performances of his band mewithoutYou. [28]

The Black Keys performed the song at Coachella 2012, with John Fogerty as a special guest, in honor of Levon Helm, who had died the day before.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, who were honoring a fan's sign request, performed "The Weight" at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, on May 2, 2012, as a tribute to Levon Helm, who had died two weeks before. It was the first time the band had ever performed the song. Springsteen called Helm "one of the greatest, greatest voices in country, rockabilly and rock 'n' roll ... staggering ... while playing the drums. Both his voice and his drumming were so incredibly versatile. He had a feel on the drums that comes out of certain place in the past and you can't replicate it." Springsteen also joked that when he was auditioning drummer Max Weinberg he made him sing. [29]

Panic! at the Disco performed "The Weight" for a television special on April 17, 2008. [30]

A rendition of "The Weight" was performed at the 55th Grammy Awards by various artists including Elton John, Zac Brown, Mumford & Sons, Mavis Staples, and Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes as a tribute to Levon Helm and other deceased artists.

"The Weight" was traditionally the last song played during the Midnight Rambles in Levon Helm's barn in Woodstock, New York, often including the guest musicians for the evening's festivities. Some of the musicians who played with Levon Helm in the re-formed Band or the Levon Helm Band, including guitarist Jim Weider, bassist Byron Isaacs and drummer Randy Ciarlante, have formed a group called "The Weight" which performs a complete set of Band material.

Garth Brooks covered "The Weight" on his 2013 compilation boxed set Blame It All on My Roots: Five Decades of Influences .

"The Weight" is a frequent cover, and inspiration for, The Weight Band, featuring former Band member Jim Weider, and past members of the Levon Helm Band and Rick Danko Group. Recently, The Weight Band performed "The Weight" on a nationally broadcast PBS special, Infinity Hall Live. [31]

"The Weight" was performed by Jimmy Fallon and The Muppets in the closing moments of the final episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on February 7, 2014. [32] The performance (which mirrored the arrangement and staging of the Band's performance of the song with the Staple Singers in The Last Waltz) featured several notable Muppet characters including Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem, and ended with Fallon walking out of the Late Night studio, down the hall, and into the new studio of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon .

After Levon Helm's death, Graham Nash and Shane Fontayne wrote a song in tribute to him, entitled "Back Home." The refrain from "The Weight" ("take a load off Fanny, ...") is included as a coda. The song has since become a staple of Nash's public performances, including those of Crosby, Stills, and Nash.

Rickie Lee Jones recorded "The Weight" for her 2012 album The Devil You Know .

A 50th anniversary version was recorded featuring Robbie Robertson playing a Fender Stratocaster guitar, Ringo Starr playing drums, and incorporating various musicians and vocalists performing in the USA, Italy, Japan, the D. R. Congo, Bahrain, Spain, Argentina, Nepal, and Jamaica. It has been released on the Playing For Change [33] YouTube channel.

Film and commercial play

"The Weight" has been featured in a number of commercials, concerts, films and television shows, and onstage.

Commercial advertisements

The song has also been used in commercials for:

Concerts and music films and videos

Since 2009, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band usually closes their live shows with a medley of "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" and "The Weight". Jeff Hanna has commented on occasion, "this is for Brother Levon."

Feature films and documentaries


Related Research Articles

The Band Rock band from Toronto

The Band was a Canadian-American rock band formed in Toronto, Ontario, in 1967. It consisted of four Canadians and one American: Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Robbie Robertson, and Levon Helm. The Band combined elements of Americana, folk, rock, jazz, country, and R&B, influencing subsequent musicians such as the Eagles, Elton John, the Grateful Dead, the Flaming Lips, and Wilco.

Robbie Robertson Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist

Jaime Royal "Robbie" Robertson, OC, is a Canadian musician, songwriter, film composer, producer, actor, and author. Robertson is best known for his work as lead guitarist and songwriter for The Band, and for his career as a solo recording artist.

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down 1969 single by The Band

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" is a song written by Robbie Robertson and originally recorded by the Canadian-American roots rock group The Band in 1969 and released on their eponymous second album. Levon Helm provided the lead vocals. The song is a first-person narrative relating the economic and social distress experienced by the protagonist, a poor white Southerner, during the last year of the American Civil War, when George Stoneman was raiding southwest Virginia. The song appeared at number 245 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

Levon Helm American musician and actor

Mark Lavon "Levon" Helm was an American musician and actor who achieved fame as the drummer and one of the vocalists for the Band. Helm was known for his deeply soulful, country-accented voice, multi-instrumental ability, and creative drumming style, highlighted on many of the Band's recordings, such as "The Weight", "Up on Cripple Creek", and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down".

<i>The Last Waltz</i> 1978 concert film directed by Martin Scorsese

The Last Waltz was a concert by the Canadian-American rock group The Band, held on American Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1976, at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. The Last Waltz was advertised as The Band's "farewell concert appearance", and the concert saw The Band joined by more than a dozen special guests, including their previous employers Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan as well as Paul Butterfield, Bobby Charles, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Dr. John, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Muddy Waters, Ronnie Wood, and Neil Young. The musical director for the concert was The Band's original record producer, John Simon.

<i>Northern Lights – Southern Cross</i> 1975 studio album by The Band

Northern Lights – Southern Cross is the sixth studio album by Canadian-American rock group the Band, released in 1975. It was the first album to be recorded at their new California studio, Shangri-La, and the first album of all new material since 1971's Cahoots. All eight songs are credited as compositions of guitarist Robbie Robertson.

<i>Across the Great Divide</i> (album) 1994 box set by The Band

Across the Great Divide is a box set by Canadian-American rock group the Band. Released in 1994, it consists of two discs of songs from the Band's first seven albums, and a third disc of rarities taken from various studio sessions and live performances. The set is now out of print, having been replaced by the five-CD/one-DVD box set A Musical History that was released in September 2005.

<i>A Musical History</i> 2005 box set by The Band

A Musical History is the second box set to anthologize Canadian-American rock group The Band. Released by Capitol Records on September 27, 2005, it features 111 tracks spread over five compact discs and one DVD. Roughly spanning the group's journey from 1961 to 1977, from their days behind Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan through the departure of Robbie Robertson and the first disbanding of the group. The set includes highlights from each of the group's first seven studio albums and both major live recordings and nearly forty rare or previously unreleased performances.

"This Wheel's on Fire" is a song written by Bob Dylan and Rick Danko. It was originally recorded by Dylan and the Band during their 1967 sessions, portions of which comprised the 1975 album, The Basement Tapes. The Band's own version appeared on their 1968 album, Music from Big Pink. Live versions by the Band appear on their 1972 live double album Rock of Ages, as well as the more complete four-CD-DVD version of that concert, Live at the Academy of Music 1971, and the 2002 Box Set of The Last Waltz.

"Acadian Driftwood" is a song by The Band. It was the fourth track on their sixth studio album Northern Lights – Southern Cross (1975), written by member Robbie Robertson. Richard Manuel, Levon Helm and Rick Danko trade off lead vocals and harmonize on the chorus.

"Chest Fever" is a song recorded by the Band on its 1968 debut, Music from Big Pink. It is, according to Peter Viney, a historian of the group, "the Big Pink track that has appeared on most subsequent live albums and compilations", second only to "The Weight". The music for the piece was written by guitarist Robbie Robertson. Total authorship is typically credited solely to Robertson, although the lyrics, according to Levon Helm, were originally improvised by Levon Helm and Richard Manuel, telling the story of a man who becomes sick when he is spurned by the woman he loves.

Stage Fright (The Band song)

"Stage Fright" is the title track of the Band's third album, Stage Fright. It features Rick Danko on lead vocals and was written by Robbie Robertson. According to author Barney Hoskyns, Robertson originally intended it to be sung by Richard Manuel but it became clear that the song was better suited to Danko's "nervous, tremulous voice."

"It Makes No Difference" is a song written by Robbie Robertson and sung by Rick Danko that was first released by The Band on their 1975 album Northern Lights – Southern Cross. It has also appeared on live and compilation albums, including the soundtrack to the film The Last Waltz. Among the artists that have covered the song are Solomon Burke, My Morning Jacket and Over the Rhine.

Rag Mama Rag 1970 single by The Band

"Rag Mama Rag" is a song by The Band which was first released on their 1969 album The Band. It was also released as a single, reaching #16 in the UK, the highest of any single by the group. The single was less successful in the US, reaching only #57 on the Billboard Hot 100.

"Sleeping" is a song by The Band, first released on their 1970 album Stage Fright. It was also released as the B-side to the "Stage Fright" single. It was co-written by Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel. This and “Just Another Whistle Stop” are the only two songs Manuel receives credit for on the album. Music critic Barney Hoskyns rates it as "one of Richard [Manuel's] liveliest performances" and "one of The Band's most intricate arrangements." The Band never featured the song on a live album.

"We Can Talk" is a 1968 song by The Band that was the opener for the second side of their debut album Music From Big Pink Written by Richard Manuel, it features The Band's three main vocalists in nearly equal turns, often finishing each other's phrases. Initially a staple of their concerts, it was dropped from the set list in 1971.

"When You Awake" is a song written by Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel that was first released on The Band's 1969 self-titled album The Band. A live performance was included on the Bob Dylan and The Band live album Before the Flood.

Ophelia (The Band song) Song performed by The Band

"Ophelia" is a song written by Robbie Robertson that was first released by The Band on their 1975 album Northern Lights – Southern Cross. It was the lead single from the album. It has also appeared on several of the group's live and compilation albums, and has been covered by such artists as Vince Gill and My Morning Jacket.

"Jemima Surrender" is a song written by Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson. It was first released on the Band's self-titled album in 1969. Usual Band drummer Levon Helm played guitar and sang the lead vocal while usual Band pianist Richard Manuel played drums. The song's lasciviousness helped inspire Naomi Weisstein to form the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band.

"The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show" is a song written by Robbie Robertson that was first released on the Band's 1970 album Stage Fright. It was also frequently performed in the group's live sets and appeared on several of their live albums. Based on Levon Helm's memories of minstrel and medicine shows in Arkansas, the song has been interpreted as an allegory on the music business. Garth Hudson received particular praise for his tenor saxophone playing on the song.


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