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|Song by The Band|
|from the album Music from Big Pink|
|Released||July 1, 1968|
|Genre||Psychedelic rock, roots rock, acid rock|
"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.
Robertson has since said the lyrics were nonsensical, used only while the instrumental tracks were recorded. "I'm not sure that I know the words to 'Chest Fever'; I'm not even so sure there are words to 'Chest Fever'." He has also stated the entirety of the song does not make sense.
The song featured a dramatic solo organ intro played by Garth Hudson. Writing in the 3rd edition of The Rolling Stone Album Guide, Paul Evans stated that "The organ mastery of 'Chest Fever' unleashed the Band's secret weapon, Garth Hudson." The introduction is based on Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor. In live performances, this solo evolved into an improvisation drawing from numerous musical styles and lasting several minutes. "When Levon Helm has complained about the share out of royalties at this period, this is the song he quotes," states Viney. "His theme is that Garth's contribution was always grossly under-estimated and under-credited. As he says, 'what do you remember about 'Chest Fever' - the lyrics or the organ part?'"
Viney notes that despite the death of Richard Manuel later line-ups of the Band continued to perform "Chest Fever" with Helm singing lead vocals. It "rapidly became an on-stage showpiece for Garth's organ", and as such it was an essential song. The intro was an improvisation piece called "The Genetic Method".
He says the definitive recordings of the song can be found on Live in Washinton (sic) an Italian bootleg of the group's 1976 King Biscuit Flower Hour performance, or the version on The Complete Last Waltz.
The song has been covered numerous times by bands including Three Dog Night, Sugarloaf, and most recently, the rootsy jam band Widespread Panic. It has also been covered by John Mayer during his Battle Studies tour. The song was chosen by Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra to accompany Bill Murray as Murray emerged from a giant cake during his final appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman on the show's penultimate episode in 2015.
- Richard Manuel - piano, lead vocals
- Robbie Robertson - electric guitar
- Garth Hudson - Lowrey organ, tenor saxophone
- Rick Danko - bass, backing vocals, violin
- Levon Helm - drums, backing vocals
- John Simon - baritone saxophone
- Music from Big Pink 1968
- The Band 1969
- Rock of Ages 1972
- Anthology 1978
- Band Gift Set 1989
- To Kingdom Come 1989
- Collection [Castle] 1993
- Across the Great Divide 1994
- Most of the Band 1994
- Greatest Hits 2000
- Live at Loreley 2001
- Rock of Ages [Deluxe Edition] 2001
- The Last Waltz [Box Set] 2002 (edited version)
- Moon Struck One 2002
- Very Best Album Ever 2002
- Music from Big Pink [Bonus Tracks] 2003
- Rock of Ages [Bonus CD] 2004
- A Musical History [CD/DVD Box Set] 2005
- Live at the Academy of Music 1971 [CD/DVD Box Set] 2013
- Black Paladium Circles (Live)
- In Concert 1997
- Live on Breeze Hill 1999
- Live at the Lone Star 1984 (with Richard Manuel and Paul Butterfield) 2011
- Ramble at the Ryman 2011
- Whispering Pines: Live at the Getaway [Japan] 2002
- Sugarloaf 1970
- Alive in America 2006
- "Peter Viney on "Chest Fever"". Theband.hiof.no. Retrieved 2012-02-09.
- Levon Helm and Stephen Davis. This Wheel's on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band
- Evans, P. (1992). DeCurtis, A.; Henke, J.; George-Warren, H., eds. The Rolling Stone Album Guide (3rd ed.). Straight Arrow Publications. pp. 18–19. ISBN 0679737294.
- "CD Review: Band Tribute Album Lavishes Praise With Little Originality: Record Pays Homage To '60s Rock Legends," David Hyland, Soundbytes, NBC4.com website, February 5, 2007 http://www.nbc4.com/entertainment/10888401/detail.html
- "Chest Fever", All Music website https://www.allmusic.com/song/t6085665
- Viney, Peter, "Chest Fever", 1997, Jan Høibergs, The Band website http://theband.hiof.no/articles/chest_fever_viney.html