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
StudioA&R Recorders (studio A), New York City
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 Capitol Records single 2269 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 U.S., 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 music arrangement, debuting on the Hot 100 one week before The Band's, peaked at No. 55 in the U.S. 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 U.S., and No. 36 in Canada. The Band's and Jackie DeShannon's versions never mentioned the title. The Band's version credits the group's individual members—Jaime Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson and Levon Helm—on the record label, rather than The Band as a single entity.


Inspiration and influences[edit]

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]

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,[13] 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,[14] like Helm himself, a native of rural Arkansas.

The colorful characters in "The Weight" were based on real people 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,[15] and, according to her, "Carmen" was from Helm's hometown, Turkey Scratch, Arkansas.[16] "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.[17]

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

An interesting feature of the song is the addition of three beats after the tenth measure of the chorus - otherwise in 4/8 time throughout - lending a sense of anticipation/tension to the ultimate lyrical phrase: "and (and . . . and . . .) you put the load right on me."

Notable performances of "The Weight" by The Band[edit]

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 song.

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 Lowrey 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[edit]

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.[18]

Other versions[edit]

"The Weight"
TS - The Weight.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)
Format45 rpm record
StudioHitsville U.S.A. (Studios A & B)
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

"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.[19]

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.[20]

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 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.[21]

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.[22]

Panic! at the Disco performed "The Weight" for a television special on April 17, 2008.[23]

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.[24]

"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.[25] 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 Fannie, ...") 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.

Film and commercial play[edit]

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

Commercial advertisements[edit]

The song has also been used in commercials for:

Concerts and music films and videos[edit]

  • Paul McCartney makes a reference to the song during the fadeout section of the promo film version of "Hey Jude" when he sings "Take a load off Fanny/ Put it back on me." This was originally aired in September on The David Frost Show, a mere two months after The Band had released Music from Big Pink in July.[26]
  • In The Band's concert film, The Last Waltz (1978), The Band perform the song with The Staple Singers.
  • The song is featured in two other of The Band's concert videos: The Band Is Back (1984) and The Band Live At The New Orleans Jazz Festival (1998).
  • "The Weight" was one of three songs The Band's 1990s lineup performed for Let It Rock! (1995), a birthday concert/tribute for Ronnie Hawkins.

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[edit]



  1. ^ "The Weight / I Shall Be Released - Jaime Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, Levon Helm". 45cat. Retrieved 2019-08-29.
  2. ^ Fontenot, Robert. "What is Country Rock?". ThoughtCo. Retrieved March 12, 2017.
  3. ^ Bruce Pollock (August 26, 2005). Rock Song Index: The 7500 Most Important Songs for the Rock and Roll Era. Routledge. p. 398. ISBN 9780415970730.
  4. ^ "The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Retrieved 2007-06-02.
  5. ^ "The 200 Greatest Songs of the Sixties". August 18, 2006. Retrieved 2011-05-05.
  6. ^ "InfoPlease Almanac". Retrieved 2011-05-05.
  7. ^ Leahey, Andrew (2012-11-08). "Watch "The Weight" From Austin City Limits' Americana Awards Episode « American Songwriter". Retrieved 2016-10-02.
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-04-13. Retrieved 2013-01-06.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 8th edition
  10. ^ "KHJ's 'Boss 30' Records In Southern California! Official Issue No. 163". KHJ. 1968-08-14. Retrieved 2019-08-29.
  11. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942–2004. Record Research. p. 215.
  12. ^ a b Myers, Marc (November 29, 2016). " 'The Weight' by the Band's Robbie Robertson". The Wall Street Journal.
  13. ^ "The Weight". Retrieved 2016-10-02.
  14. ^ Margolis, Lynne (2012-08-30). "No False Bones: The Legacy of Levon Helm « Page 2 of 3 « American Songwriter". Retrieved 2016-10-02.
  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-07-29. Retrieved 2013-01-26.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  16. ^ "Levon Helm and The Band: a rock parable of fame, betrayal, and redemption". 2012-04-20. Retrieved 2016-10-02.
  17. ^ "History of The Band: The Debut Album". 1991-07-26. Retrieved 2011-05-05.
  18. ^ "Levon Helm, RIP | Larry Getlen's Random Thoughts". 2012-04-19. Retrieved 2016-10-02.
  19. ^ "Aaron Pritchett Scores 10th Consecutive Top 10 Single at Country Radio With "Done You Wrong"". 2011-03-12. Archived from the original on November 9, 2007. Retrieved 2011-05-05.
  20. ^ Jensen Ackles Singing "The Weight" at Jus in Bello on YouTube
  21. ^ mewithoutYou – Aaron Weiss – "The Weight" Bob Dylan cover on YouTube
  22. ^ Bruce Springsteen – "The Weight" (The Band cover) Prudential 5/2/12 on YouTube
  23. ^ Panic at the Disco – "The Weight" performance session on YouTube
  24. ^ "The Weight Band · Infinity Hall Live". Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  25. ^ Anderson, Stacey (2014-02-08). "Jimmy Fallon Says Goodbye to Late Night With Help from the Muppets". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2016-10-02.
  26. ^ The Beatles – "Hey Jude" (at 6m20s) on YouTube

External links[edit]