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"
ReleasedAugust 8, 1968 (1968-08-08)
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 a single in 1968 and on the group's debut album Music from Big Pink. It was their first release under this name, after their previous releases as Canadian Squires and Levon and the Hawks. 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.[3] Pitchfork Media named it the 13th best song of the Sixties,[4] and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame named it one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.[5] PBS, which broadcast performances of the song in Ramble at the Ryman (2011), Austin City Limits (2012),[6] 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."[7]

"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.[8] After it was released, the record debuted just six days later on KHJ's "'Boss 30' records"[9] 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. Cash Box called it a "powerhouse performance."[10] American Songwriter and Stereogum both ranked the song number three on their lists of the Band's greatest songs.[11][12]

The song had four 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.[13] 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. In Britain, the band Spooky Tooth had a minor hit with their version of the song in 1968. 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[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.[14] There are also hints of influences involving drug deals and the band's relationship with known drug dealer Cathy Smith.[15]

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,[16] 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.[14] The singers, led by Helm, vocalize the traveler's encounters with people in the town from the perspective of a Bible Belt American Southerner,[17] 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,[18] and, according to her, "Carmen" was from Helm's hometown, Turkey Scratch, Arkansas.[19] "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.[20]

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


Credits are adapted from the liner notes of A Musical History.[21]

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.[22]

Versions by other artists[edit]


  1. ^ Fontenot, Robert. "What is Country Rock?". ThoughtCo. Retrieved March 12, 2017.
  2. ^ Bruce Pollock (August 26, 2005). Rock Song Index: The 7500 Most Important Songs for the Rock and Roll Era. Routledge. p. 398. ISBN 9780415970730.
  3. ^ "The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Archived from the original on April 16, 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-02.
  4. ^ "The 200 Greatest Songs of the Sixties". August 18, 2006. Retrieved 2011-05-05.
  5. ^ "InfoPlease Almanac". Retrieved 2011-05-05.
  6. ^ Leahey, Andrew (2012-11-08). "Watch 'The Weight' From Austin City Limits' Americana Awards Episode". American Songwriter. Retrieved 2016-10-02.
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-04-13. Retrieved 2013-01-06.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 8th edition
  9. ^ "KHJ's 'Boss 30' Records In Southern California! Official Issue No. 163". KHJ. 1968-08-14. Retrieved 2019-08-29.
  10. ^ "CashBox Record Reviews" (PDF). Cash Box. August 17, 1968. p. 18. Retrieved 2022-01-12.
  11. ^ Beviglia, Jim. "The Top 20 Songs Of The Band". American Songwriter. Retrieved April 29, 2022.
  12. ^ Bracy, Timothy; Bracy, Elizabeth (May 3, 2013). "The 10 Best The Band Songs". Stereogum. Retrieved April 29, 2022.
  13. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942–2004. Record Research. p. 215.
  14. ^ a b Myers, Marc (November 29, 2016). " 'The Weight' by the Band's Robbie Robertson". The Wall Street Journal.
  15. ^ Viney, Peter. "The Weight". The Band. Jan Høiberg. Retrieved 21 September 2020.
  16. ^ "The Weight". Retrieved 2016-10-02.
  17. ^ Margolis, Lynne (2012-08-30). "No False Bones: The Legacy of Levon Helm « Page 2 of 3 « American Songwriter". Retrieved 2016-10-02.
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-07-29. Retrieved 2013-01-26.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  19. ^ "Levon Helm and The Band: a rock parable of fame, betrayal, and redemption". 2012-04-20. Retrieved 2016-10-02.
  20. ^ "History of The Band: The Debut Album". 1991-07-26. Retrieved 2011-05-05.
  21. ^ The Band: A Musical History (CD). The Band. Capitol Records. 2005. 72435-77409-0-6 CCAP77409-6.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  22. ^ Getlen, Larry (2012-04-19). "Levon Helm, RIP | Larry Getlen's Random Thoughts". Archived from the original on 2017-02-25. Retrieved 2016-10-02.
  23. ^ Gottlieb, Bob. "The Staple Singers: Soul Folk in Action – Review". AllMusic. Retrieved September 27, 2021.
  24. ^ Deming, Mark. "The Band: The Last Waltz – Review". AllMusic. Retrieved September 27, 2021.
  25. ^ a b Ruhlmann, William. "Various Artist: Easy Rider [Music from the Soundtrack] - Review". AllMusic. Retrieved September 23, 2021.
  26. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1988). "The Supremes". Top R&B Singles 1942–1988. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research. p. 396. ISBN 0-89820-068-7.
  27. ^ "RPM 100". RPM. No. 6093. p. 5 – via
  28. ^ "CASH BOX Top 100 Singles". Cashbox. October 4, 1969. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
  29. ^ "100 TOP POPS: Week of September 27, 1969" (PDF). Record World. September 27, 1969. Retrieved January 29, 2021 – via
  30. ^ "Top 50 R&B: Week of October 11, 1969" (PDF). Record World. October 11, 1969. p. 41. Retrieved January 29, 2021 – via
  31. ^ "Aaron Pritchett Chart History (Canada Country)". Billboard. Retrieved July 9, 2021.
  32. ^ "Aaron Pritchett Chart History (Canadian Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved July 9, 2021.
  33. ^ "The Weight, Featuring Ringo Starr and Robbie Robertson, Playing For Change, Song Around The World". Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved October 1, 2021.


  1. ^ Also reached No. 36 in Canada,[27] No. 39 on U.S. Cashbox Top 100,[28] No. 37 on U.S. Record World 100 Top Pops,[29] and No. 21 on U.S. Record World Top 50 R&B.[30]

External links[edit]