Uploaded on May 28, 2011
Greek Theatre, September 3rd 1989.
"The Weight" is a 1968 song by The Band. The song appeared originally on The Band's first album, Music from Big Pink.
"The Weight" is one of the group's best known songs and among the most popular songs of the late 1960s counterculture. However, the song was not a significant mainstream hit for The Band in the U.S., peaking at only #63. The Band's record fared much better in Canada and the UK -- in those countries, the single was a top 40 hit, peaking at #35 in Canada and #21 in the UK in 1968. Three cover versions of "The Weight" charted higher on the US pop charts in 1968/69 than The Band's original recording:
1968: Jackie DeShannon took the song to #55 US, #35 Canada.
1969: The final joint single in North America released by Diana Ross & the Supremes and The Temptations, hit #46 US, #36 Canada.
1969: Aretha Franklin's version (from This Girl's in Love with You) was the highest charting recording of "The Weight" in both the U.S. and Canada, peaking at #19 US, #12 Canada.
None of these cover versions charted in the UK, where The Band's version of "The Weight" remains the only version to chart.
The song is #41 in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list, published in 2004. Pitchfork Media named it the thirteenth best song of the Sixties. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame named it one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
"The Weight" takes the folk music motif of a traveler, who in the first line arrives in Nazareth in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania. Years later, the band Nazareth took its name from this line. Once there, he encounters various residents of the town, the song being a story of these encounters. Nazareth is the hometown of the guitar manufacturer C. F. Martin & Company.
The residents include a man who cannot direct the traveler to a hotel, Carmen and the Devil walking side by side, "Crazy Chester," who offers a bed in exchange for the traveler taking his dog, and Luke who is dying ("waiting on Judgment Day"), leaving his young bride behind and alone.
Musically, the song shows the blending of folk parlour song harmonies in the chorus where the voices come in on the 'and..you put the load..'
In his autobiography This Wheel's on Fire, Levon Helm explains that the people mentioned in the song were based on real people The Band knew. The "Miss Anna Lee" mentioned in the lyric is Helm's longtime friend Anna Lee Amsden.
On August 17, 1969, The Band played "The Weight" as the 10th song in their set at Woodstock.