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"The Weight" is a 1968 song by The Band. The song appears 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 US, peaking at only #63. The Band's record fared much better in Canadamarker and the UKmarker – 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:



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.

Song theme

"The Weight" takes the folk music motif of a traveler, who in the first line arrives in Nazarethmarker in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvaniamarker. 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. Years later, the band Nazareth took its name from this line. The Biblical Nazarethmarker was the childhood home of Jesus.

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 has gone out to wait for the apocalypse, leaving his young bride neglected.

In Levon Helm's autobiography "This Wheel's on Fire," 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.

Robertson on "The Weight"

According to songwriter Robertson, "The Weight" was inspired by the films of Luis Buñuel, about which Robertson once said:

(Buñuel) did so many films on the impossibility of sainthood. People trying to be good in Viridiana and Nazarin, 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.


Only in this case, the traveler encounters the favor-asking people in Nazareth as well.

Film and commercial play

"The Weight" has featured prominently in many films and television shows, including such movies as Hope Floats; Igby Goes Down (in a cover version by rock band Travis); The Big Chill; Easy Rider; Girl, Interrupted; Patch Adams; 1408; and Starsky & Hutch (as a parody of the scene in Easy Rider); and on television in The Sopranos (Episode 4 of Season 4 is titled "The Weight") and also on My Name Is Earl and Sports Night. It also appeared in an SNL skit, when Zach Braff hosted. It has also been used in commercials for Diet Coke and Cingular/AT&T Wireless, an Americanmarker telecommunications company.

The song was also included on the Easy Rider Soundtrack, but was performed by the band Smith because of contractual problems preventing use of The Band's version. The Band's version is the one that appears in the movie.

"The Weight" is one of three songs performed by The Band featured in the 2003 documentary film, Festival Express.

"The Weight" was one of three songs the Band's 1990s lineup performed for "LET IT ROCK!", a birthday concert/tribute for Ronnie Hawkins.

A fan favourite, "The Weight" is also in two post-Last Waltz concert videos: "The Band Is Back" (1984) and "The Band Live At The New Orleans Jazz Festival" (1998).

Don Imus liked this song and frequently played it on his show. The Levon Helm Band appeared frequently. Imus was fired from CBS Radio on April 12, 2007, in the midst of his charity radiothon. The Radiothon continued on Friday, April 13, 2007 with Imus's wife and Opie & Anthony hosting in his place, and the broadcast concluded with The Levon Helm Band performing "The Weight" live.

Cover versions

"The Weight" has become a modern standard, and hence has been covered by many other acts, most prominently Van Morrison, Stewart Street, Midnight Ride, the North Mississippi Allstars, moe., Little Feat, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Stoney LaRue, Aaron Pritchett, The Staple Singers, Travis, Grateful Dead, The New Riders of the Purple Sage, O.A.R., Edwin McCain, Rooney, The Black Crowes, Spooky Tooth, Hanson, Bleu Edmondson, Old Crow Medicine Show, Panic at the Disco, Aretha Franklin, Joan Osborne, John Denver, Cassandra Wilson, Shannon Curfman, Mike Post & the Band Before Time, Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield, Deana Carter, New Madrid, and Dionne Warwick did as well. Ratdog and Bob Weir are also known to cover this song from time to time (notably during shows in Pennsylvania). Additional notable versions are by Lee Ann Womack, the band Smith, Weezer, and a joint effort by Diana Ross & the Supremes, with The Temptations, others who recorded the song included The Allman Brothers Band, The Derek Trucks Band, The Marshall Tucker Band, Jimmy Barnes with The Badloves, Aaron Pritchett. and Joe Cocker. Also Jeff Healey used the song on his last album before he passed away. Folk singer Michelle Shocked covers the song as part of her 2007 gospel album ToHeavenURide. Bob Dylan has covered the song live. Charly Garcia covered the song in Spanish under the title "El Peso".Chris Stills covered the song in French on his When The Pain Dies Down EP. Czech singer Marie Rottrová covered the song with the band Flamingo in 1970. A version of the song is included as a bonus track on the UK version of Weezer's sixth album Weezer . The band Nickel Creek routinely did a cover of the song during their live shows. Jimmy Barnes covered this song on his cd Flesh and Wood. The rock band The Gaslight Anthem are known to play the song on occasion at shows, with guest musicians Dustin Kensrue and Teppei Teranishi from Thrice. At the end of the movie It Might Get Loud Jack White, Jimmy Page and The Edge play The Weight acoustically while swapping vocals.Panic at the Disco covered the song in an episode of Live from Abbey Roadmarker.In The Band's concert film, The Last Waltz, The Staple Singers and The Band perform the song together.

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References

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