Writer(s): Robbie Robertson (see lyrics here)
Released: August 8, 1968
First Charted: August 18, 1968
Peak: 63 US, 59 CB, 46 HR, 2 CL, 21 UK, 36 CN, 2 DF (Click for codes to charts.)
Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, -- world (includes US + UK)
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 74.62 video, -- streaming
Click on award for more details.
About the Song:
The Band started out as the backing band for Ronnie Hawkins before forming as their own entity in 1967. Comprised of four Canadians and the Arkansas-born Levon Helm, they came to exemplify the form of folk-rock which became known as Americana. Their debut album, Music from Big Pink, included the single “The Weight.” While the song peaked at a meager #63 on the Billboard Hot 100, it gained considerable airplay over the years on album-rock stations and has become their “best-known and most enduring recording.” AMG
“The Weight” is a true showcase for The Band’s collective talents. As the band’s chief songwriter, Robbie Robertson weighs in with his “acutely studied Dylanisms.” DM The song opens “with stately guitar and drum beats that lock in with the dead certainty of a firing squad, adding elegiac honky-tonk paino chords from [Richard] Manuel, crowned by Helm’s singing on the verse, [Rick] Danko’s vocal on the bridge, and harmonies tossed around like a live grenade.” DM The song “is as fine an example of rock and roll record-making as existed in the year of its birth and it has dated not a whit.” DM
The “winding, impressionistic story song [is] cut from the rural traditions of roots music – folk, country, and gospel – but re-imagined from a distinctly postmodern vantage point.” AMG It “significantly influenced American popular music,” WK something apparent as early as 1969 thanks to three covers by Aretha Franklin, Jackie DeShannon, and the Supremes with the Temptations which charted higher than the original. The song has since been covered by numerous artists including the Allman Brothers Band, the Black Crowes, Garth Brooks, the Zac Brown Band, Eric Church, Joe Cocker, John Denver, Grateful Dead, Hanson, Waylon Jennings, Mumford & Sons, Panic! At the Disco, Bruce Springsteen, Chris Stapleton, Dionne Warwick, and Weezer.
Robbie Robertson wrote “the laid back country-gospel parable” SS from the first-person perspective of a Bible Belt American Southerner visiting the town of Nazareth, Pennyslvania, and checking in with some of his friend Fanny’s strange friends there. SF Levon Helm, who sang lead on the song, said, “The song was full of our favorite characters.” DT Robertson said the song was inspired by Luis Buñuel, a Spanish filmmaker, known for surreal imagery and criticism of organized religion. WK
PBS described it as “a masterpiece of Biblical allusions, enigmatic lines and iconic characters” and called it “an essential part of the American songbook.” WK “The literal meaning of the song is elusive, however.” TC The song’s title “appears to concern the mounting burdens and demands of society which no one individual can reasonably shoulder.” AMG
First posted 2/5/2021; last updated 4/1/2023.
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