The Weight – a casual retrospective

From the opening acoustic strums, that lolling sound of aimlessly wandering and Levon Helm’s gravelly world weary voice, The Band’s defining tune, “The Weight” has become such a behemoth in pop culture that it was not only used as a commercial vehicle to sell Cingular Wireless but it was then also the center of a lawsuit between Helm and said company.After all, why wouldn’t you want the song to be used in a commercial about missing your loved ones? Despite being about a nameless traveller and the burdens of helping strangers, the first association I always have with this track is, “hey maybe I should give mom a call?”

Regardless, the song, written by Robbie Robertson (who was apparantly inspired by the films of Luis Bunuel, was track 5 off of The Band’s debut album Music From the Big Pink. And despite the perception that the hippies ruled the roost back in the day, the song only peaked at #63 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, which to you young kids was how they measured the popularity of a song way back when your parents were young. And yet in 2000, the song charted again this time at #8 on the Top Internet Albums. The track also ended up on a boatload of top songs ever lists from the likes of Rolling Stone and The Rock n’ Roll HofF.

So it’s safe to say that the song has some staying power behind it.

As a single, “The Weight” dropped on June, 25, 1968 and the album Music From the Big Pink was released on July 1, 1968.

More than anything it’s a song that feels remorseful and hopeful. It’s uplifting in somber kind of way. There are so many times in our lives when you just don’t feel like helping someone out, when you’d rather just say fuck it and be selfish. I’ve been thinking about this song a lot in the past few weeks, not the least of which is because it’s one of my top songs to listen to for a Sunday drive, when the windows are rolled down and you’re tooling around trying to find something out of the norm. A bar, or tiny restaurant, or a little town you’ve never been to before, or just cruising with the tunes cranked, the wind rushing through your nostrils, not really looking for anything specific, but optimistic you’re going to find exactly what you want. In other words, “The Weight” is the perfect song for springtime. It’s lazy and takes its time telling it’s story. Sort of like this:

The other reason I’ve been thinking about the song is that a coworker recently lost her father and of course a few of us have been picking up the slack for her while she’s taken the necessary time off. And some days I find myself just being selfish, thinking how much I wish I didn’t have to work so much in her place, but then I think about her loss and I guess the past few weeks, well, working for her isn’t something I want to do, but it’s a burden I’d gladly accept.

I saw her last night and I’m sure she’s not doing okay inside, but she put on her best face for appearance sakes and it made the past few weeks worth it for me. Knowing that what a few of us did to help her out, well, sometimes you’re not exactly sure how to say I’m sorry it sucks for your loss but you do the one thing you can even if it’s the last thing you’d ever want to do.

Similar to taking a load off of Fanny, or taking Crazy Chester’s dog off his hands, staying to keep Anna Lee company, you know the usual things to do on a Sunday afternoon in Nazareth. Enjoy the track and the Britpop version from Travis and the gospel tinged version from Aretha Franklin, featuring the smokey guitar licks from Duane Allman.

MP3: Aretha Franklin – “The Weight”
MP3: Travis – “The Weight”
MP3: The Band – “The Weight”

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ace Cowboy May 8, 2007, 10:26 am

    It don’t get no better than Danko wailing “I said wait a minute, Chester.” Seriously, that’s one of my favorite lines in music history.

    I always like to think The Weight is a gateway drug. In my personal opinion it’s not among The Band’s top 25 best songs, but it suckers people in to listening to the rest of their catalog, and that’s a good thing. But for me, gimme King Harvest, gimme WS Wolcott, gimme Get Up Jake, gimme It Makes No Difference, gimme Genetic Method > Chest Fever, gimme We Can Talk, The Shape I’m In, When You Awake and so many more.

    In any event, thanks for the post on the greatest mostly non-American American band in music history. I also randomly put a post up about The Band today — check out this awesome video.