“Stage Fright” by The Band
It is quite common for pop music stars to drop songs centered on the less-than-favorable aspects of being famous. Indeed we would venture to say that all of the tenured ones have done so in one capacity or another.
But The Band’s “Stage Fright” takes a whole different approach to such a well-worn theme. For instead of, say focusing on the pitfalls of wealth or having to deal with the type of shady characters present in the game, this track actually deals with something a lot more down-to-earth – good ol’ fashioned stage fright.
And such realism may be why at least one prominent music critic considered this to be the greatest song composed about the art of performing.
Lyrics of “Stage Fright”
It all starts off with the singer revealing that he comes from an inconspicuous background, even serving as a “ploughboy”, i.e. a farmhand, during one stage in his life.
He was “a lonely kid” who endeavored to make it as a musician, ultimately achieving said goal as well as “fortune and fame” in the process. But since accomplishing said feat, his life “ain’t been the same”.
And the matter at hand, once again, is him suffering from stage fright. Simply put, that means he gets nervous before going out in front of a crowd to perform live.
And you know, it’s not like he’s a wuss or anything. Instead he feels that him and his ilk deserve some sympathy since perpetually facing such a fear is part of “the price… paid” for the aforementioned success.
Indeed it’s not easy when your own body starts manifesting these fears, such as the “brow… sweating” and the “mouth (getting) dry”, considering that, once again, you have to step out in front of a sizable crowd.
Then there goes the “fancy people”, i.e. the types of individuals whom you may be intimidated with, “drifting by”. And “the moment of truth”, i.e. that second when you really and truly must step out in front of the multitude, is more akin to a “nightmare”.
However, it is one which the singer can tolerate in the name of the overall goal at hand.
In fact this perpetual dilemma of being afraid to go on stage yet doing so anyway has sort of an addictive effect on the singer.
The writer of the song, The Band’s Robbie Robertson, explained it as having a similar effect to riding a rollercoaster or watching a scary movie, if you will.
There is a high level of fear and excitement at the same time, the type that gets the adrenaline pumping. Or at least that’s how he personally felt in terms of going on stage at the time, to the point where he needed to get such out into song.
The Band was, well, a rock band that came together in Toronto in 1967. They remained active until 1999, taking a five-year break during the late-1970s/early-1980s.
The Band consisted of both Canadian and American musicians and as such has been inducted into both the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame stateside.
In fact they’re one of the most-accomplished musical groups you may have never heard of, also being recipients of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and owning a place on the Canadian Walk of Fame.
Moreover when compiling a list of the “100 Greatest Artists” of all time in 2010, Rolling Stone placed The Band at 50th place.
Prior to taking on the moniker The Band, the group was known as The Hawks, i.e. the backup for another classic American/Canadian musician, Ronnie Hawkins.
However, some consider their most-notable achievement as The Hawks as rather serving as the backup band for Bob Dylan from 1965 to 1967.
In fact “the band” was what everyone referred to them as while they were backing up Dylan, and afterwards when they decided to venture out on their own the name stuck.
And just to note even after going solo, if you will, they still collaborated with Bob Dylan on the albums “Before the Flood” (1974), “Planet Waves” (1974) and “The Basement Tapes” (1975).
And the second of those projects, “Planet Waves”, actually topped the Billboard 200.
The Band released 10 studio albums of their own between 1968 and 1999, permanently disbanding in the wake of the death of frontman Rick Danko during that same year.
But their most successful full-length, as far as the Billboard 200 is concerned, was actually a live album they put out in 1978 entitled Rock of Ages, which made it up to number 6 on the list. And as for their signature songs, those would be considered 1968’s “The Weight” and 1969’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”.
As far as “Stage Fright” is concerned, this is the title track from The Band’s third album, which Capitol Records released on 17 August 1970.
It is also the lead single from that project. And later a different version was featured on the aforementioned Before the Flood album.
This song did not succeed as a single, as in apparently failed to chart altogether. However, whereas the masses may not have embraced it, the professional critics were definitely diggin’ it.
In fact renowned music pundit Ralph J. Gleason (1917-1975) even referred to “Stage Fright” as “the best song ever written about performing”.
As at the release of this track the lineup of The Band consisted of the following:
- lead vocalist Rick Danko (1943-1999)
- drummer Levon Helm (1940-2012)
- organist Garth Hudson
- pianist Richard Manual (1943-1986)
- guitarist Robbie Robertson