“The Weight” by The Band

As you will discover in the facts’ section, “The Weight” is a track with a very-rich history.  Its lyrical composition is exciting in and of itself, being set in a place called Nazareth, where the singer encounters a number of colorful characters in his quest to basically find somewhere to sleep.

Nazareth, as we all know, is the name of an ancient city where Jesus once resided. But the “Nazareth” referred to in this song is actually a town in Pennsylvania which The Band decided to feature due to it being the home of a company called Martin Guitars.

Meaning of “The Weight”

And that brings us to the heart of the interpretation of “The Weight”. There are various references which read as if they are Biblical in nature and as such have a deeper meaning than what is presented on the surface. But in reality, they actually point to aspects of the performers’ current lives (at the time of the track’s release), including a number of shoutouts to people and places they are familiar with, such as Nazareth. That is to say that listeners often attribute deep meaning to “The Weight” whereas the song’s writer, Robbie Robertson, has more or less described it as something he threw together willy-nilly. Thus singers who have later performed it with an overt-religious connotation in mind, such as Mavis Staples, did so based on their own personal interpretations of the song. 

So in all honesty, whereas Mr. Robertson may not have meant for “The Weight” to have a particular meaning. He likely sprinkled indirect Biblical references throughout to make it sound deeper, as in giving it more of an appeal.

But that being said, this track is still an entertaining look into a challenging day in the life of the singer in the seemingly-small town of Nazareth.  Apparently “The Weight” itself (with the title never being mentioned in the song) is a burden that has been put on the singer by “Miss Fanny”, one of the characters in the song. And this charge requires him to go and interact with the other personalities featured in the track. And perhaps it should be noted that some of those who do believe that this song is religious in nature have actually interpreted “Miss Fanny” to be a reference to God.

But being that the song starts off with the singer looking for a place to lodge, some have also put forth the theory that “The Weight” he is experiencing is the challenge of trying to find a place ‘where he can lay his head’. Thus all of the interactions that follow are based on him ultimately trying to achieve this goal. But the fact that this song has been named amongst the greatest ever recorded, even though it doesn’t have one universally-agreed upon meaning, points to the fact that various people enjoy it while deriving their own understandings from the track.

Lyrics of "The Weight"

Release Date of “The Weight”

“The Weight” was released by Capitol Records in January of 1968. It was the only single dropped from The Band’s debut album, which was entitled “Music from Big Pink”.

Accolades

This song may not be one of the most-popular classics. But according to a number of distinctive institutions, it is one of the most-influential. For instance, it currently sits at number 41 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All-Time” list. Furthermore, it holds a spot on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s coveted “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll”.

“The Weight” has a rich history dating back to its time. For example, The Band performed this track at the historical Woodstock gathering on 17 August 1969. Moreover it has been featured on a number of their live albums since “Music from Big Pink”. Indeed when The Band were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1989, this was the song that they performed.

Who wrote “The Weight”?

The Band’s guitarist, Robbie Robertson, is the sole person credited with writing this song. However, one of the group’s singers, Levon Helm, later disputed this fact (1940-2012), rather stating that its composition was a collaborative effort between all of The Band’s members.

“The Weight” was produced by John Simon, a producer whose heyday was during the 1960s and 70s.

Covers of “The Weight”

“The Weight” has been covered by a wide number of artists, including the following:

  • Jackie DeShannon (1968)
  • Aretha Franklin (1969)
  • Diana Ross and The Supremes in collaboration with The Temptations (1969)
  • Weezer (2008)
  • Garth Brooks (2013)
  • Jimmy Fallon alongside the Muppets (2014)

In fact Jackie DeShannon’s, Aretha Franklin’s and The Supremes’ versions were bigger hits than even The Band’s rendition.

Also in recognition of the passing of Levon Helm, this song was performed live at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards in 2013. The performance was by the likes of Elton John, Mumford & Sons, Mavis Staples and other prominent artists.

Appearances in Movies

“The Weight” has also been featured in a number of full-length movies and television programs such as the following:

  • 1969’s “Easy Rider”
  • 2004’s “Starsky & Hutch”
  • 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”
  • 2017’s “American Gods”

6 Responses

  1. Marc Lavietes says:

    Robertson appears to be a very disingenuous person. There is no way he could have possibly written “the Weight”. The characters, Anna Lee, Chester and Luke were all characters present in Levon Helm’s childhood outside of Helena, Arkansas. In fact Anna Lee Amsden is still alive, well and helping to sustain a small foundation in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas, dedicated to preserving Levon’s memory there. You can look her up on the internet. I have contributed!

  2. e z says:

    just for general knolage:
    “Nazareth, as we all know, is the name of an ancient city where Jesus once resided. ”
    and this city is still live and kicking in the state of israel where jesus once resided.

    • Anonymous says:

      Or it’s Nazareth, Pennsylvania, where the Martin guitar was made. He was thinking of song ideas when he look in the guitar and it said Nazareth, PA.

    • Yvonne says:

      Well Jesus didn’t live in the state of Israel. At that time it was Palestine.

  3. DeYoung says:

    Robertson traveled to Helena with Levon Helm on a number of occasions, as he related in his interview about meeting Sonny Boy Williamson (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90-O6c20PLk). It could have easily been that Levon introduced him to some of his old buddies. Thus, Robertson could have written a song about them. It seems strange that Robertson took credit for the song and no one in the band complained about it at the time.

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