Study Guide

The Weight

The Weight Introduction

In a Nutshell

"The Weight." It's one of rock's most thoroughly American songs, with deep roots in the country and gospel music of the South. But it was recorded by four Canadians and a guy from Arkansas.

It's the Band's signature song, but cover versions by Aretha Franklin, Jackie DeShannon, the Supremes, and the Temptations all did better on the charts.

It's loaded with Biblical references and has generated tons of religion-based analysis. But guitarist Robbie Robertson says he was actually inspired by a Spanish surrealist filmmaker, and vocalist/drummer Levon Helm says that the song is just about a bunch of old friends from Turkey Scratch and Fayetteville.

Everyone knows the chorus, but few would bet their life on the song's most troubling question: Is it Annie or Fanny that's getting rid of her load?

"The Weight." It's time we figured this song out.

About the Song

ArtistBand, The
Year1968
LabelCapitol
Writer(s)Robbie Robertson
Producer(s)John Simon
Musician(s)Levon Helm (lead vocals, drums), Rick Danko (lead vocals, bass), Richard Manuel (back vocals, Hammond organ), Robbie Robertson (acoustic guitar), Garth Hudson (piano)
Learn to playTablature
AlbumMusic from Big Pink

Music Video

_MUSIC_VIDEO_HTML_

Influences on Band, The

Members of The Band identify a diverse set of influences, including Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Ray Charles, Cannonball Adderly, Miles Davis, and Roy Buchanan.

Influenced by Band, The

The Band has always been appreciated better by critics and other musicians than by the general public. The Grateful Dead and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young acknowledged their ties to the music of The Band. Eric Clapton suggested that Music from Big Pink contributed to his decision to leave Cream. Some bands, such as Counting Crows and Drive-By Truckers, have dedicated songs to the dead members of The Band, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel.

The Weight Resources

Books

Barney Hoskyns, Across the Great Divide: The Band and America (1993)
Generally considered the definitive work on The Band, Across the Great Divide explores the origins, impact, and internal dynamics of the Canadian-American band. First released in 1993, a newer version brings readers up to date on the lives of the members who are still alive.

Levon Helm and Stephen Davis, This Wheel's on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band (1993)
An inside and far more gritty account of The Band's development and work. There's plenty in here for the sensation-seeking, but Helm also provides useful commentaries on the group's songs and albums. His gripe with Robertson is also aired.

Albums

Music from Big Pink (1968)
The Band's debut album. Sales were weak but the critical reception was huge. Rolling Stone reviewer Al Kooper labeled it the album of 1968. In places it sounds more like a jam session than a studio recording—vocals are passed around and instrumental passages seem to emerge and recede according to the artists' moods. But, half a century later, the music remains distinctive and intriguing.

The Band (1969)
The Band's greatest album, or just its most commercially successful? We'll leave it up to you to decide. A handful of tracks got considerable airplay: Rag Mama Rag, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Up on Cripple Creek.

Northern Lights - Southern Cross (1975)
After a couple of so-so albums, The Band regained its stride. Robertson's "Acadian Driftwood" reminded fans of the story-telling magic he had displayed on The Band's first two albums.

Images

The Band, ca. 1968
Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson.

Big Pink
The Band's home and creative studio. The album was actually recorded in New York and Los Angeles.

Dylan and The Band, ca. 1968
This photo was taken after The Band stopped touring as Dylan's back-up band.

Dylan and Robertson
Bob Dylan and Robbie Robertson in 1966.

Movies & TV

The Last Waltz (1978)
One of the great concert films, it records The Band's farewell concert held at Winterland (in San Francisco) in November 1976. Concert performances are mixed with studio footage and interviews with band members. Eric Clapton, Ringo Star, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Paul Butterfield, Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters, and the founder of the Hawks—Ronnie Hawkins—all make appearances.

Websites

The Band
A great website: lyrics, links, articles, a band history, discography, sheet music. It's all here.

Video & Audio

Iconic song meets iconic movie
"The Weight" as it was used in the movie Easy Rider.