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Take a load off
March 21, 2013 5:22 AM   Subscribe

"I've found myself wondering lately, out of all of these songs - and many others - why has "The Weight" emerged as the iconic American standard? Why is this the mood-setting song in Easy Rider? Why is this the song that 22 year-olds still put on when they start their first road trips across the country? Why, since Levon Helm's passing nearly a year ago, do Americana musicians overwhelmingly close their shows with "The Weight"? Why did the GRAMMY Awards choose "The Weight" as its group sing-along for the musicians we lost this year - and why was it the only performance of the night that had everyone in the audience singing and dancing?"
posted by MartinWisse (247 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
Because the melody is compelling as hell, the chorus builds in a way that makes you think not believing in the song will be the worst mistake you make, ever, and because the lyrics have a sweet wistfulness (with just enough psych fuzziness) that translates across many different moods.
posted by OmieWise at 5:43 AM on March 21, 2013 [17 favorites]


This is one of those times where I realize just how bad my cultural knowledge is because I've literally never heard this song nor heard of it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:43 AM on March 21, 2013 [23 favorites]


I may be alone here, because I had no idea what song "The Weight" was...I mean, obviously I know the song. Everyone knows the song, but I'd never associated the name of the song with the song, I guess. Anyway; here ya go: The Weight (Take a load off Annie), by The Band. Here's the lyrics.
posted by dejah420 at 5:45 AM on March 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


You may have, but just don't know it as it's one of those songs that's often called something else.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:45 AM on March 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


The Weight is the best anti-earworm I've encountered, in that it effectively pushes out whatever other song I've got stuck in my head, and it never sticks around very long afterwards. It's catchy when you're thinking about it, but not demanding the way a lot of catchy songs are.
posted by gauche at 5:50 AM on March 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


I remember reading a book about The Band, Across the Great Divide, and the author pretty much admits you can't tell what the hell is supposed to be going on in this song.

That's true in a narrative sense, but like OmieWise said, it's just fuzzy enough and has a real mood. To me, the song's about just not being connected and looking for home or a place or that person. I think there's a real "wandering the earth alone" vibe to it.
posted by marxchivist at 5:50 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because it's a truth-telling masterpiece?
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:51 AM on March 21, 2013 [16 favorites]


I love The Band's version of that song more than almost anything in life. Big Pink is one of those albums that I've owned in about five different formats by this time and it hasn't aged a day since I first heard it as a little kid listening to my big sister's copy.

My favorite part of The Weight is when Danko steps in to sing the fourth verse, just kills me every time.
posted by octothorpe at 5:53 AM on March 21, 2013 [16 favorites]


FWIW, I spent most of my teen years and early 20s heavily steeped in AOR radio, and I think I only just recently connected that title to that song. And this in spite of many, many "100 Greatest Song/Album/Jam" marathons that played during big weekends while we slung endless pizza through a miasma of pot smoke.

And yeah, it's a great song and easy to sing along to. Everyone can try their hand at harmonizing during the chorus and so on.

Man how I miss WKLS-FM.
posted by jquinby at 5:54 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


In 1968, "The Weight" was a rock song, but since then, Aretha Franklin and Duane Allman have shown us that it's an R&B song; Mavis Staples has shown us that it's a gospel song; Gillian Welch and Old Crow Medicine Show have shown us that it's a bluegrass song; Waylon Jennings has shown us that it's a country song; Weezer has shown us that it's an alternative song; Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield have shown us that it's a blues song; and Cassandra Wilson has shown us that it's a jazz song
I'm not all that impressed with this, if it's meant to show that "The Weight" has some singular, genre-crossing power. Any song can be done in almost any style - you could do a punk rock version of "Cherokee" if you wanted.
posted by thelonius at 5:54 AM on March 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Because, The Band could've done the Applebee's menu and made it sound righteous. Now I want to go watch The Last Waltz again.
As an aside...WTF is with lyrics sites, like the one dejah420 linked to? They all lock my browser up like digital Imodium.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:56 AM on March 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


lyrics sites are to be avoided with great prejudice- they are spyware infested hellholes.
posted by thelonius at 5:58 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


But it's not the Applebee's menu. It's a big scoop of the hurting soul of a human who can't take any more, but is still being put upon by the unthinking and unkind people around him, despite his spiritual and physical exhaustion. It's how people can treat one another due to meanness, inconsideration, or just plain ignorance and self-interest, and how that can crush a man. It's a heaping helping of sorrow that everyone on earth can understand at the deepest level. Music aside, and the music is BRILLIANT, it's also a lyrical masterpiece.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:00 AM on March 21, 2013 [14 favorites]


Chalk me up as another person who never heard this song before today.
posted by kyrademon at 6:03 AM on March 21, 2013


Okay, the song is awesome, but there's a much simpler answer to this question:

Why, since Levon Helm's passing nearly a year ago, do Americana musicians overwhelmingly close their shows with "The Weight"?

The answer is right there in the question - people have been closing concerts with a Levon Helm song in the year since Levon Helm's death to pay tribute to Levon Helm. (Seriously, that's kind of a "duh" question.)

That's also kind of the answer to "why'd they use it for The Grammys singalong" - true, you also had Davy Jones, Adam Yauch, Donna Summer, Robin Gibb, and Dave Brubeck who also passed, but "Sabotage" or "Last Dance" or "Take Five" or "Daydream Believer" don't have quite the same We Are Collectively Paying Our Tribute gravitas. (Yes, I know about the year they had Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, and Dave Grohl all do "London Calling" the year Joe Strummer died, but I chalked that up to sheer aweseome winning out.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:05 AM on March 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Put me in the camp with those folks that had no idea what the title of that song was until today, even though I pretty much knew the lyrics by heart. There is no doubt in my mind that this is because we exited the era when we listened to most of our music on the radio, and every station had a DJ, and that DJ would tell you the name and artist for every song.... We don't get those data points on a regular basis any longer.
posted by HuronBob at 6:05 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Heck, I didn't even know it was Annie who was supposed to take a load off, I always heard it as Bennie.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:08 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Take a load of fanny. Take a load for free.
posted by run"monty at 6:08 AM on March 21, 2013 [14 favorites]


For those new to The Band, one of their earlier jobs was backing up Bob Dylan. When he told his band to "Play it fucking loud.", that was them.

Also, when they decided to play their last show Eric Capton, Muddy Waters, Ringo Star, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and many other showed up.

(Also, Scorsese directed the show)


They are definitely an important part of classic rock history.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 6:09 AM on March 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


I remember listening to a 70's era comp of Italian language covers of American and British hits. Most sounded OK, but I remember how strange the cover of "The Weight" sounded since it's so....American.
posted by jonmc at 6:09 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Devils Rancher, how is it all that? "Crazy Chester followed me and he caught me in the fog/He said, 'I will fix your rack if you'll take Jack, my dog.'" Musically, it bleeds mournful soul, but lyrically it's just gibberish (which is great, I love gibberish, but "a truth-telling masterpiece"? I don't see it).

Personally, I am sick to death of this song, because you can't go to an open mic or a jam session without somebody whipping it out, and everyone wants to sing along, and it's a hard song to get right if your time is shaky, which most people's is at such things.
posted by rodii at 6:11 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Staple Singers teamed up with Helm and co. for a memorable performance of "The Weight" in "The Last Waltz." That clinched the film for me.
posted by Currer Belfry at 6:11 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


For his part, Robertson has explained that, "The story told in the song is about the guilt of relationships, not being able to give what's being asked of you. Someone is stumbling through life, going from one situation to another, with different characters. In going through these catacombs of experience, you're trying to do what's right, but it seems that with all the places you have to go, it's just not possible.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:11 AM on March 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


As for the musical ubiquity, though - I think it's kind of easy to sing along with, and that always has an appeal. Even if you're fuzzy on the verses, lots of people know the words "Take a load off Annie, Take a load for free, Take a load off Annie, Annnnnnnnnnnd you put the load right on me...."

And the tune doesn't go way up high or way down low, so it fits neatly into a lot of people's vocal ranges; plus you have that bit towards the end, where they build the vocal chord bit by bit, and that's always fun because it kind of leads you to making a harmony rather than abandoning you to try to find your note in the middle, so you end up also sounding like you know way more about singing than you do. It's the same with the Beatles' "Twist and Shout" - you always have a bunch of people joining the "Ahhhhhhhhh, AAHHHHHHH, AHHHHHHHHH, AHHHHHHHHH" bit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:12 AM on March 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


The first recorded version of "The Weight" was by Jackie DeShannon, which charted in 1968 before "Big Pink" was released. I heard Jackie's version in the summer of '68 and then bought "BP" when it came out in September to universal critical acclaim.
posted by rdone at 6:12 AM on March 21, 2013


Yeah, the staggered stacking of the "Aaaaand" harmonies right at the turnaround of the chorus is a huge hook. I always take the second one in the car.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:14 AM on March 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


The first times I heard the song, it was by Smith on the Easy Rider soundtrack because they only had the rights to The Band's version for the film. Even then it's a great song. I love The Band and that song, but if you've never heard it before, I wouldn't say this article does it any particular justice. I think "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" is much more of an American spiritual all-timer for getting pathos and poetry into a song.

The Staple Singers teamed up with Helm and co. for a memorable performance of "The Weight" in "The Last Waltz."

Yeah, that would be the best endorsement of the song I could think of, Pop and Mavis' verses and the looks on their faces as they wring the emotion from the words, it works every time for me.
posted by yerfatma at 6:14 AM on March 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Just threw this playlist together on youtube, so it could background play for a bit.

Includes a few of the covers mentioned in the article (Old Crowe Medicine Show, The Wilco rehearsal thing, Ray LaMontagne singing it with Levon Helm on drums on Elvis Costello's show, The Lumineers, Grateful Dead)

And several by The Band itself.
posted by DigDoug at 6:15 AM on March 21, 2013 [15 favorites]


I've never heard this song. I have absolutely perfect musical memory, and if I've heard something once, I can recall it. I've not ever heard this, once.

The plus side of this is that it does a good job of counteracting the oldness that I felt due to the 20th anniversary of Groundhog Day.
posted by MysticMCJ at 6:16 AM on March 21, 2013


Hey is this that song where the pretty mama is going to take the fortunate son by the hand? Never heard it in my life.
posted by fleacircus at 6:17 AM on March 21, 2013


Personally, I am sick to death of this song,

Your favorite The Band sucks.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:20 AM on March 21, 2013 [31 favorites]


I find it strange that people have never heard this song. I feel like it's been played so many places I've been for so many years.
posted by josher71 at 6:21 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Any song can be done in almost any style - you could do a punk rock version of "Cherokee" if you wanted.

But not many songs are so widely covered. It speaks to many people in many contexts, and has deep meaning to them, such that they want to experience it in their own milieu. It's hard to think of another song so widely admired by such a variety of artists.

It's a mainstay of late 1960's culture, when mainstream pop music began to seek artistry and depth in earnest, and artistry sought a wider audience - Dylan going electric and the Beetles going psychedelic. (Psychedelia is derided because it became camp, a lazy shorthand for the changes sweeping through society.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:21 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Man, I really can't even comprehend how somebody has never heard this song. You might as well tell me you've never heard of Seinfeld or Star Wars.
posted by kmz at 6:22 AM on March 21, 2013 [20 favorites]


Mind blown at the number of people in this post who haven't heard "The Weight" before...
posted by fredericsunday at 6:22 AM on March 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


This is one of those songs that is easy to cover wrong and almost impossible to cover right. The timing of the harmonies on the Band's recording is just -- bizarre. Every cover band -- including Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy -- straightens them out.

I think the reason for it's popularity is a combination of a lot of things, but one of them is the obliqueness of the lyrics -- it sounds like they're saying something but you can never figure out exactly what.
posted by unSane at 6:22 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, yes, mindboggling if you've never heard this. Not least because that also means you've never watched EASY RIDER. I might have to think differently about some people now...
posted by unSane at 6:24 AM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


When Levon Helm played at the Winnipeg Folk festival a few years ago, a random group of musicians gathered at the campground (as musicians are wont to do when large groups of assorted folkies, hippies, revelers and the like have assembled) and began playing songs by The Band. By the time they played The Weight, there was a VERY large crowd, everyone singing along, harmonizing and everything. Everyone knew all the words, because everyone does. It was one of those perfect moments, to be singing with them.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:25 AM on March 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


You can spend a fine afternoon just watching clips of Mavis Staples sing this with different people on YouTube.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:25 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have absolutely perfect musical memory, and if I've heard something once, I can recall it. I've not ever heard this, once.

Respectfully, if you live in the USA and spend any time at all listening to the radio, I think at least one of these statements is false.

The Weight has a lot going for it. It's got that killer sing-along "and and and" hook, it's got ambiguously 'deep' but, again, hooky, sing alongy, lyrics, and it's got Levon all over it. And that "take a load off Annie" is such a great line - it's hard to decode, initially, so it sticks in your craw (see: "revved up like a duece", et al) and, again: it feels good to sing along with.

BUT: for me, if I was going to pick a Band song every one should know (and it isn't far off from this already) I'd go with "The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down".
posted by dirtdirt at 6:26 AM on March 21, 2013 [19 favorites]


I know this song perfectly well, but every time I encounter just the title without hearing the music, it takes me almost a full minute to unload this file from my brain to make room for The Band.

(Shut up, I know it's a cover!)
posted by SharkParty at 6:28 AM on March 21, 2013


It was 1970 when I got my dog, a stray that we took in. The teenagers in the neighborhood had named him Chester, this morning I realized they were listening to The Weight, and took the name from it. You may say, "rakish, the dogs name was Jack", but these are teenagers we're talking about.

Yes, this information will allow you to break into my LinkedIn account if you so desire.
posted by rakish_yet_centered at 6:28 AM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm just assuming that those of you who haven't heard this song are all children.
posted by ceribus peribus at 6:29 AM on March 21, 2013 [15 favorites]


"... it sounds like they're saying something but you can never figure out exactly what..."

So, it's a political song?

I might have to think differently about some people now...

heh... I hear you on that, I've watched it twice in the past month alone....

note: If you have TCM "on demand" with your cable service, it's available for the next two days.
posted by HuronBob at 6:30 AM on March 21, 2013


Easy Rider is a movie that has aged about as well as the average baby boomer though.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:32 AM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


But not many songs are so widely covered.

Actually, "This Wheel's On Fire," off the same album was covered by The Byrds, Julie Driscoll, Phil Lesh, Elvis Costello, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and then re-covered by Julie Driscoll for use as the theme song to AbFab.

Whenever I hear "The Weight," I think of the night a friend of mine got really drunk and insisted on playing the song over and over. I think he must've played the song a couple dozen times before everyone finally made him go home. Always preferred "Up On Cripple Creek," myself.

(Cf. Greil Marcus' chapter on The Band in Mystery Train.)
posted by octobersurprise at 6:33 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mind blown at the number of people in this post who haven't heard "The Weight" before...

Crazy Chester is a busy dude who doesn't have time for his dog, let alone songs.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:35 AM on March 21, 2013


Wasn't that a Cream song though?
posted by MartinWisse at 6:36 AM on March 21, 2013


I'm not a fan of this song, or the Band. But it doesn't even sound bad to me. It just sounds... boring.
posted by .kobayashi. at 6:37 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Easy Rider is a movie that has aged about as well as the average baby boomer though.

It's good, but not THAT good!
posted by HuronBob at 6:38 AM on March 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


Thanks, HuronBob, for coming up with a better way to say that than I could!
posted by TedW at 6:41 AM on March 21, 2013


Also, yes, mindboggling if you've never heard this. Not least because that also means you've never watched EASY RIDER.

I've only seen about half of Easy Rider. I'm a completely motorcycle obsessed biker type. Not everyone consumes the same media. I didn't have a TV as a kid, and never really took to the movie watching habit.

I have, however, heard that song about a million times. Spent a lot of time in the car with my dad as a kid, and this song is a perfect example of his musical taste.
posted by mollymayhem at 6:42 AM on March 21, 2013


Mind blown at the number of people in this post who haven't heard "The Weight" before...

Yeah.



Wasn't that a Cream song though?

(Presumably in reference to octobersurprise's mention of "This Wheel's On Fire") No, it was written by Bob Dylan and Rick Danko. You are perhaps thinking of the Cream album Wheels of Fire.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:42 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


People, people. It's Fanny. Fanny. Not Annie.

Any doubt, just reference the the last lines in the studio version, where they clearly say "get back to Miss Fanny".

Or reference the live version from The Last Waltz, at 3:36.

It's not Annie in the chorus, and Fanny in that last verse, either. It's Fannies, all the way down.

And no, Jimi Hendrix doesn't say "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy", either.
posted by sutt at 6:42 AM on March 21, 2013 [11 favorites]


Shit, it's not "take a load off Fannie?" I've been singing it wrong all this time?
posted by ActionPopulated at 6:44 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would have trouble believing people have never heard this song if it weren't for the fact I had never heard (or heard OF) Leonard Cohen's Halleluiah Until Metafilter made me aware of it. Of course, since then I've heard it about sixteen times every single day.

One of the best things anyone ever did for me, when I was in my early 20s, was hand me a worn-out VHS copy of The Last Waltz and said "Here. Take this home and watch it." Really gave me an appreciation for The Band.

In the movie It Might Get Loud, Jimmy Page, Jack White and The Edge play The Weight during the closing credits. It's memorable only because it's the three of them playing it together.
posted by bondcliff at 6:45 AM on March 21, 2013


I guess I go to different shows than y'all, because I've never heard anyone cover it - studio or live. It's a fine song, but it's not even my favorite song on that album.
posted by snottydick at 6:46 AM on March 21, 2013


> for me, if I was going to pick a Band song every one should know (and it isn't far off from this already) I'd go with "The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down".

Yeah, me too. But the whole album is great. My mind is boggled not so much by the people who've never heard the song before (though that is surprising) as by the people who feel the need to proclaim their indifference to it. But I guess somebody's gotta put the "Meh" in MetaFilter.

And of course sutt is right: it is Fanny; stop saying Annie, you people!
posted by languagehat at 6:46 AM on March 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


Benny.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:48 AM on March 21, 2013


And of course sutt is right: it is Fanny; stop saying Annie, you people!

There's an easy fav! :-)
posted by sutt at 6:48 AM on March 21, 2013


The Classic Albums episode on this record is a great way to see the distinct structure of their songs. The Band is of course, respected by musicians and sometimes bands like that actually get respect from the general public.

I've heard the Weight all my life it seems, along with The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down and Up on Cripple Creek as other staples I've heard for years. Don't own anything by them personally but I'd say they are popular because they wrote good songs that stand the test of time and conventional or not, there's nothing wrong with that.
posted by juiceCake at 6:49 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


you've never heard of Seinfeld or Star Wars.

Heard of Star Wars. Never seen it.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:50 AM on March 21, 2013


It's good, but not THAT good!

Please pheeze me!
posted by octobersurprise at 6:51 AM on March 21, 2013


Now I want to go watch The Last Waltz again

My dad was fond of The Last Waltz and it was on tv quite often, so I ended up watching it a lot of times, but I mostly did it for the guest musicians, Scorsese and dad. I was surprised the first time I actually listened to The Band.

Your favourite Band doesn't suck.
posted by ersatz at 6:54 AM on March 21, 2013


As a Gen-Xer who usually leaves the radio on the classic rock station I must have heard this this song any number of times over the years, but I confess that I never really noticed it until AT&T/Cingular used it in a TV Ad some years back.
posted by usonian at 6:55 AM on March 21, 2013


Or reference the live version from The Last Waltz , at 3:36.

I didn't find that this helped. However, at 4:14, there's a pause between "off" and "Fannie", and you can clearly hear him articulate a second "f". So you are right, I guess.
posted by thelonius at 7:10 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Until I started reading this, I had no idea how popular this song was. I always thought only old people like myself listened to it on a regular basis.

Now, excuse me while I crank it up on the itunes, while visions of Easy Rider dance through my head.
posted by freakazoid at 7:11 AM on March 21, 2013


Yeah I went and listened to it and... it's just some generic 60's/70's folk-rock

Interesting. I was a kid during that era so I experienced it when it was new rather than as an old song from the past & to me it sounds nothing like generic folk rock. It's so poignant it makes me want to weep. The context in which you first hear a song makes a big difference.

As to its meaning, I think it's a take on the "Man of Constant Sorrow" archetype - wait a minute- it is generic!
posted by wmoskowi at 7:12 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


And of course sutt is right: it is Fanny; stop saying Annie, you people!

Unless he's referring to Anna Lee. But only in one of the choruses and not the others.
posted by yerfatma at 7:13 AM on March 21, 2013


If I could burn this song out of my memory with a red hot poker, I would.
posted by malocchio at 7:13 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you would like to see this song get the full plate 'o beans treatment, take a look at this article (which references the ATT/Cingular commercial usonian mentions).

I'm surprised no one has mentioned yet another great song from that album, I Shall be Released. One of the YouTube commenters describes Richard Manuel's performance on that clip as "spine-tingling", which I dismissed as hyperbole until I watched the video. A few people have covered that song as well.

I'm glad to see other people jump in with the"Fannie (y?), not Annie" comments. I was afraid I was the one hearing it wrong. I will admit to thinking Crazy Chester caught him in the bog for many years. I blame too much time spent listening to music on cassette tapes played through car stereos as a teenager.
posted by TedW at 7:14 AM on March 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


I always thought it was "Manny", but I can live with "Fanny"
posted by briank at 7:15 AM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I had no idea it had been covered so many times, or in so many different styles. Fascinating.
posted by zarq at 7:16 AM on March 21, 2013


I see MartinWisse wisely avoided the controversy in his title.
posted by TedW at 7:16 AM on March 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


This article is basically a demonstration of cognitive bias. The thing that is important to the author is not nearly as important in the larger cultural context as the article asserts.

I was born in '80, ended up taking time off from college and going back, so I was with undergrads aged 18 to 22 again a few years ago, and am now finishing law school with people in various age ranges, but mostly just a little past college age (mid to late 20s).

I'd say about only half of my original high school and college age cohort would have recognized this song, and maybe 25% (that's probably generous) would have been able to identify The Band.

The kids I was around when I went back to college, and the younger law students I'm with now, I'm guessing it would have be more like 10% recognition and 2% identification.

I don't think I know a single 22 year old who would put "The Weight" on as the first song on a road trip.

For that matter, I don't know anyone who would, because "The Weight" is obviously a song you play on the return leg of the trip.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:19 AM on March 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


I think the confusion of so many people about the song, and the name in particular, gets to the relevance of the song in American culture and rock history. I've been hearing it since I was a kid, always on rotation on the radio I listened to, but not prominent. I knew it when it came on, but never held on to its name or cared for it much. It was about some girl named Fanny and it didn't offend my eardrums.

But learning that it was called "The Weight" changed my perception of it. That is a great name for a song. It's Homeric. It forces you to take the song seriously because you can tell it's going to be a cultural archetype. And yes, while "Dixie" is a more powerful song, the song that Levon Helm was put on this earth to sing, The Weight has resonated more broadly because it's a meta song and The Band is a meta band. It's exactly the right song for a band called The Band to play.

To me, the opening melody, first verse, and first chorus are the whole song. "He just grinned, shook my hand, 'No' was all he said" is America in 11 words.
posted by dry white toast at 7:21 AM on March 21, 2013 [34 favorites]


Despite being nonplussed by the article, I want to note that I love The Band and "The Weight" is a great song.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:21 AM on March 21, 2013


I had no idea what this song was (from the title of this article on MetaFilter), until I found it on Youtube, and went "Oh yeah, that song"..

Still have no idea what it's actually about, but I know most of the words.

I thought it was "take a load off, Andy", myself.
posted by MikeWarot at 7:23 AM on March 21, 2013


To me, the opening melody, first verse, and first chorus are the whole song. "He just grinned, shook my hand, 'No' was all he said" is America in 11 words.

It is a wonderful lyric, and that's a great way of describing it.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:26 AM on March 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


> My mind is boggled not so much by the people who've never heard the song before
> (though that is surprising) as by the people who feel the need to proclaim their
> indifference to it.

Most likely because the largest number of folks maintaining the song's popularity are heading for the exit about now.


> I think there's a real "wandering the earth alone" vibe to it.

Among the reasons for its popularity--the fundamental one imho--it became a boomer anthem. Because "wandering the earth alone" is the boomers' favorite mood, then and now. In 1969, when the boomers were twenty-something, Easy Rider was all about "The Man's out to get us, gotta move on now before they come to shoot us down." But The Weight still expressed exactly the right oh-the-trials-and-tribulations-I-suffer feeling when it was featured again in The Big Chill (1983). That one was all about "Something went wrong, Something's Missing in my life," when the twenty-somethings of 1969 would now be mid to late thirties and thinking about forty and the "wandering the earth alone" mood would be more cozily somber than ever, whether it bore any relation to reality or not. (One year after that, here's The Boys of Summer complaining about seeing a deadhead sticker on a Cadillac. Hey, we only look like executive VPs, we're still barefoot hippies on the inside, still just wandering the earth alone, no shit, really. We haven't become The Man, certainly not.)


> Why is this the song that 22 year-olds still put on when they start their first road trips across the country?

The "wandering the earth alone" conceit doesn't only appeal to boomers, of course. It's pretty timelessly appealing to near-adults of any generation. Not to mention perpetual near-adults. (The Weight was used yet again in Shari Springer Berman's 2006 documentary Wanderlust, about the cultural impact of on-the-road fantasies movies. But using that particular song in a retrospective like Wanderlust had a definite valedictory feel.)
posted by jfuller at 7:27 AM on March 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


I will admit to thinking Crazy Chester caught him in the bog for many years.

Up until today I thought Crazy Chester caught him in the bar. Clearly the fact that "bar" doesn't rhyme with "dog" didn't bother me.

And I always heard "Take a load off Fanny" as well, but the people before me were saying "Annie" and I just thought I'd been wrong about that and was too embarrassed to say anything.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:27 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Has the ubiquity of The Weight caused America's Obesity Epidemic?
posted by Kabanos at 7:27 AM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


And no, Jimi Hendrix doesn't say "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy", either.

Indeed the lyrics in the original recording are 'scuse me while I kiss the sky and in the woodstock movie you can see him literally kiss the sky after he sings that. But Jimi did like to mix it up and there's at least one piece of concert footage where he says the "kiss this guy" lyric while pointing at Noel Redding.

I've never been clear on whether it was Annie or Fannie. I just try to fudge it and sound ambiguous about it when I sing it.
posted by wabbittwax at 7:27 AM on March 21, 2013


Also, yes, mindboggling if you've never heard this. Not least because that also means you've never watched EASY RIDER.

Never did. What I know it from is The Big Chill, although it's been long enough since I've seen it that I can't remember if/when the song actually was in the movie or just on the soundtrack.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:30 AM on March 21, 2013


Please pheeze me!

I'll pheeze you, i'faith.

Relevant-ish Dinosaur Comic.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 7:32 AM on March 21, 2013


The best version, outside of The Band, is Gillian Welch and OCMS. I will brook no argument on this.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:32 AM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I just try to fudge it and sound ambiguous about it when I sing it.

You don't even have to try. Singing "of", followed by a vowel, is always going to sound very close to singling "of" followed by a word that begins with "f" and a vowel
posted by thelonius at 7:32 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


for me, if I was going to pick a Band song every one should know (and it isn't far off from this already) I'd go with "The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down".

I'd go with Ferdinand the Imposter, but I'm a sucker for Doukhobor references.

God, I love The Band.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:34 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's an anthem. It carries a lot of traditional musical soul and it acts like a beacon light for a vast array of musicians (and audience observers). People just want to get involved in it. I think its power really comes from the Helm and Danko voices: they are amazing. Chainsaw gravel.
posted by peacay at 7:34 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


How the hell did I end up with a mp3 file of the show that's 4 hours and 4 minutes long?
posted by mikelieman at 7:36 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, The Edge, Jimmy Page, and Jack White cumulatively occupy a significant chunk of my musical psyche, so I loved It Might Get Loud. But their cover of The Weight at the end of the movie is just brutal.
posted by dry white toast at 7:37 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


But Jimi did like to mix it up and there's at least one piece of concert footage where he says the "kiss this guy" lyric while pointing at Noel Redding

I don't think there is any way that you could ever tell from audio of someone singing the song at all naturally whether they are saying "the sky" or "this guy." They're essentially homophones when you're singing.

And, on topic, there are people who have never even heard "The Weight"? Oof. Man, we do all live in different universes some times, don't we? (I've never consciously heard a single Justin Bieber song, mind you--there's an interesting idea for a Venn diagram: people who have never heard either "The Weight" or anything by Justin Bieber).
posted by yoink at 7:41 AM on March 21, 2013


The thing I've never been able to figure out is how does being a "peaceful man" preclude one from feeding Crazy Chester's dog?
posted by wabbittwax at 7:41 AM on March 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


It's one of those Band songs that sounds a lot older than it actually is. So many of their songs sound like they're traditional songs that have been around for generations before The Band recorded them.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:44 AM on March 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


What I know it from is The Big Chill, although it's been long enough since I've seen it that I can't remember if/when the song actually was in the movie or just on the soundtrack.

It's in the scene/montage thing where everyone's gradually waking up and coming to the kitchen for breakfast and the actor guy's bought everyone a new pair of sneakers and left them on the kitchen table.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:45 AM on March 21, 2013


The thing I've never been able to figure out is how does being a "peaceful man" preclude one from feeding Crazy Chester's dog?

Either Chester is Paul with Jesus on the road to Nazareth and there are even deeper levels of insight, or some crazy neighbor when they ( the band members ) were growing up who actually babbled a lot of crazy shit. Pick whichever one you like best, I suppose. Maybe there's a metaphor right there.
posted by mikelieman at 7:46 AM on March 21, 2013


Jesus had a dog named Jack?
posted by wabbittwax at 7:49 AM on March 21, 2013


The kids I was around when I went back to college, and the younger law students I'm with now, I'm guessing it would have be more like 10% recognition and 2% identification.

This is true, probably, but is it a good way to gauge the cultural importance of the song? I don't know. I guess a similar percentage would have any idea where "I am large, I contain multitudes" comes from.

It's in the scene/montage thing where everyone's gradually waking up and coming to the kitchen for breakfast and the actor guy's bought everyone a new pair of sneakers and left them on the kitchen table.

I thought that was "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman."
posted by octobersurprise at 7:51 AM on March 21, 2013


He's not Sane Chester. Sane Chester would let a peaceful man feed his dog.
posted by Cookiebastard at 7:53 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Jesus had a dog named Jack?

Maybe not yet, but I bet Tom Waits could arrange it.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:53 AM on March 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


To derail for a moment, I am neither a baby boomer nor a hippie, but I am a cinephile and a filmmaker and I love Easy Rider. It is the ur text for a big chunk of DIY and indie film today, even if the filmmakers themselves don't always know it. Once, I had a friend pitch a movie she wanted to make to me, and it sounded cool and I said would help her, but I also said "You know it's basically Easy Rider, right?" She had never seen it, so we watched it together. She ended up abandoning her project because she said that Easy Rider did what she wanted to do much better than she could have done it.

Her movie would have used Vespas.
posted by vibrotronica at 7:53 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I thought that was "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman."

No, that's in the scene where a bunch of the couples are having sex and Glenn Close and Jeff Goldblum end up in the living room making awkward conversation.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:56 AM on March 21, 2013


Jesus had a dog named Jack?

He answered to, γρύλος , actually. Him an Rufus got the short end of the stick for sure.
posted by mikelieman at 7:56 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fuck this "American Standard" bs. The Band is overwhelmingly Canadian. 4/5s. You people can't keep taking credit for our amazing musicians and leaving us with Avril Lavigne and Bryan Adams. Tired of this shit.
posted by dobbs at 7:57 AM on March 21, 2013 [22 favorites]


Ohhh, *that* song. Okay, don't judge me because I'm from a different generation, but I totally thought, reading the article, that I just didn't know the real name for "Miss American Pie". I always just thought of this song as a Dad Radio song. You know, the XFM radio station your dad listens to in his Buick where there's a button on the dashboard that calls a lady so you can ask her for directions instead of figuring out how to get GPS on your Blackberry.

(Also, you think that guy said "The Weight" enough in the article? I think twice per sentence would have gotten the point across better than just once per sentence. But okay it's certainly compelling and I'll have to learn more about this particular cultural phenomenon of bygone eras.)
posted by Mooseli at 7:58 AM on March 21, 2013


You people can't keep taking credit for our amazing musicians and leaving us with Avril Lavigne and Bryan Adams. Tired of this shit.

They can keep Celine Dion though.
posted by wabbittwax at 8:00 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


No, that's in the scene where a bunch of the couples are having sex and Glenn Close and Jeff Goldblum end up in the living room making awkward conversation.

You're right. That scene would've been even more awkward with boxes of free sneakers.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:02 AM on March 21, 2013


Easy Rider is a movie that has aged about as well as the average baby boomer though.

It's good, but not THAT good!
posted by HuronBob at 2:38 PM on March 21 [5 favorites +] [!]
Aw, man. How are we Gen-X types supposed to express our impotent rage and resentment if we can't take cheap potshots at Boomers on the internet? :(
posted by Sonny Jim at 8:02 AM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


To derail for a moment, I am neither a baby boomer nor a hippie, but I am a cinephile and a filmmaker and I love Easy Rider.

Nor am I, and I love Easy Rider simply for the scene near the end where Captain America says, "We blew it, Billy." Yes, your generation certainly did. Very prescient of Fonda, Hopper, and Southern to realize this as early as 1969.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:03 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


You people can't keep taking credit for our amazing musicians and leaving us with Avril Lavigne and Bryan Adams. Tired of this shit.

What's the acronym I'm supposed to type for Read The Fucking Article?
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:04 AM on March 21, 2013


I looooove The Band.

There is a bluegrass cover band where I live that plays at a local bar every Saturday night, doing classic rock and Americana. A few weekends ago, they did a cover of "The Weight" that was much too upbeat and "poppy" sounding, which really disturbed me.

They closed the set with Neil Young's "Southern Man" (!!) I guess imagery of racist terrorism is a good way to clear the place out at closing time.
posted by dhens at 8:05 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Recently, while watching the Love for Levon benefit concert I somehow found this opus examination of The Weight.
posted by maggieb at 8:06 AM on March 21, 2013


Pretty sure my only exposure to this song was in a bank commercial directed at retiring boomers; which either says a lot about me, bank commercials or retiring boomers.
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:06 AM on March 21, 2013


I love Easy Rider simply for the line "You ever want to be somebody else?" "I'd like to try Porky Pig."
posted by octobersurprise at 8:09 AM on March 21, 2013


I always just thought of this song as a Dad Radio song.

This is a Grandad song. Dad Rock is, oh, Minor Threat or Joy Division.
posted by thelonius at 8:09 AM on March 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


This is true, probably, but is it a good way to gauge the cultural importance of the song? I don't know. I guess a similar percentage would have any idea where "I am large, I contain multitudes" comes from.

Maybe not the importance. Perhaps I should have said prominence, or universality, which is really what the article was claiming. Especially in the "22 year old starting a road trip" bit.

They closed the set with Neil Young's "Southern Man" (!!) I guess imagery of racist terrorism is a good way to clear the place out at closing time.

People often like this song and even perform this song without getting the point. Like people who think "Born in the USA" is a patriotic anthem. Including the frat bro chuckleheads who wanted to keep yelling WOOO BRUCE USA when I last saw Springsteen, and he played it as a subdued and mournful lamentation...although it's a bit harder to miss the point of "Southern Man," I guess.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:10 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dad Rock is, oh, Minor Threat or Joy Division.

Oh, man. How long before Dad Rock includes Pearl Jam and Nirvana?
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:16 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Band holds such a special place in my heart that when asked what my favorite musician is I kind of keep it secret because THIS is important to me in a strange special way. It is a weird thing. I wore those records out as a teenager, had them on cassette for the car and were the first cds I purchased. I've always felt bad at the estrangement of Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson and I hope they both made good in that visit in the last days. And losing Richard Emmanuel and Rick Danko was hard.

This post is relevant to my interests.
posted by readery at 8:21 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


snuffleupagus said: Oh, man. How long before Dad Rock includes Pearl Jam and Nirvana?

I dunno man, but I saw Nirvana when they played a club with less than 100 people in it; and I've stage dived from a Pearl Jam, Motherlovebone stage...and I'm the mom of a 10 year old, and am 10 years older than most of the parents of his peers...

So, I'm gonna have to say Grunge is the new MomJeans.
posted by dejah420 at 8:26 AM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Fine. Let's embrace it. Where is the Eddie Vedder lullaby album?

/baritone

I SEEM TO RECOGNIZE YOUR PILLOW
PUT YOUR FACE ON IT BECAUSE I'M TIRED
THOUGHTS AND KIDS THEY SLEEP
SLEEP RIGHT NOW....
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:28 AM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I maintain that the version of this song in The Last Waltz is probably the best shot and choreographed scene in any concert film. I love the restless camera, constantly roaming around the stage, revealing each singer in turn. The best example of this is the moment when it reveals Mavis Staples just before she starts the second verse. Other highlights include the camera slowly turning around Pops right before his verse and the way that the spotlight hits Rick Danko just before his. Finally, that great crane shot near the end ties everything together. The whole thing is just brilliant.
posted by Awkward Philip at 8:30 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Most concert films weren't directed by Scorcese.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:31 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mind blown at the number of people in this post who haven't heard "The Weight" before...

I think a lot of people are like me - we've heard the song many, many times, but it's something we've never really thought about. Hearing the title, the first song that came into my mind was "The Way", but the minute I read "Take a Load off, Annie..." I could hear the chorus in my mind.

I'm a pretty good measure of ubiquitousness, since I've lived in almost popular-music free box since about 1997, and I never paid much attention to who sang what before that.
posted by jb at 8:35 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have never understood that song...it seems to be about a man, on some type of Biblical quest, in search of a restroom...
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 8:36 AM on March 21, 2013


Because it's a truth-telling masterpiece?
Really? I like the song well enough, and I could even see the opinion that it's a masterpiece. But what truth does it tell?

Much of the lyrics don't even seem to make much sense to me, and for those that do, well, maybe I'm just not seeing the deep meaning that's there. I've really been thinking about this since I saw it called a "truth-telling masterpiece" earlier this morning, and I feel that I'm no closer to understanding what truth it is telling. Could you explain it to me?
I pulled into Nazareth
OK, so my first thought is, if there's a deeper meaning, maybe he's Jesus. Is he Jesus?
was feelin' about half past dead
I just need some place where I can lay my head
"Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?"
He just grinned and shook my hand, "no" was all he said
Who did this to Jesus? Wait, maybe this "mister" is Jesus? And the singer is saying that he can't find respite even in the words of Jesus?

OK, forget about the Jesus angle. Maybe the deep meaning is just that he can't find respite, period. He's got troubles, and nothing will solve them, not even this friendly guy who wishes him well. Or something.
Take a load off, Annie
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Annie
And (and) (and) you put the load right on me
(You put the load right on me)
Who is Annie? What does it mean to take a load "for free"? But whatever - telling her to take a load off of herself and put it on him, yeah, maybe he's Jesus. It would fit with the common Christian "Jesus died for your sins" thing.
I picked up my bag, I went lookin' for a place to hide
When I saw Carmen and the Devil walkin' side by side
OK, more religious imagery. Maybe he is Jesus. Who's Carmen?
I said, "Hey, Carmen, come on let's go downtown"
She said, "I gotta go but my friend can stick around"
This doesn't sound like any Jesus story I can remember. I mean, Jesus and the Devil hung out in the desert and all, but I don't remember Jesus running into the Devil and somebody else, then getting stood up and left with the Devil.

So again, maybe forget about the whole Jesus thing for the moment. Maybe he's just hyperbolically describing some crappy thing where something that could have been cool went bad. Or something. Not quite sure exactly how that fits in with not being able to find respite, or offering to bear someone else's burden. Maybe in a vague "Things are crap" sense.
Go down, Miss Moses, there's nothin' you can say
It's just ol' Luke and Luke's waitin' on the Judgment Day
"Well, Luke, my friend, what about young Anna Lee?"
He said, "Do me a favor, son, won'tcha stay and keep Anna Lee company?"
Who's Miss Moses? Who's Luke? Who's Anna Lee? Why can't Miss Moses say anything? What does it mean for her to "go down"? What does Luke waiting for Judgment Day have to do with Miss Moses being unable to say anything, or with why she should go down? And yeah, what about young Anna Lee? What's the concern there? Why is the answer to stay and keep her company?

More religious imagery, of course - Moses, Luke, Judgment Day. But... what?

And again, how does it fit in with any of the rest? With not being able to find respite or bearing another's burden or winding up in a crappy situation? Maybe Anna Lee is unpleasant company?
Crazy Chester followed me and he caught me in the fog
He said, "I will fix your rack if you'll take Jack, my dog"
I said, "Wait a minute, Chester, you know I'm a peaceful man"
He said, "That's okay, boy, won't you feed him when you can"
Crazy Chester... don't remember him from the Gospels. What's this "rack", and why is Crazy Chester offering to fix it? Jack his dog? What? Why is Crazy Chester offering to fix whatever this rack is in exchange for the singer taking Crazy Chester's dog?

And now wait a minute, singer, what does you being a peaceful man have anything to do with... anything? Did Crazy Chester ask you to kill Jack? Is that what "take" meant?

But no, that's not what "take" meant. Crazy Chester just wants you to feed Jack and take care of him. So... what? What does this have to do with the rest? Maybe Jack the Dog and Anna Lee are both unpleasant? Maybe Jack is a great burden and the singer is relieving Crazy Chester of that burden?
Catch a cannon ball now to take me down the line
My bag is sinkin' low and I do believe it's time
To get back to Miss Fanny, you know she's the only one
Who sent me here with her regards for everyone
OK, maybe Miss Fanny is God the Father? Or something? What?

What?

... what?
posted by Flunkie at 8:37 AM on March 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


snuffleupagus said: Oh, man. How long before Dad Rock includes Pearl Jam and Nirvana?
Yeah, it well and truly is already. Sorry. But now we're moving into the phase where drum'n'bass, what we derisively refer to Down-under as "barbecue reggae," and DJ culture are the new dad rock. A friend of mine came up with the genius idea a few years ago of the combined turntable and mixing desk gas barbecue. Dad could do a bit of scratching, turn the sausages, then lay down a few more beats all from the comfort of his backyard. If he'd gone through with that idea he'd have made a bloody fortune.
posted by Sonny Jim at 8:38 AM on March 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


I clearly remember the release of "Nevermind"; I almost bought it, knowing nothing of the band, just because of the striking cover. I'm 46 - a couple of months older than Cobain would have been, had he lived.
posted by thelonius at 8:42 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Flunkie, you're looking for specificity, but it's more the overall theme than the individual references. Robertson has noted that it's meant to be surreal -- he's quoted at length on it over at allmusic, which I linked to a ways up.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:44 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Unless he's referring to Anna Lee. But only in one of the choruses and not the others."

Which gives even more credence to "Fanny", not Annie, as Anna Lee is one of the weights he's asked to carry, not someone relieving his burden.
posted by sutt at 8:44 AM on March 21, 2013


I'm in my early 30s, and when I embarked on my first cross country road trip at 22, I most decidedly did not have this song playing. Today's the first I've ever heard it!
posted by averageamateur at 8:45 AM on March 21, 2013


Oh, man. How long before Dad Rock includes Pearl Jam and Nirvana?

Judging by how many of my kids' friends who are already parents, we're already past that and well into the realm of Dad Rock = Skrillex.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:45 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I like this article on The Weight - actually, I like that whole site and was meaning to incorporate it into an FPP on The Band, but I am lazy, and what the hay.

"I just wrote it. It’s just one of those things. I thought of a couple of words that led to a couple more, and the next thing I knew I wrote the song... The song was full of our favorite characters. ‘Luke’ was Jimmy Ray Paulman (of The Hawks). ‘Young Anna Lee’ was Anna Lee Williams from Turkey Scratch. ‘Crazy Chester’ was a guy we all knew from Fayetteville who came into town on Saturdays wearing a full set of cap guns on his hips... each character in a song could be a combination of more than one person... "
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:46 AM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is one of those songs that is easy to cover wrong and almost impossible to cover right.

Sorry, I have to disagree on that point. The song is dead easy to play. That's why so many bands (mine included) pull it out of their ass when it's requested. It was one of the first songs I learned to play all the way through and I felt like a rock star because of it. Even the harmonies, when done with two or three moderately skilled singers could be done while asleep. Maybe therein lies some of it's appeal.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:51 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hate the idea that song lyrics like these are puzzles to decode, revealing the song's "meaning". Try a little negative capability, folks!
posted by thelonius at 8:57 AM on March 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


So, I'm gonna have to say Grunge is the new MomJeans

AcidWashedMomJeans?
PreDistressedMomJeans?
Thermals&MomShorts?

I guess "Your mother wears combat boots" probably isn't the stinging insult it once was?
posted by entropicamericana at 9:00 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is a Grandad song. Dad Rock is, oh, Minor Threat or Joy Division.

Sure, if you're a dad now, but if you're me, this is a Dad Song from your actual father's era. Unless you're an exceptionally young teen posting here, then Minor Threat and Joy Division is Dad Rock.
posted by Kitteh at 9:00 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Either Chester is Paul with Jesus on the road to Nazareth and there are even deeper levels of insight, or some crazy neighbor when they ( the band members ) were growing up who actually babbled a lot of crazy shit. Pick whichever one you like best, I suppose. Maybe there's a metaphor right there.

Levon said in his book that a lot of the characters, including Crazy Chester, were people they knew in Woodstock, NY. Really good book, btw.

I never thought I'd have a favorite band but a few years ago, I discovered The Band. I got obsessed and they were just about all I listened to for months. The obsession then went like a ripple effect throughout all my friends, each one discovering and falling in love with Big Pink, The 'Brown Album', Rock of Ages and of course, the Last Waltz. I know their music (even after Stage Fright when it starts to get pretty spotty) by heart and so I don't find myself putting them on a bunch anymore but at least once a year, I'll see something like this post and that feeling will creep back. I'll remember the pure joy in Dankos' voice, Richard's tragically under-appreciated soulful tenor, Levon laid back feel and fantastic voice, Robbie's masterful writing and Garth's virtuosity and I'll remember why I am so quick to call them my favorite band.
posted by saul wright at 9:04 AM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is one of those songs that is easy to cover wrong

snob.

There's no such thing as singing a cover wrong.

That would be like having sex wrong.

Power to the people.
posted by surplus at 9:08 AM on March 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


There's something organic about the recording, too. It's like you can smell the hay & sawdust in a barn somewhere when you listen to it. It's wood and skins and guts.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:09 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's no such thing as singing a cover wrong.

I beg to differ
posted by entropicamericana at 9:11 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I have to disagree on that point. The song is dead easy to play. That's why so many bands (mine included) pull it out of their ass when it's requested. It was one of the first songs I learned to play all the way through and I felt like a rock star because of it. Even the harmonies, when done with two or three moderately skilled singers could be done while asleep. Maybe therein lies some of it's appeal.


If you find the harmonies easy then you're getting the timing wrong, I guarantee it. Everybody does. The tune and chords are simple. The timing of 'and... you put the load right on me' is bizarre. Go listen to it now and try to count it.
posted by unSane at 9:13 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


The documentary series Classic Albums did an episode on The Band's self-titled album (aka The Brown Album). I highly recommend it.
posted by rocket88 at 9:14 AM on March 21, 2013


surplus: " There's no such thing as singing a cover wrong."

Oh yeah?
posted by zarq at 9:15 AM on March 21, 2013


And now compare to Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy singing it. They do it they way everyone else does, and I bet you do it, which is not how the Band do it.
posted by unSane at 9:15 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


"The documentary series Classic Albums did an episode on The Band's self-titled album"

I think it's on YouTube and/or Netflix.
posted by sutt at 9:16 AM on March 21, 2013


When I say 'wrong' I just mean 'not in the same timing as The Band's version'. I mean technically - it's not an artistic judgement.

I only know this because once I was in a band which tried to cover the Band's version note for note* and we almost killed ourselves over the timing of that part. It's super easy to sing along with the record, but then go and try singing it on your own, and compare what you do to what they do, and it's totally different. There's an extra three beats in there, is what it is, so you count 7 on the last bar of the chorus instead of four.

*Dont ask why -- sheer nerdery.
posted by unSane at 9:20 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes it is.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:20 AM on March 21, 2013


Fuck this "American Standard" bs. The Band is overwhelmingly Canadian. 4/5s. You people can't keep taking credit for our amazing musicians and leaving us with Avril Lavigne and Bryan Adams. Tired of this shit.

Hey, we Americans are a generous folk. We'll also let you keep Justin Bieber and Celine Dion.
posted by kmz at 9:22 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here are Donny and Marie Osmond covering Reelin' in the Years. Power to the people.
posted by Cookiebastard at 9:23 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's no such thing as singing a cover wrong

I'm inclined to agree, but then there's this horror.
posted by jquinby at 9:24 AM on March 21, 2013


The best covers, IMO, are ones that don't just slavishly recreate the original, but rework it.

The song I usually use to explain myself here is People Are Strange, by the Doors. Echo and the Bunnymen did a cover that was conventional and boring- it's basically the original sung by a different guy. The Nosferatu cover, however, goes in a totally novel direction and actually has a good reason to exist.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:24 AM on March 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


There's no such thing as singing a cover wrong.

I beg to differ
posted by entropicamericana at 12:11 PM on March 21 [1 favorite +] [!]


Ok you shoulda put a warning on that
posted by sweetkid at 9:25 AM on March 21, 2013


Fuck this "American Standard" bs.

Wait...don't Canadians usually get all pissed off when USians forget that Canada (like Mexico!) is also "American"?
posted by yoink at 9:27 AM on March 21, 2013


There's no such thing as singing a cover wrong.

Elsewhere I proclaimed that this album contained the single worst Fleetwood Mac cover I'd ever heard. Others agreed. Opinons vary, I'll give you that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:28 AM on March 21, 2013


Oh, and Bono's cover of "Hallelujiah" is so bad that even Bono says it sucked.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:30 AM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Much of the lyrics don't even seem to make much sense to me, and for those that do, well, maybe I'm just not seeing the deep meaning that's there.

Man, no one tell this guy about Bob Dylan.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 9:30 AM on March 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


Oh, and Bono's cover of "Hallelujiah" is so bad that even Bono says it sucked.
oh god i had actually finally forgotten that that existed
posted by Flunkie at 9:32 AM on March 21, 2013


There's no such thing as singing a cover wrong.

I beg to differ


Interesting to think that when "Smells Like Teen Spirit" came out in 91, "The Weight" was 23 years old. And now "Smells like Teen Spirit" is 22 years old. If you were a 20 yr old when "Smells like Teen Spirit" came out you could be a grandparent today. It's sort of sweet for Miley Cyrus to be performing grandpa rock...a tribute to days gone by.
posted by yoink at 9:33 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


The thing I've never been able to figure out is how does being a "peaceful man" preclude one from feeding Crazy Chester's dog?

I always figured it was a hunting dog, or a fighting dog, or something like that. Of course, you can still feed a dog like that. Yeah, so I don't know either.
posted by box at 9:35 AM on March 21, 2013


You guys really owe it to yourselves to hear New Zealand band Headless Chickens systematically slaughtering Abba's Super Trouper. Video features bonus RNZAF Hercules, for those who like that kind of thing.
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:36 AM on March 21, 2013


Wait...don't Canadians usually get all pissed off when USians forget that Canada (like Mexico!) is also "American"?

No. We're the ones who punch you in the face when you call us that.

(The Band were from Toronto. The end.)
posted by Sys Rq at 9:41 AM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


If you were a 20 yr old when "Smells like Teen Spirit" came out you could be a grandparent today. It's sort of sweet for Miley Cyrus to be performing grandpa rock...a tribute to days gone by.

I hate you.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:44 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's no such thing as singing a cover wrong.

You gotta make it your own. Even if you hear it the way Donny and Marie do.
posted by surplus at 9:45 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The thing I've never been able to figure out is how does being a "peaceful man" preclude one from feeding Crazy Chester's dog?

I took it as the narrator trying to get out from under the responsibility of taking care of the dog at all. "I'm a peaceful man, I don't cause trouble, I don't want trouble..."
posted by sutt at 9:45 AM on March 21, 2013


Interesting to think that when "Smells Like Teen Spirit" came out in 91, "The Weight" was 23 years old. And now "Smells like Teen Spirit" is 22 years old. If you were a 20 yr old when "Smells like Teen Spirit" came out you could be a grandparent today.

I was in grad school last year and commented on Facebook that Kurt Cobain is basically the Elvis of the current college generation -- recognized as hugely influential, making a comeback from his post-mortem punchlinehood (thanks largely to family excesses), but they don't even remember when he was alive. The reaction of my FB friends was almost unanimously something like, "No, that's not... oh, fuck."
posted by Etrigan at 9:45 AM on March 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


No. We're the ones who punch you in the face when you call us that.

But at least you're polite about it. Besides, everybody knows "Canada" is just a fiction yanks make up whenever they're abroad and their government has pissed everybody else off again.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:46 AM on March 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Crazy Chester's not taking no for an answer, despite protestations, either.

People are like this -- we all have that friend, like the girl who asked us to keep her cat for the weekend while she was out of town, & when we said "Hey, could you take your cat back now?" after 3 months, she just laughed.

That's the thing about the lyrics -- they're not specific literary allusions -- just little vignettes that we can all relate to because we've been there, or somewhere like it.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:51 AM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


making a comeback from his post-mortem punchlinehood (thanks largely to family excesses),

When was Kurt Cobain a punchline?

Also, I remember Kurt quite well, but Elvis died before I was born, can that make me feel less old?
posted by sweetkid at 9:54 AM on March 21, 2013


Her movie would have used Vespas.
posted by vibrotronica at 7:53 AM


Ha. Quadrophenia.
posted by surplus at 9:57 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you were a 20 yr old when "Smells like Teen Spirit" came out you could be a grandparent today.

For the past week I've been haunted by the knowledge that as many years have passed since the Smashing Pumpkins song 1979 was released as there were between 1979 and the year it came out.

There has to be a more elegant way to articulate that, but it eludes me. Possibly because I am old, and grim death has become my shadow.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:00 AM on March 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


don't supposed to be over-thinking this stuff.

(don't wanna be bogarting that doob, either)

ah. Those were the days.
posted by mule98J at 10:03 AM on March 21, 2013


For the past week I've been haunted by the knowledge that as many years have passed since the Smashing Pumpkins song 1979 was released as there were between 1979 and the year it came out.

It's two years worse than that, actually. And, yeah.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:03 AM on March 21, 2013


From LOVE ME DO to ANARCHY IN THE UK.

Fourteen years.

Yeah.
posted by unSane at 10:13 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Stop it, just stop it!

*Turns Acadian Driftwood up to drown out the terror*
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:15 AM on March 21, 2013


it sounds like they're saying something but you can never figure out exactly what.

So very John Ashbery.
posted by dersins at 10:18 AM on March 21, 2013


For the past week I've been haunted by the knowledge that as many years have passed since the Smashing Pumpkins song 1979 was released as there were between 1979 and the year it came out.


Whatever you do, don't Google "Ralph Macchio".
posted by TedW at 10:20 AM on March 21, 2013


My first cross country trip was in 1991 when I was 22. I was a Coastie headed to Petaluma for ET 'A' school, and for some long forgotten reason only had 3 cassettes in the truck. Time has erased the other two, the 3rd one, the one that's etched on my brain forever is what my teenage kids now would call Dad music: TMBG's Flood.
posted by ElGuapo at 10:20 AM on March 21, 2013


From LOVE ME DO to ANARCHY IN THE UK.

Fourteen years.


I can do better.

From Buddy Holly's death to Black Sabbath forming: 10 years.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 10:28 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ah crap. Okay at first it was just about The Band, now I'm clicking on Guns & Roses.

I'll never learn.

Knock Knock Knocking.....go slash
posted by mule98J at 10:33 AM on March 21, 2013


I'm on the younger cusp of Gen X (born in 80,) and I really don't understand all the "Boomer" blaming, and "Dad Rock" stuff. Firstly, these artificial groupings don't mean much, I know plenty of checked out, self centered, equally loathsome and shallow people in their teens, twenties, thirties, and forties, and hell, even if you want to stick to these artificial divisions, I think Gen Xers have done as much to shit the bed culturally and let things fall apart as the "Boomers" have. Meanwhile, "Dad Rock" or classic rock, or what have you, is really, musically, some excellent shit, and exhibits on the whole, what I would consider to be a much higher level of musicianship than much of what gets made today.
posted by stenseng at 10:38 AM on March 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Also, I fucking LOVE The Band.
posted by stenseng at 10:39 AM on March 21, 2013


Oh, and Bono's cover of "Hallelujiah" is so bad that even Bono says it sucked.

On the other hand, I'd argue that U2's version of Night and Day is a perfect example of a re-interpretive cover.
posted by kmz at 10:39 AM on March 21, 2013


On the other hand, I'd argue that U2's version of Night and Day is a perfect example of a re-interpretive cover.

And on the same album, David Byrne's Don't Fence Me In.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:43 AM on March 21, 2013


Because it sounds like a story from the Bible. Its a gospel song, really, just not the words$
posted by Ironmouth at 10:49 AM on March 21, 2013


Oh, man. How long before Dad Rock includes Pearl Jam and Nirvana?

Brace yourself. We're not at the point where grunge is classic rock. We're way past there - classic rock now encompasses Queens Of The Stone Age and Nickelback.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:00 AM on March 21, 2013


The song I usually use to explain myself here is People Are Strange, by the Doors. Echo and the Bunnymen did a cover that was conventional and boring- it's basically the original sung by a different guy. The Nosferatu cover, however, goes in a totally novel direction and actually has a good reason to exist.

Though I disagree that covering a song just like the original is boring (if the song is good or you like and it's performed well by someone else then it's great to me, but for rearranging a song I'd go with Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb as covered by the Scissor Sisters. Of course there's Warren Zevon's Ain't that Pretty at All redone by the Pixies. Then you have Neil's Young's
posted by juiceCake at 11:03 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think Devo's Satisfaction is an excellent example of the rearranged cover as new experience...
posted by stenseng at 11:08 AM on March 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


Devo's Satisfaction is just about the greatest cover version of any song ever. I giggle uncontrollably at the "babybabybabybabybabybabybabybabybabybabybabybabybabybabybabybabybabybabybaby" part still to this day.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:15 AM on March 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


Oh, man. How long before Dad Rock includes Pearl Jam and Nirvana?

Given that Frances Bean Cobain is currently 20, I'd say about negative two years.
posted by fings at 11:15 AM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Combining two varieties of dad rock with weird/great cover versions... Aztec Camera's cover of Jump, recorded six months after the original, complete with Roddy Frame's awesomely terrible guitar solo.
posted by unSane at 11:18 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Personally, I am sick to death of this song,

Your favorite The Band sucks.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:20 AM on March 21 [+] [!]


Let the record show I literally laughed out loud at this.
posted by ersatzkat at 11:24 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


No. We're the ones who punch you in the face when you call us that.

Oh, in my experience (and I lived in Canada for seven years) Canadians have things pretty well set up so they can be pissed off at Americans no matter what they say.
posted by yoink at 11:25 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


tl;dr -- all these questions -- shouldn't this be on the green?

Anyway, hate to interrupt the love-fest but IMO "The Weight" is a tiresome, dull song, had no place in "Easy Rider" and was certainly NOT music I played at 22 during my first road trip across the country.

That track was maybe Bruce's "Born To Run" or "Kashmir" by Led Zeppelin, and were I to choose a road-appropriate song by The Band now it would be "Look Out Cleveland."
posted by Rash at 11:28 AM on March 21, 2013


If you find the harmonies easy then you're getting the timing wrong, I guarantee it. Everybody does. The tune and chords are simple. The timing of 'and... you put the load right on me' is bizarre. Go listen to it now and try to count it.

Huh, I was skeptical, and it took me a number of listens and snapping along before I heard it, but it's true. The "ands" (or maybe only the last two "ands"?!) are very, very slightly behind the beat. And then of course the "put the load..." part is all kinds of asynchronous, but that's not hard to hear.
posted by threeants at 11:32 AM on March 21, 2013


I definitely agree that, somehow, the absence of this barely perceptible rhythmic play that I couldn't even identify until now sucks the life out of the chorus in most covers of The Weight I've heard.
posted by threeants at 11:40 AM on March 21, 2013


That's one thing about some classic rock. It appears simple but then they do something to throw the timing off. A friend of mine fronts a hard rock cover band and he says that every drummer in creation blows it covering Bonham. Bonzo did this Motown just-a-hair-behind-the-beat to give it that slink and most drummers will try to just nail the beat dead on rather than even try to duplicate the real thing.
posted by Ber at 11:47 AM on March 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


> "OK, maybe Miss Fanny is God the Father? Or something? What?"

Flunkie, I think the problem is that you are, quite understandably, trying to put a Gospel spin on the lyrics, but that interpretation doesn't fit -- because the song is very clearly actually about the late 19th century American political scene.

For example, viewed in that light "Chester" is obviously Chester Alan Arthur, and he will "fix your rack" (advocate for the the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883) if you "take Jack, my dog" (agree to appropriate funds for the construction of three steel-protected cruisers and an armed dispatch-steamer -- note that the contract to build the ships was awarded to John "Jack" Roach & Sons of Chester, Pennsylvania.) The "singer" of this verse is clearly the U.S. Congress.

And indeed, the 48th Congress was a "peaceful man" and refused to appropriate funds for seven further steel warships, but nonetheless the Navy was greatly expanded under the Arthur administration (hence, "That's OK, boy, won't you feed him when you can".)

See, it all makes perfect sense, really.
posted by kyrademon at 11:48 AM on March 21, 2013 [24 favorites]


I should add that while I do love The Band, their "historical" songs stick in my craw.

First, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" has a kind of "lost cause" romaniticized vision of the Confederacy which I cannot abide.

Second, "Acadian Driftwood" has a glaring (to me) historical inaccuracy:

Try'n' to raise a family
End up the enemy
Over what went down on the Plains of Abraham


The Expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia took place in 1755, while the Battle of the Plains of Abraham took place in 1759. The battle only directly affected Québec, as Acadia had conquered by the British in 1710, and the Acadians, who had been allowed to keep their land, were expelled near the beginning of the Seven Years' War/French-and-Indian War because the Brits thought they would be pro-French. This doesn't make the expulsion any less awful, but I'm a stickler for details.
posted by dhens at 11:48 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Next you're gonna tell me there is still cane on the Brazos.

Then you have Neil's Young's

Don't leave me hanging like that!
posted by yerfatma at 11:49 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's one thing about some classic rock. It appears simple but then they do something to throw the timing off.

People don't even play "Smoke On The Water" right.
posted by thelonius at 11:54 AM on March 21, 2013


A friend of mine fronts a hard rock cover band and he says that every drummer in creation blows it covering Bonham.

I've had this exact thought. I'm not much of a Zeppelin fan anyway, but I'm 100% certain I've never heard them covered well and it is almost always because the drummer has absolutely no clue how to skip the same beats that Bonham would skip. Bonham's drumming was awesome because of the empty space he could leave.
posted by ndfine at 12:02 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


You people can't keep taking credit for our amazing musicians and leaving us with Avril Lavigne and Bryan Adams. Tired of this shit.

They can keep Celine Dion though.


We kept Anvil, so there's that.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 12:06 PM on March 21, 2013


If you find the harmonies easy then you're getting the timing wrong, I guarantee it. Everybody does. The tune and chords are simple. The timing of 'and... you put the load right on me' is bizarre. Go listen to it now and try to count it.

I think this is apples and oranges (I typed orangutans - Thank you edit window!). I don't know many musicians who try to cover a song exactly as it was recorded. Mostly because, unless the playing and singing are dead on, it's going to always fall short of the original. Same for any cover.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:13 PM on March 21, 2013


I think Devo's Satisfaction yt is an excellent example of the rearranged cover as new experience...

In fact, even when I try to hum the Stones version, I inevitably veer straight into the DEVO version.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:17 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Bonham's drumming was awesome because of the empty space he could leave.

Bonhan, like many of his contemporaries of that era, played the drums as an instrument. Drummers of the past 30 years or so have been, largely, rhythm machines.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:21 PM on March 21, 2013


Bonham has almost a jazz or soul feel in his time, but it's with a very very heavy backbeat. It's like he feels across the bar lines less rigidly than most rock drummers, I don't know. I bet it's extremely hard to cop physically, too, getting that floaty feel while hitting everything so hard.

A couple of people were saying TFA overstates the importance of "The Weight". I think it's actually best seen as speaking to the No Depression audience, hard-core alt country and Americana fans, and it's reasonable for the writer to assume that most of them are looking at the same world he is.
posted by thelonius at 12:25 PM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


There is a lot to love about "The Weight," but the thing that does it for me is the timing if the first "aaaaaaand" in the chorus. Yes, as other have pointed out, the three part harmony is a great hoo, but how does he always manage to start singing it at a moment I can't match even though I have listened to the song uku millions timmes? I am always early or late. I feel like the timing of that note is my own personal seige perilous and as soon as I get it right, I'll both get some sort of spiritual enlightenment and get destroyed by the wrath of rock heaven.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:29 PM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is sorta embarrassing I guess, not sure why I'm posting it, but- I always heard the lyric as "if you'll just kick Jack my dog." Because it makes the next line make a lot more sense, right? Although why you'd have to ask someone else to kick your dog, well, don't ask me, ask my brain. Apparently I'm the only one in the google-able world who thought that.

Note to self- searches that include the phrase "Jack my dog" are probably best avoided in the future.
posted by hap_hazard at 12:30 PM on March 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


The Nazareth in "The Weight" is Nazareth, PA, home of guitar manufacturers C. F. Martin & Company [cite].
And the band Nazareth is named after the lyric.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:54 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here is an explanation, with notation of what is actually going on in the chorus of The Weight. The song is in 4/4 but the final measure of the chorus is 3/4. So if you count it, from 'and', you get to 7, not 8, before you go into the next section.
posted by unSane at 1:12 PM on March 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


"For those new to The Band, one of their earlier jobs was backing up Bob Dylan"

No, one of Bob Dylan's jobs was singing for the Band.
posted by docgonzo at 1:38 PM on March 21, 2013 [18 favorites]


I like the cut of your jib, docgonzo.
posted by stenseng at 1:49 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know many musicians who try to cover a song exactly as it was recorded.

I don't think anyone is arguing that. The argument was more, "If you are covering the song faithfully and find the harmonies easy to get right, you're missing something. Or brilliant."
posted by yerfatma at 1:52 PM on March 21, 2013


"The Weight" is one of those songs that, for no reason I can explain, makes me a little choked up and teary. I find it really annoying, even though I like the song and have generally pleasant memories associated with it. I almost feel like it's cheating somehow, reminding me of something I haven't actually experienced. So this was kind of a difficult thread to read. Though the awful Osmonds cover of "Reeling in the Years" provided temporary relief of a sort--suddenly my tears were of horrified OHGODWHY? laughter.
posted by rhiannonstone at 2:02 PM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


When I started a cross-country road trip in my twenties, the inaugural track was Autobahn.

I've heard "The Weight" now that I google it up, but it's never made any real impression on me at all. It's just… something you hear snatches of in movies set in the sixties.
posted by egypturnash at 2:42 PM on March 21, 2013


Brian Fallon from Gaslight Anthem covers The Weight, because of course he does. I listen to mostly classic rock and Americana, despite being born post-Nirvana, and The Weight is one of those songs that I don't think about when I'm not listening to but when I do hear it I realize how amazing it is. And hell if it hasn't made you tear up yet here's Jason Isbell's song about The Band, which will make you cry.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:44 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't like all the 'this is old people/Dad Rock' talk, like that's a bad thing. When I was a kid it was cool to be into older music, and I still consider grunge to be 'new' even though I was born after it. With all the neo-folk bands tearing up the charts I imagine Mumford & The Fleet Foxes have covered this a few times.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:50 PM on March 21, 2013


I don't think anyone is arguing that. The argument was more, "If you are covering the song faithfully and find the harmonies easy to get right, you're missing something. Or brilliant."

Well yes, one person was making that point. Also, in terms of covering songs, I don't believe "The Weight" or any other classic for that matter, should be imbued with some cosmic unreachable goal in terms of reproducing it. Competent musicians have been doing it for as long as that song has been around. I don't think they're "missing" anything. They're just bringing their own spin to it.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 2:59 PM on March 21, 2013


My dad likes, like, The Platters and Johnny Mathis and shit.
posted by box at 3:14 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


My Dad likes Archer.
posted by juiceCake at 3:20 PM on March 21, 2013


Also, in terms of covering songs, I don't believe "The Weight" or any other classic for that matter, should be imbued with some cosmic unreachable goal in terms of reproducing it.

Eh, no, I don't think counting three beats instead of four is exactly a cosmic unreachable goal, and since it's the freakin' hook of the song, some people consider it significant.

The way most people play it isn't because of a conscious artistic choice, it's because they either (a) didn't notice that's how the chorus goes, or (b) did and couldn't, or could be bothered to play it that way (no shame, it's really freakin' hard to get it just right, and Mavis Fucking Staples didn't either).

However when you point it out there's a bunch of defensive handwaving about artistic choices which would be much more convincing if they weren't covering the rest of the song exactly like the Band as opposed to, say, a dubstep version.

I've even seen a Band tribute band miss it.
posted by unSane at 3:36 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think this is apples and oranges (I typed orangutans - Thank you edit window!)

You know, I have always wondered what is wrong with comparing apples to oranges. They are both fruit which grows on trees. You eat them. They cost in the same range.

From now on, I am going to say "you're comparing apples to orangutans".
posted by thelonius at 3:46 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've heard "The Weight" now that I google it up, but it's never made any real impression on me at all. It's just… something you hear snatches of in movies set in the sixties.

That's actually the thrust of the article - questioning why it's that song that seems to be all over all those movies rather than something like "White Rabbit" or "Eve Of Destruction" or something like that. Fans of the song just got distracted.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:56 PM on March 21, 2013


My dad thought The Band was youngster's music but I guess that I'm older than some of your dads.
posted by octothorpe at 4:10 PM on March 21, 2013


Here is an explanation, with notation of what is actually going on in the chorus of The Weight. The song is in 4/4 but the final measure of the chorus is 3/4. So if you count it, from 'and', you get to 7, not 8, before you go into the next section.

Heh. The way my music brain works, I've always thought of the "aaaaaand . . ." part as separate from the chorus, made of a single measure of 7/4. It's the same thing, really, but it allows me to mentally put it in a comfortable place (where Rush and Soungarden songs and the bassline from "Money" by Pink Floyd live the rest of the time).

In the movie It Might Get Loud, Jimmy Page, Jack White and The Edge play The Weight during the closing credits. It's memorable only because it's the three of them playing it together.

It's memorable because they get the add a chord to the main riff, completely ruining it, and then they play the "aaaaand" part in 6/4 instead of 7/4. I'm convinced they did it intentionally just to make sure all the musicians who had been turning to their buddies and snarking during the rest of the movie about how pretentious and phony Jack White is had something to finally push them over the edge and make them stab their ears out with icepicks. (Dear Jack White: I love you, man, but come on.)
posted by The World Famous at 4:16 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd like to mention that the rest of the album, Music From Big Pink, is pretty great also.
posted by freakazoid at 4:20 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, fuck, that bit from IT MIGHT GET LOUD... don't give up the day jobs, boys.
posted by unSane at 4:22 PM on March 21, 2013


Oh, wait.
posted by unSane at 4:23 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I count it as seven, too , TWF, but it makes more sense notation wise to do it as 4/4 then 3/4. You count it as seven because the phrase spans the two bars I guess.
posted by unSane at 4:46 PM on March 21, 2013


I have a hen duck named Fanny. When she shakes her rear end, you could never call her "Annie". I also have a sister Annie. She don't shake, she hunts.
just had to rail in on the Annie/Fanny controversy. One of my favorite Bands/songs. My sons
25 & 18 still have the first 3 albums in their repertoire of things they like.
posted by primdehuit at 4:47 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like the cut of your jib, docgonzo.

My all-time favourite music experience -- better than front row at James Brown, better than Radiohead Kid A tour, better even than Zimmy himself at a small club -- happened sometime in the early 00's at the Silver Dollar, a grungy blues club on Spadina in Toronto. Perfect venue; club was packed, beer was cheap. After about an hour wait Levon bursts through the front door, rye in one hand, big smile in his face. Standing beside the door, I instinctively pushed out my hand, out stumbled a "pleased to meetcha"; he gave me a firm shake and said "Glad you're here." He barrelled in followed by the rest of the Barnburners, his band at the time.

The next couple of hours were a glorious bourbon-soaked blur. For song after song I stood five feet from the man himself -- there was no stage, just a small riser -- as he played all the songs I could ever want to hear: The Weight", of course, but "Long black veil" and "All la glory" and "It makes no difference" and "Stage fright." Cancer had taken his voice (temporarily) by then, but it almost didn't matter given the smile on his face and effortless, perfect beats and fills he laid down. Not just a drummer or a singer or mandolin player he was a bandleader, and left the impression there'd nowhere he'd rather be on that night. At the bar before the encore, I overheard an exhilarated woman -- who'd obviously never heard of Levon -- exclaim to her friend: "I hear he even played with Dylan!" to which I, maybe a bit too pompously, replied: "Nope, Dylan played with him."

It's one of my great regrets I never got off my ass to go to Woodstock to see a ramble. From the time I found an unlabelled cassette of the Band's greatest hits in my dad's stuff -- the intro to the first song was cut off so I didn't know "The Weight" had a guitar intro for years -- they have been the accompaniment to many memories. My first and best (dearly departed) dog was named Jack. I think of my baby daughter's smile when I hear "Forever young." Right now I'm listening to a liberated field recording of The Band at the Palladium in NYC in '76, marvelling at the pull it all his on me after all these years and glad echoes of their sound will go on forever.
posted by docgonzo at 5:10 PM on March 21, 2013 [19 favorites]


I'll just repeat my comment from the thread about Levon Helm last year:
Once, I was visiting family friends in Finland, and Jukka, the patriarch of the family, and a rather obsessive television and stage director decided that for the few nights I was with them, he was going to show me some of what he considered to be truly great works of art on film. The first night he showed me The Last Waltz.

I was hooked.
Of course, I'd heard the song before (I'd heard lots of The Band's songs before), but somehow, I had never known who they were (perhaps because of their name—perhaps I'd heard it and just understood it as a generic reference). So I had to go to Finland to find them. I still associate them with that trip, and with Scandinavia. It was exactly the kind of wandering around to find yourself kind of trip where listening to songs like theirs made sense.
posted by ocherdraco at 5:12 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


docgonzo, sounds like an amazing time. I am having a hard time imagining Levon (cancer of the throat or no) singing "It Makes No Difference" (one of my favorite Band songs). His voice just doesn't seem to be able to hit the same highs as Rick Danko's.

Of course, by the early 00s, Danko wasn't around to sing it anymore anyway...
posted by dhens at 6:21 PM on March 21, 2013


Ber: "Bonzo did this Motown just-a-hair-behind-the-beat to give it that slink"

In high school I attended a master class with Branford Marsalis. He showed the drummer how to swing *quarter*notes*. Before that day, I'd swear it wasn't possible; it's amazing when you recognize it.
posted by notsnot at 8:19 PM on March 21, 2013


Here is an explanation, with notation of what is actually going on in the chorus of The Weight. The song is in 4/4 but the final measure of the chorus is 3/4. So if you count it, from 'and', you get to 7, not 8, before you go into the next section.

Heh. The way my music brain works, I've always thought of the "aaaaaand . . ." part as separate from the chorus, made of a single measure of 7/4.

You were both confusing me, but I realized I was counting 8ths (?), so I just hear a bar of 6 (or 2 or 10 I guess). Doesn’t seem that weird to me when you count it that way, lots of songs do that.

Now I want to hear these bad covers with the straight count, I can’t really imagine how that would go. The "Get Loud" version doesn’t do the staggered vocal on "put the load right on me", and it sort of makes sense.
posted by bongo_x at 12:34 AM on March 22, 2013


liberated field recording

I hate it when the music ethnologists don't properly secure the cages ;)
posted by mikelieman at 5:34 AM on March 22, 2013


...because the song is very clearly actually about the late 19th century American political scene.

If I had the money I would pay you to sit around and think of things like this.
posted by marxchivist at 5:40 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Docgonzo - that sounds amazing. For me, discovering The Band happened in conjunction with a lot of other things in a real whirlwind period of my late twenties. I had always loved music, but grew up poor, in a non-musician household, so I'd never given much of a try at playing. One summer, I met a couple of guys my age (mid-late 20s) all in weird transitional points in their lives, who had also always wanted to be in a band, but hadn't ever really been involved in music, other than as music lovers, and friends of musicians - growing up in the northwest, you almost can't avoid being on the periphery of the local music scene.

Anyway, I digress - we all became fast friends, picked up instruments, and formed a band, and one of our first real band-bonding experiences was watching The Last Waltz, stoned to the gills, real loud on a projector in the garage. Changed my life.


I absolutely fell in LOVE with The Band, even though it wasn't at all the type of music I was playing.

Anyway, later, as I got more into learning about 'em, I saw a few other docs, read Levon's This Wheel is on Fire, etc., and learned just what a bummer things were at the time of the making of the Last Waltz.

It was essentially the end of The Band as a functional unit - Robbie was spending most of the shoot getting gakked to the tits with Scorsese, and seemed to be manipulating Marty into making him look like the leader of the band, including all that ridiculous footage of him passionately singing into an unplugged mic.

Robbie I think, was the one who got Neil Diamond to appear, when ND had never really had any connection to the group, other than that Robbie had recently produced an album for ND, and co-written Dry Your Eyes, the song Diamond performs. Apparently, after ND got off stage, he said to Dylan, waiting in the wings to go on next, "Follow that!" to which Dylan apparently asked, "What do I have to do, go on stage and fall asleep?"

Robbie at that point didn't want to tour anymore and was pretty much fucking everyone else over to shut down the group. Levon was pissed about the whole situation, about Robbie's power trip, about the making of the doc. Richard and Rick were on the long slow slide into depression and substance abuse that would ultimately end up killing 'em both...

Anyway, all that context didn't exactly ruin the experience of watching Last Waltz for me, but it did make it a bittersweet thing, which I suppose, is what it was intended to be...
posted by stenseng at 9:44 AM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I, too, find it surprising that so many people haven't heard this, although I have to say that I strongly suspect that The Band are one of those bands much better known and liked in the US than outside it. They're, you know, intensely... American, but in a way that doesn't translate too well.
posted by Decani at 9:49 AM on March 22, 2013


I think that really goes to show the power of Levon's vibe and influence - that a band that's only got one American member, can be such a pure example of an "American" sound.
posted by stenseng at 9:51 AM on March 22, 2013


Come again? You mean without Levon they'd have been backing Stompin' Tom? What?

In Canada, The Band are regarded very much as Canadiana. See also: Neil Young.
posted by unSane at 10:06 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


In Canada, The Band are regarded very much as Canadiana. See also: Neil Young.

The problem with that is that they didn't think they were exploring a specifically Canadian identity or Canadian musical traditions. They quite consciously thought of themselves as participating in and contributing to a specifically (US of) American musical tradition. Here's Robertson talking about early visits to the Memphis area:
To me ... going there was like going to the source. Because I was at such a vulnerable age then, it made a really big impact on me. Just that I had the honor joining up with this group and then even going to this place, which was close to a religious experience – even being able to put my feet on the ground there, because I was from Canada, right? So it was like, 'Woah, this is where this music grows in the ground, and [flows from] the Mississippi river. My goodness.' It very much affected my songwriting and, because I knew Levon's musicality so well, I wanted to write songs that I thought he could sing better than anybody in the world.

While I was there, I was just gathering images and names, and ideas and rhythms, and I was storing all of these things ... in my mind somewhere. And when it was time to sit down and write songs, when I reached into the attic to see what I was gonna write about, that's what was there. I just felt a strong passion toward the discovery of going there, and it opened my eyes, and all my senses were overwhelmed by the feeling of that place. When I sat down to write songs, that's all I could think of at the time.
I don't think one has to say "Levon Helm was such a powerful presence he overwhelmed their Canadianness": it's just that the musical tradition they were interested in and wanted to situate themselves within was an American one. You know, like an Australian Jazz band or an English R&B band or what have you.
posted by yoink at 10:24 AM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Agree with Yoink, and really, all I'm saying is - Levon was the "older brother" of the band, and was from BFE Arkansas, and had actually grown up with the music, and seeing the acts, that the rest of the Band were so enamored of, so I think he was in a totemic way, the "real deal," and influenced a lot of that direction.
posted by stenseng at 10:27 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I also couldn't think of what song this was from the description given. This was all that came in to my head:

The Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiitttttttttt........

then I listened to the linked video and got to the chorus and thought, "oh OK, that song". Like others here, I couldn't have told you previously what it was called or who it was by. I get the impression that this song is culturally significant on the American north continent, but it passed this Australian by.)
posted by illongruci at 10:33 AM on March 22, 2013


Some various versions to ponder: a Manuel-less but still cookin' Band, on Letterman; John Fogerty with the Black Keys; Cassandra Wilson; and one genuinely disturbing at-death's-door enunciation from Rickie Lee Jones.
posted by dr. zoom at 1:19 AM on March 23, 2013


Way back in August 1968 Al Kooper called it.
Six months are left is this proselytizing year of music; we can expect a new Beatles, Stones, Hendrix, perhaps even a mate for J W Harding; but I have chosen my album for 1968. Music from Big Pink is an event and should be treated as one..
Re Wheels on Fire, it took me several years to realize it was actually written by Dylan and Danko but then a lot of things were sort of fuzzy around that time.
posted by adamvasco at 10:21 AM on March 29, 2013


Don't think that this version has been posted. The Band playing The Weight (and three other songs) in 1970 in Pittsburgh at the late lamented Syria Mosque.
posted by octothorpe at 3:15 PM on April 2, 2013


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