March 21, 2013

I'm wondering about why so many people over at Metafilter are wondering about...

... why the song "The Weight" is such a big deal.

45 comments:

chickelit said...

If you listen to the lyrics, it's about dieting and life renewal. That's way it's so popular and trendy.

Shanna said...

There is an Aretha version of this song.

It's a great song, but I don't think it's used any more than a lot of other great songs. I wouldn't go so far as to say it has emerged as the 'iconic american standard'.

Bob R said...

Our band closes the first set with the Weight and the second with Wagon Wheel. Works every time. I suppose it will get to be such a cliche that it will drive everyone crazy eventually, but we're not into Mustang Sally territory yet.

Mitchell the Bat said...

I preferred the Beatles's version on Abbey Road.

Shanna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob R said...

I think it's gotten a lot more play in the last year because of Levon Helm's death.

Deb said...

It has a post-apocalyptic vibe ...

LCB said...

Funny thing...I always thought it was about a Civil War soldier dying...didn't realize The Cannonball was referring to a train??? Always thought "My bag is sinkin' low" meant he was at the bitter end.

"Catch a Cannonball, now, to take me down the line
My, my bag is sinkin' low and I do believe it's time

Freeman Hunt said...

This song drove me nuts as a kid. I couldn't figure out what it was supposed to mean.

Tank said...

I thought everyone was talking about the great Allman Bros version with Susan Tedeschi and Warren on vocals.

OK, that was only me.

victoria said...

That's easy, It's The Band, one of the greatest groups EVER, it is an awesome song, and Levon Helm was a genius. I have it on my i-pod and have had it on there for almost 10 years.

Oh, and it has a good beat and you can dance to it. (My American Bandstand reference)


Vicki in Pasadena

creeley23 said...

Assuming I've parsed Althouse properly -- she gets that "The Weight" is a big deal and wonders why anyone would wonder why "The Weight" is such a big deal -- I'd have to agree.

William said...

The lyrics are incomprehensible without being pretentious or annoying. The elusiveness of their meaning is, in fact, their meaning. Like life, you know it has to signify something. The tale is told not by an idiot but by an engaging melody. We don't know what it all means but we're willing to hum along until the song ends.

John said...

As Kieth Richards says "it is not the rock that matters, it is the roll". That song has a tremendous chord progression and rhythm. It has that perfect 4/4 American syncopation that has been moving people for a hundred years. Helm has a great voice and sings it well. But it is that incredible groove played mostly by Richard Manuel on the piano baseline that has caused it to appeal to so many people for so long.

John said...

As Kieth Richards says "it is not the rock that matters, it is the roll". That song has a tremendous chord progression and rhythm. It has that perfect 4/4 American syncopation that has been moving people for a hundred years. Helm has a great voice and sings it well. But it is that incredible groove played mostly by Richard Manuel on the piano baseline that has caused it to appeal to so many people for so long.

Lem said...

The song has a peasant twang that unsettles some high minded folks.

"Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry."

I neither endorse nor disavow this opinion which I happen to hold.
Keep me out of it ;)

bandmeeting said...

I've had it stuck in my head a few times in the last month or so. Way, way worse songs that could be stuck there so I've got to give it some credit.

I thought that woman who hopped out of the convertible in the (Coke?) commercial that it was used in was pretty damn hot. Cowboy boots, Levi's and a wife beater if I recall.

John said...

The song has a peasant twang that unsettles some high minded folks.

Nearly all of the most important music done in the 20th Century, was done by American hillbillies, black and white. Think about it, three hundred years from now will anyone be listening to the atonal crap that passes for modern classical music? Hardly. But I guarantee you they will be listening to Hank Williams and Muddy Waters and probably The Band.

creeley23 said...

It's a song you can live in. I know I have.

I've listened to it a zillion times. I've collected a dozen or so covers and played them on shuffle for hours. I once adapted the lyrics into a so-so short story.

"The Weight" is one of those rare songs that transcends for no clear reason.

Sure, the boys in The Band are geniuses when it comes to conveying their trademark Americana mood. Sure, Robbie Robertson wrote some damn tantalizing lyrics. But that's true of everything The Band did, at least on their first two albums. It doesn't explain the song's appeal and durability.

It's been covered as rock, pop, country, soul, bluegrass, and even jazz-calypso (by Cassandra Wilson) usually with success. Try the Wilson link.

jr565 said...

Not a fan of it. Too Americans for my tastes. Not to mention too 70’s sounding.

jr565 said...

That should say too Americana for my tastes. I'm not a big fan of roots rock. It sounds very dated to me. Also not a huge fan of guys like Bob Seger.

jr565 said...

Not a fan of it. Too Americans for my tastes. Not to mention too 70’s sounding.

Inga said...

Ugh. Terrible song, I'd rather listen to Abba.

John said...

Philistine is too weak of a word Inga. Abba? Oh good God, nothing worse than white disco.

jr565 said...

Inga wrote:

Ugh. Terrible song, I'd rather listen to Abba.


Abba is great. Now let me offer some qualifiers. I'm talking about songwriting ability and catchiness. They really know,how,to construct a song.
Being a non gay dude, I often get looked at askance when I tell my non gay friends that I like Abba. Abba is not cool, or hip or dark, or punk. It's like liking MMMMM Bop by Hanson. However, for me at any rate, the proof is in the pudding.
Great vocals, great arrangements, as catchy as the beatles (though more disposable and less substantial for sure).its really sweet bubblegum. As long as you take it. Bubble gum and not steak, then you have to admire how good the bubble gum is.

He'll, Kurt cobain endorsed Abba. If he can like ABBA and put out music like Nirvana, there's hope.

creeley23 said...

Abba is great. I love "Knowing Me, Knowing You."

The Sex Pistols even liked Abba and not just because the Pistols stole from them.

It's silly how snooty people can get about musical taste.

William said...

I wouldn't put Abba in the same dimension much less world than The Band. That's not a slam on Abba. What they did, they did very well. The Band aimed for and hit some deeper chords than the foot tapping ones.....I compare The Weight with a A Whiter Shade of Pale. Both have lyrics that are portentous and almost comprehensible. The music makes you think that some heavy statement is being made, but, as said earlier, it's the elusiveness of the meaning that is the real meaning..

John said...

And Sex Pistols sucked even worse. Abba, for all of their flaws, could actually sing and play their instruments. The Sex Pistols,not so much. I mean come on, you have to do more than swear and spit on people.

creeley23 said...

They did more than swear and spit on people.

After thirty years of punk, grunge and rap, I notice how surprisingly musical and accessible the first Sex Pistols songs sound today.

SOJO said...

Never heard of it. Clicked the links and I have a vague memory of hearing it before. I probably would have thought it was the Grateful Dead or someone other person of the (early 70s?) era if you had asked me.

I actually know quite a lot of music, but there are some large gaps in that knowledge - specifically around the time period in question.

It's like I retro'd into the 50s, 60s, then know the 80s to early 2000s on my own, but never bothered doing the 70s except a few obvious artists.

Smilin' Jack said...

It's crap like "The Weight" that made disco necessary.

creeley23 said...

Strangely enough it was The Band that drove a stake through the heart of psychedelic rock without intending to.

"The Weight" is from their first album, "Music from Big Pink" which they made while working with Dylan on "The Basement Tapes" on retreat in Woodstock. Cassettes of Dylan and The Band reached The Beatles, The Stones, Eric Clapton etc. and bang! The Magical Mystery Tour was over.

The rock world did an about-face and headed towards roots music. The Beatles did Rocky Raccoon. The Stones did Country Honk. And Clapton left Cream and went on pilgrimage in search of the real blues.

SOJO said...

@creeley23

Okay, so 1968? Maybe it was just a natural follow through on the typical acid trajectory.

It's all green velvet cloaks in the beginning, but it always ends up with a 'back to the land/roots' vibe.

Rocky Raccoon is maybe one of the worst Beatles songs, IMO.

creeley23 said...

SOJO: Yes, Big Pink was released in 1968.

It's an historical fact that tapes reached the Beatles, Stones etc. I've seen interviews with George Harrison and Keith Richards about The Band's influence. As I recall, Harrison mentions The Band in the Scorcese documentary on Harrison. (Not entirely a surprise -- Scorcese and Robbie Robertson are long-time friends and collaborators.)

I'd agree, though, that there is often a progression from acid back to basics.

Plus there's not that many places to go with psychedelic rock after Sgt Pepper's and Magical Mystery Tour. Prog rock was an answer but even Pink Floyd couldn't keep that going to far into the seventies.

creeley23 said...

Williams: While I wouldn't call the lyrics of "The Weight" accessible, I wouldn't say they were incomprehensible either. They are a series of loose, odd but ordinary anecdotes. However there is no outright surrealism like "Sixteen vestal virgins leaving for the coast" or "the room was humming harder as the ceiling blew away" found in "Whiter Shade of Pale."

Robbie Robertson was then learning from Dylan how to write obliquely, to suggest possibilities in a song rather than nailing them to the floor.

Allmusic provides a surprisingly lengthy treatment of this single song.

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. In the song, all this is 'the load'".

bagoh20 said...

I like it - there's a dog in it.

Elliott A said...

Back in that day the topics discussed in the song were "heavy".

creeley23 said...

It's worth revisiting "Easy Rider" for the scene after they pick up the hitchhiker then ride through Monument Valley to the Indian ruins, while "The Weight" is playing on the soundtrack.

Gorgeous.

When I saw ER as a kid, I was all caught up in the romance and cultural commentary.

Watching it decades later, I notice how beautiful Laszlo Kovacs' cinematography is and how well the soundtrack fits.

Chip Ahoy said...

Annie is a big fat woman in a cotton dress and the singers is saying, "Sit down already, you're making me nervous." Thus, "... take a load off me."

Darrell said...

The song is about asking for a place to crash and having a guy blow a load on him. He must have shown up at Titus's.

creeley23 said...

Roger Waters has called it the second "most influential record in the history of rock and roll" after Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and that it "affected Pink Floyd deeply, deeply, deeply."

Here's a wild quote from Roger Waters about "Music from Big Pink", the album containing "The Weight."

That one record changed everything for me. After "Sgt. Pepper," it's the most influential record in the history of rock and roll. It affected Pink Floyd deeply, deeply, deeply. Philosophically, other albums may have been more important, like Lennon's first solo album. But sonically, the way the record's constructed, I think "Music from Big Pink" is fundamental to everything that happened after it.

I wouldn't have guessed that from Pink Floyd's albums back then, but it does make the point of The Band's importance to rock. They were musicians' musicians. The Band never broke through to superstar status, but rock insiders deferred to them -- witness the enormous rock star presence at The Band's farewell concert in The Last Waltz.

The Band had about two radio hits and two great albums. Despite their rootsy homespun look, members of The Band became dissipated with the rock'n'roll high life and their vision sputtered out.

Still, The Band touched the sky, and how, in those first two albums.

creeley23 said...

Skip first paragraph above. Leftover from editing.

mishu said...

You can thank The Big Chill for bringing the song back from obscurity. From then on, Hollywood liked to put the song into soundtracks of movies.

BTW. Swearing and spitting on people was the whole point of the Sex Pistols. Art rock, as much as I love it, was getting stale at the time. Disco was a lame alternative. People needed to get up off their ass and moving again.

Jonathan Card said...

I've heard the song, but it never made a big impression on me. Guess I'm pretty square. Or just born too late to understand the context.

Fernando by ABBA is the only sing to make me cry in 15 years. When I first really listened to the lyrics, I wept.

Bob Ellison said...

It is a great song. The Band's version is the best, and what makes it particularly special is that the lead vocal passes from that one guy to the other guy in the later verse. Most groups don't take risks like that.