The Band’s Classic Song, “The Weight,” Sung by Robbie Robertson (RIP) and Musicians Around the World

Yes­ter­day Rob­bie Robert­son, the Cana­di­an song­writer and gui­tarist for The Band, passed away at age 80 after a long ill­ness. As a trib­ute, we’re bring­ing back a video that pays homage to “The Weight,” a song Robert­son wrote for The Band’s influ­en­tial 1968 album, “Music from Big Pink.” The video fea­tures cameos of Robert­son him­self, and also Ringo Starr and oth­er spe­cial guests. Enjoy…

Rob­bie Robertson’s “The Weight,” the Band’s most beloved song, has the qual­i­ty of Dylan’s impres­sion­is­tic nar­ra­tives. Ellip­ti­cal vignettes that seem to make very lit­tle sense at first lis­ten, with a cho­rus that cuts right to the heart of the human predica­ment. “Robert­son admits in his auto­bi­og­ra­phy,” notes Patrick Doyle at Rolling Stone, “that he strug­gled to artic­u­late to pro­duc­er John Simon what the song was even about.” An artist needn’t under­stand a cre­ation for it to res­onate with lis­ten­ers.

A read of “The Weight”’s lyrics make its poignant themes evident—each stan­za intro­duces char­ac­ters who illus­trate some sor­row or small kind­ness. The cho­rus offers what so many peo­ple seem to crave these days: a promise of rest from cease­less toil, free­dom from con­stant trans­ac­tions, a com­mu­ni­ty that shoul­ders everyone’s bur­dens…. “It’s almost like it’s good med­i­cine,” Robert­son told Doyle, “and it’s so suit­able right now.” He refers specif­i­cal­ly to the song’s revival in a dom­i­nant musi­cal form of our iso­la­tion days—the online sing-along.

Though its lyrics aren’t near­ly as easy to remem­ber as, say, “Lean on Me,” Robertson’s clas­sic, espe­cial­ly the big har­monies of its cho­rus (which every­one knows by heart), is ide­al for big ensem­bles like the globe-span­ning col­lec­tion assem­bled by Play­ing for Change, “a group ded­i­cat­ed to ‘open­ing up how peo­ple see the world through the lens of music and art.” The group’s pro­duc­ers, Doyle writes, “recent­ly spent two years film­ing artists around the world, from Japan to Bahrain to Los Ange­les, per­form­ing the song,” with Ringo Starr on drums and Robert­son on rhythm gui­tar. They began on the 50th anniver­sary of the song’s release.

The per­for­mances they cap­tured are flaw­less, and mixed togeth­er seam­less­ly. If you want to know how this was achieved, watch the short behind-the-scenes video above with pro­duc­er Sebas­t­ian Robert­son, who hap­pens to be Rob­bie’s son. He starts by prais­ing the stel­lar con­tri­bu­tions of Larkin Poe, two sis­ters whose root­sy coun­try rock updates the All­man Broth­ers for the 21st cen­tu­ry. But there are no slouch­es in the bunch (don’t be inti­mat­ed out of your own group sing-alongs by the tal­ent on dis­play here). The song res­onates in a way that con­nects, as “The Weight”’s cho­rus con­nects its non-sequitur stan­zas, many dis­parate sto­ries and voic­es.

Robert­son was thrilled with the final prod­uct. “There’s a guy on a sitar!” he enthus­es. “There’s a guy play­ing an oud, one of my favorite instru­ments.” The song sug­gests there’s “some­thing spir­i­tu­al, mag­i­cal, unsus­pect­ing” that can come from times of dark­ness, and that we’d all feel a whole lot bet­ter if we learned to take care of each oth­er. The Play­ing for Change ver­sion “screams of uni­ty,” he says, “and I hope it spreads.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jeff Bridges Nar­rates a Brief His­to­ry of Bob Dylan’s and The Band’s Base­ment Tapes

Stream Marc Maron’s Excel­lent, Long Inter­view with The Band’s Rob­bie Robert­son

Watch The Band Play “The Weight,” “Up On Crip­ple Creek” and More in Rare 1970 Con­cert Footage

Mar­tin Scors­ese Cap­tures Lev­on Helm and The Band Per­form­ing “The Weight” in The Last Waltz

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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