by J.R.Robertson. Album: Music from Big Pink
© 1968, 1970 Dwarf Music
A C#m D A
I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin' about half past dead;
C#m D A
I just need some place where I can lay my head.
C#m D A
"Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?"
C#m D A
He just grinned and shook my hand, and "No!", was all he said.
A E D A E D
Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free;
A E D A D
Take a load off Fanny, And (and) (and) you can put the load right on me.
A E D A D
I picked up my bag, I went lookin' for a place to hide;
When I saw Carmen and the Devil walkin' side by side.
I said, "Hey, Carmen, come on, let's go downtown."
She said, "I gotta go, but m'friend can stick around."
Go down, Miss Moses, there's nothin' you can say
It's just ol' Luke, and Luke's waitin' on the Judgement Day.
"Well, Luke, my friend, what about young Anna Lee?"
He said, "Do me a favor, son, woncha stay an' keep Anna Lee 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."
Catch a cannon ball now, t'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.
Music From Big Pink’s initial success was, in retrospect, surprisingly modest for an album which frequently appears in lists of the Top 100 Rock Albums of All Time. It got to #30 in the US charts while the single, The Weight, written by Robbie Robertson, reached only #63. Other artists had more sucess with covering The Weight.
Versions by Jackie DeShannon (US #55, 1968), Aretha Franklin (US #19, April 1969, featuring Duane Allman on guitar), The Supremes with The Temptations (US #46, September 1969) all charted. Significantly for both royalties and for general public awareness, the Diana Ross and The Supremes With The Temptations’ album from which the single was taken reached US #2 and the Aretha Franklin album, Soul 69, reached US #15. The Weight was also heard on the soundtrack of the Peter Fonda / Dennis Hopper film Easy Rider in 1969, which in turn spawned a successful soundtrack album (US # 6 in October 1969 and 41 weeks on the chart). The Band agreed to their version being used on the film soundtrack, then refused permission for it to appear on the subsequent album. Smith did a close cover version which can be heard on the Dunhill soundtrack album. Versions also appeared on contemporary albums by Bloomfield and Kooper (Live Adventures of Bloomfield & Kooper ), Spooky Tooth (a very direct cover, with the interesting addition of harmonica ), The Staple Singers and King Curtis. Virtually every cover cuts out a verse or two. Four hit singles as well as its presence on even more albums within a year means a high profile, in spite of the modest sales of the original single. In the UK the original single was more successful, just failing to get into the top twenty (#21 on September 28 1968). In other words, the Band were not solely responsible for making the song a rock classic, but it is the number they are most associated with, and it turns up on every anthology and nearly every recorded live concert.
The Weight is the centrepiece of the album, both musically and lyrically. First, Robbie Robertson on The Weight:
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. That song was the only song on ‘Music From Big Pink’ that we never did rehearse. We just figured that it was a simple song, and when it came up we gave it a try and recorded it three or four times. We said that’s fine, maybe we’ll use it. We didn’t even know if we were going to use it, and it turned out to be the album.1
When I wrote ‘The Weight’, the first song for ‘Music From Big Pink’, it had a kind of American mythology I was reinventing using my connection to the universal language. The Nazareth in ‘The Weight’ was Nazareth, Pennsylvania. It was a little off-handed - ‘I pulled into Nazareth’. Well I don’t know if the Nazareth that Jesus came from is the kind of place you pull into, but I do know that you pull into Nazareth, Pennsylvania! I’m experimenting with North American mythology. I didn’t mean to take sacred, precious things and turn them into humour.2
(On the album, The Weight closes side one, so Robertson must mean it was the first song written for Big Pink. )
(Buñuel) did so many films on the impossibility of sainthood. People trying to be good in ‘Viridiana’ and ‘Nazarin’, people trying to do their thing. In ‘The Weight’ it’s the same thing. People like Buñuel would make films that had these religious connotations to them but it wasn’t necessarily a religious meaning. In Buñuel there were these people trying to be good and it’s impossible to be good. In ‘The Weight’ it was this very simple thing. Someone says, ‘Listen, would you do me this favour? When you get there will you say “hello” to somebody or will you give somebody this or will you pick up one of these for me? Oh? You’re going to Nazareth, that’s where the Martin guitar factory is. Do me a favour when you’re there.’ This is what it’s all about. So the guy goes and one thing leads to another and it’s like ‘Holy Shit, what’s this turned into? I’ve only come here to say “hello” for somebody and I’ve got myself in this incredible predicament.’ It was very Buñuelish to me at the time.