This song about a traveler’s experienced in the town of Nazareth is credited to band member Robbie Robertson (although other members say they contributed). Robertson says that he was inspired by the surrealistic films of Luis Buñuel. Levon Helm says that “The Weight” contains some of their favorite characters whom they would see, around Nazareth, Pennsylvania, near the Martin guitar factory.
The song was released on The Band’s debut album Music from Big Pink in 1968. It was also released that year as a single, backed with “I Shall be Released.” The song charted internationally, although better in Canada at #35 and the U.K. at #12 than the U.S., where it rose to #63 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song has become a classic rock staple.
The “Big Pink” was the name of a house in Saugerties, New York, with pink siding. The Band improvised and recorded with Bob Dylan in the basement of that house.
On the album Music from Big Pink were Rick Danko (bass guitar, fiddle, vocals), Levon Helm (drums, tambourine, vocals), Garth Hudson (organ, piano clavinet, sport and tenor sax), Richard Manual (piano, organ, drums, vocals), and Robbie Robertson (electric and acoustic guitars, vocals). John Simon, who produced the album, also was on baritone horn, tenor sax, and piano. Bob Dylan did the painting for the album cover.
There have been numerous covers of the song, including versions by Aretha Franklin, Jackie DeShannon, Diana and the Supremes with The Temptations, Bob Dylan, The Grateful dead, The Allman Brothers, King Curtis & Duane Allman, and The Ventures — just to mention a few.