After several years serving as Bob Dylan’s backing band, The Band struck out on their own in the late 1960s to great critical acclaim. All of the members of The Band are Canadian, with the exception of drummer Levon Helm. They began their career backing rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins. Their first two albums, Music From Big Pink and The Band, are considered classics, innovative for their time, with a rootsy, unpolished approach to music, singing and songwriting.
Just another band whose creative peak occurs around 1970. In several of my review books, The Band is considered more popular with critics than the general public, and that’s true for me. My father was a bigger fan than I was. After my parents divorced in the summer of 1968, Dad started taking a greater interest in music, buying a few more records, though I primarily remember his music kept on cassette tapes, the songs listed with immaculate printing, just one way I emulate my old man today. This is where I first heard The Band, and I distinctly remember Music From Big Pink and The Band on cassette.
“Up On Cripple Creek” is great. Unusual instrumentation and beat, with a humorous tale of codependency. And that Levon Helm sure sings well while simultaneously playing the drums.
It’s hard to describe why “The Weight” is such a great song. The words are cryptic; they paint that “high lonesome” feeling I covet. It’s like a cowboy song. Maybe it’s that beautiful sequence in Easy Rider that dictates my feelings for the song:
The following description of the song was lifted from the http://theband.hiof.no/ website:
According to songwriter Robertson, “The Weight” was inspired by the films of Luis Buñuel, about which Robertson once said:
“(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.”
Here’s The Band with The Staple Singers performing “The Weight” during their farewell concert The Last Waltz:
Also considered a pop standard is the Civil War song “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”. Blessed with an unusual song structure, unique subject matter, and like “The Weight”, a sense of grandeur and timelessness, it is a stunning composition. Songs like this legitimize the artform of folk music. This version of the song from The Last Waltz surpasses the original studio performance:
The first two albums are everything the casual listener needs. You might also purchase a copy of the songs “The Shape I’m In” or “Stage Fright”, but my collection focuses on their two great works. Here’s the list:
The Weight, The Band ✭✭✭✭✭
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, The Band ✭✭✭✭
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (Alt), The Band ✭✭✭✭
Up On Cripple Creek, The Band ✭✭✭
Up On Cripple Creek (Alt), The Band ✭✭✭
Across The Great Divide, The Band ✭✭
Rag Mama Rag, The Band ✭✭
Whispering Pines, The Band ✭✭
The Unfaithful Servant, The Band ✭✭
Chest Fever, The Band ✭✭
This Wheel’s On Fire, The Band ✭✭
I Shall Be Released, The Band ✭✭
The Long Black Veil, The Band ✭✭
Lonesome Suzie, The Band ✭
The Weight, Aretha Franklin ✭✭✭✭
The Long Black Veil, Lefty Frizzell ✭✭✭✭
The Long Black Veil, Johnny Cash ✭✭✭
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Joan Baez ✭✭
I Shall Be Released, Bob Dylan ✭✭
Aretha’s version of “The Weight” features the Muscle Shoals rhythm section with Duane Allman on guitar.