Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
Once in a generation there comes a song so good, so perfectly written and arranged, that it transcends pure aural pleasure and becomes an anthem. The Band’s “The Weight” is one of those songs, without question – Easy Rider, anyone? If that doesn’t make you want to take a Harley across state lines, what would?
From the opening’s Robbie Robertson guitar riff to the harmonic vocal build up at the end of each chorus, it’s a story of a man (and in some versions, a woman) searching high and low, far and wide, for a place to rest his head and maybe call home for a while. It’s a song made – like so many of The Band’s classics–for multiple singers, stacking voice on top of voice like some live Phil Spector fantasy.
A song so classic has been covered practically since the day it came out and it hasn’t slowed down. Look at Mavis Staples, who performed “The Weight” with the rest of the Staples Singers and The Band for the classic, unstoppable, if-you-haven’t-seen-this-what-are-you-doing-with-your-life concert film The Last Waltz (technically, not a cover, thus disqualified. Still, watch it). She covers the song seemingly every night with a rotating “who’s who” sitting in – most recently, at Outside Lands, with Win Butler. She’s not alone:
MP3: Diana Ross & the Supremes and The Temptations – The Weight (The Band cover)
Instead of keeping it a campfire classic, the Motown sound gives “The Weight” an extreme makeover with some of the grooviest instrumentation of the era, complete with huge power soul horns. And who couldn’t love that version of the chorus, “put the weight right on me.” Sing it.
MP3: The Gaslight Anthem (Featuring Thrice) – The Weight (The Band cover)
Before they took over Springsteen’s place as Jersey’s native storytelling sons, the Gaslight Anthem was nothing more than a group of guys with some killer songs, opening a tour for three of the biggest names in Warped music: Thrice, Alkaline Trio and Rise Against. While Thrice borrowed the song title for a ripper off their great 2009 release, Beggars, in 2008 Dustin Kensrue and Teppei Teranishi joined TGA frontman Brian Fallon for guitar and vocal duties on this classic version of “The Weight.” Kensrue’s gruff vocal compliments Fallon’s Levon Helm-via-Bruce Springsteen take on the verses to a T. It’s an alt-all-star tribute to four of the greatest minutes in music.
MP3: Panic! at the Disco – The Weight (The Band cover)
Another version from the “Warped” scene, this time from the original incarnation of Panic! at the Disco, during their whole Sgt. Pepper-worship phase. This track, perfectly enough, comes from a live Abbey Road studio session and showcases frontman Brendon Urie’s croon. Listen for former guitarist Ryan Ross during the chorus, dude’s got a perfect voice for background vocals – looking a little like Kurt from Glee doesn’t hurt either. Sidenote: at around the two minute mark in the video, watch drummer Spencer Smith hit himself in the face with a stick, inciting a point and laugh from Ryan Ross. Worth watching, even if – hell, especially if – you’re not the biggest Panic fan.
MP3: Elvis Costello & the Imposters (With Ray LaMontagne, Levon Helm, Nick Lowe, Richard Thompson, Larry Campbell & Allen Toussaint) – The Weight (The Band cover)
When Elvis Costello became a talk show host, did anyone think that we would be seeing musical moments like this? Talk about an all-star lineup on an all-star song. Levon Helm will play this song with pretty much anyone (Black Crowes, Allmans, so on and so forth – who is he, Mavis Staples?), but watching Costello and LaMontagne share the mic like Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley makes it all worth it. It sounds huge. A hell of a spectacle from Spectacle.
MP3: Travis – The Weight (The Band cover)
Recorded as a B-side, then used more popularly on the soundtrack of Catcher in the Rye-inspired movie, Igby Goes Down, Travis takes a campfire singalong and transforms it into a late-night/early-morning lament. Reverb-washed guitars and layer upon layer of lush sonics back up Fran Healy’s almost-whisper into the microphone, laying the weight of the world upon Robbie Robertson’s words.