“The Weight” was released by The Band as Capitol Records single 2269 in 1968, and appeared one week later on the group’s debut album Music from Big Pink. The song is listed as #41 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time published in 2004, and Pitchfork Media named it the thirteenth best song of the Sixties. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame named it one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
In his autobiography This Wheel’s on Fire, Levon Helm explains that the people mentioned in the song were based on real people The Band knew. The “Miss Anna Lee” mentioned in the lyric is Helm’s longtime friend Anna Lee Amsden.
On August 17, 1969, The Band played “The Weight” as the 10th song in their set at Woodstock. Due to contractual problems, The Band’s version was used in the movie, but not the soundtrack for Easy Rider - included instead on the film’s soundtrack was a cover (very closely resembling The Band’s original) by Smith. In The Band’s concert film, The Last Waltz, The Band perform the song with the The Staple Singers.