Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Band “The Weight”

Here’s how to tell if you are a really good singer. Like, better than just an In-The-Shower or Car-Windows-Rolled-Up enthusiastic yelper.

Find a song that has two- or three-part harmony. Indigo Girls or Crosby Stills and Nash songs are good ones to practice on, because each singer’s voice is relatively easy to discern.

Pick one of the lines, melody or harmony, and sing the song the whole way through, sticking to that one part.

Then sing it again, choosing a different melody/harmony line and see if you can stick with that, all the way through, without defaulting to the first line, or jumping between lines.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then, I’m sorry to say, you’re not a really good singer. Sure, I bet you can even hold a tune, but you don’t have “ears.”

And even if you can hear what I’m talking about, for most of us, actually doing it is incredibly difficult.

I remember being at a party, a going away party for me, back in my early 20s. I was with my friends Teddy and Jason, both of whom would qualify as good singers (by this post’s definition). And I was one of those people who thought he was a good singer.

Until we sang “The Weight.”

It was late. We’d been drinking. Teddy had his guitar out, and was running through some fun, sing-a-long songs. Cat Stevens. Jimmy Buffett. “Sexy Sadie.”

And when he busted out “The Weight” it seemed perfect for the after midnight, slightly sloppy vibe.

You’re familiar with the denouement of the chorus . . . it’s that part that goes “And! . . . And! . . . And! You put the load right on me.” Each “And” is sung by a different voice, in a progressively higher note. Notes 1, 2 and 3.

We’d get to the chorus, and Teddy, who was leading, would sing the 1. I was supposed to sing the 2 and Jason was supposed to sing the 3.

And every time we’d try it, Teddy would sing the 1, and I would go straight to the 3, leaving Jason to backtrack, go down a note and sing the 2.

Afterwards, Jason said, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard it sung that way before.”

Truth is, I just couldn’t find the note. Not that I was out of tune. I hit the 3 just fine. But I could only follow the prevailing melody line, not my assigned harmony.

It’s hard. Can you sing “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” but only the John part? Or “Falling Slowly,” sticking only to the Marketa Irglova line? Or “Uncle John’s Band” doing only Bob Weir? I’d like to say I can, but I can’t.

I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t sing if you want to sing. I think any expression of musical joy, is beautiful.

But if you are wondering if you are a good singer, well, see if you can carry The Weight.


  1. We sang our own (two voice) version of the Weight.I remember that evening in Cooper City. What fun!
    After all that singing and all those beers we woke up early and drove down to Key West to drink some more.

  2. The second voice is my favorite on Help
    When I was Young,
    I never Need

  3. Glad you remembered it. Great night. Great memories.