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Ophelia (The Band song)

File:The Band Ophelia Japan single cover.jpg
Japanese single cover
Single by The Band
from the album Northern Lights – Southern Cross
B-side "Hobo Jungle"
Format Single sleeve LP
Recorded 1975
Genre Roots rock, Americana
Length 3:32
Label Capitol Records
Writer(s) Robbie Robertson
Producer(s) The Band

"Ophelia" is a song written by Robbie Robertson that was first released by The Band on their 1975 album Northern Lights – Southern Cross. It was the lead single from the album. It has also appeared on several of the group's live and compilation albums, and has been covered by such artists as Vince Gill and My Morning Jacket.

Lyrics and music

The lyrics tell of the singers attempt to find the heroine Ophelia.[1][2] The relationship between the singer and Ophelia is never made explicit. Author Craig Harris refers to her as the singer's old friend, while music critic Nick DeRiso considers her his lover.[2][3] But he finds out that Ophelia has left town, apparently in a hurry.[2][4] According to Band biographer Barney Hoskyns, the name Ophelia for the song did not come from Shakespeare's Hamlet but rather from Minnie Pearl's real name.[1] But Shakespeare scholar Stephen M. Buhler sees some Shakespearean echoes in "Ophelia," particularly related to Othello.[4] In particular, Buhler sees hints that perhaps Ophelia is a black woman in a Southern town who was forced to flee because of Southern attitudes at the time towards interracial relationships with the white singer.[4] Lyrics Buhler uses to support this view include the following, suggesting that the relationship between Ophelia and the singer was illegal:[4]

Honey, you know we broke the rule
Was somebody up against the law?

Lines such as the singer asking Ophelia to "please darken my door," suggest to Buhler that the issue may be the color of Ophelia's skin.[4] But according to Harris' interpretation, nostalgia the key theme to the song.[2]

"Ophelia" is an uptempo song with similarities to earlier Band songs "The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show" from Stage Fright and "Life is a Carnival" from Cahoots.[1][5] The song has a Dixieland flavor.[1][3][5] DeRiso hears a combination of rustic and modern elements in the music.[3] Levon Helm singes the lead vocal.[1][2][3] According to Hoskyns, the song has "the same good-humoured regret with which [Helm] infused "Up on Cripple Creek."[1] Garth Hudson plays multiple instruments, including synthesizer and multiple brass and woodwind instruments, which contributes significantly to the Dixieland flavor.[1][2][3] As a result of the success of Hudson's playing, DeRiso regards "Ophelia" as "Hudson’s triumph, his musical testament, his masterpiece."[3] Robertson plays a more prominent guitar part than he had typically played on earlier Band songs.[3]

According to Robertson, “The chord progression on ‘Ophelia' was something that could have come out of the 1930s. The storytelling was ancient and modern in the same breath. The full-on modernism in the sound, in the arrangement, was paramount in Garth’s experimentation. It is unquestionably one of his greatest feats, in my opinion, on any Band song.”[3]


According to The New Rolling Stone Album Guide critic Mark Kemp, "Ophelia" is one of three songs on Northern Lights – Southern Cross, along with "Acadian Driftwood" and "It Makes No Difference," on which "Robertson reclaims his reputation as one of rock's great songwriters.[6]

Other appearances

"Ophelia" appeared on many Band live and compilation albums. It appeared on the compilations albums The Best of The Band (1976), To Kingdom Come: The Definitive Collection (1989) and Greatest Hits (2000).[7] It was also included on the box sets Across the Great Divide (1994) and A Musical History (2005).[7] A live version was included in the film and album versions of The Last Waltz[2][7] Another live version was included on Live in Tokyo 1983[7]

My Morning Jacket covered "Ophelia" on the 2013 tribute album Love for Levon.[8] Vince Gill covered the song on the soundtrack to the 1994 film Maverick.[9]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Hoskyns, B. (2006). Across the Great Divide: The Band and America. Hal Leonard. ASIN B001C4QHK0. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Harris, C. (2014). The Band. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 60, 144–145, 150. ISBN 9780810889040. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h DeRiso, N. "The Band, “Ophelia” fromNorthern Lights-Southern Cross (1975): Across the Great Divide". Something Else!. Retrieved 2015-05-30. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Buhler, S.M. (2007). "Musical Shakespeares: Attending to Ophelia, Juliet and Desdemona". In Shaughnessy, R. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare and Popular Culture. Cambridge University Press. p. 171. ISBN 9780521844291. 
  5. ^ a b Bowman, R. "Northern Lights-Southern Cross". Allmusic. Retrieved 2015-05-20. 
  6. ^ Kemp, M. (2004). Brackett, N., ed. The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Fireside. p. 43. ISBN 0743201698. 
  7. ^ a b c d "Ophelia". Allmusic. Retrieved 2015-05-30. 
  8. ^ "Love for Levon: A Benefit to Save the Barn". Allmusic. Retrieved 2015-05-30. 
  9. ^ Owens, T. "Maverick". Allmusic. Retrieved 2015-05-30. 

External links