Otis Redding's 'Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay:' A #1 Hit From Beyond The Grave

By | March 15, 2021

test article image
Soul singer Otis Redding poses for a portrait in May 1966 in London, England. (Photo by Cyrus Andrews/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

When Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay" was released in January 1968, it was a final gift to music lovers. Only weeks earlier, Redding  had passed away in a tragic plane crash that took the lives of six other men. The song, whether audiences could hear it or not, was technically unfinished. Redding was aware of the power that his soulful anthem to mindfulness and contemplation was destined for pop stardom, but in its current form the song lacks the singer's final touches.

Even though the song remained unfinished in Redding's mind, today it's one of the most beloved soul tracks of the '60s. It's a song that can be listened to in any setting, whether you're slow dancing at a wedding or if you find yourself on the dock of a bay watching the tide roll away.

Otis Redding Was Looking For A Change

test article image
source: pinterest

Otis Redding's early work set the template for R&B music of the '60s and '70s. His oversexed, funked up work like "Try A Little Tenderness," "Respect," "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," "I Can't Turn You Loose" and "Mr. Pitiful" still get toes tapping and audiences dancing, but the work that Redding will most be remembered for shares little of the bombastic nature of his early singles.

His work that will outlast everything else he ever recorded is a contemplative tune that Redding hoped would be vastly different from everything else in his catalogue. "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" began its life on tour with Redding in 1967 as he searched for something more soulful in his own work. The earliest version of the song was literally written overlooking the water in Sausalito, California. Longtime co-writer and producer Steve Cropper explained the catalyst for the song to NPR:

He had been in San Francisco doing the Fillmore. He had rented a boathouse or stayed out at a boathouse or something [and] that’s when he got the idea of watching the ships coming in the bay there. And that’s about all he had: ‘I watch the ships come in and I watch them roll away again. Sittin’ on the dock of the bay.’ I just took that… we just sat down and I just kind of learned the changes that he was kind of running over and I finished the lyrics…Otis didn’t really write about himself but I did. ‘Dock of the Bay’ was exactly that: ‘I left my home in Georgia, headed for the Frisco Bay,’ it was all about him going out to San Francisco to perform.