Sittin' On the Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding.
Note—This is the first song suggested by a reader/listener—Nancy Fred. You are all invited to make requests. We are looking for the eclectic, unusual, or forgotten across genres and styles. Dig into your memories and dust off the moldy oldies!
Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay may be the ultimate chill song. It was co-written by blues and soul singer Otis Redding and guitarist Steve Cropper of Booker T and the MGs It was recorded by Redding twice in 1967, including once just days before his death in a plane crash. The song was released on Stax Record’s Volt label in 1968, becoming the first posthumous single to top the charts in the U.S.
Redding was 26 when he recoded the final version of the song at Stax’s Memphis studio and was a rapidly rising star. Blusier than most Soul singers, he never quite fit it with the Mo Town Sound or highly produced music from Philadelphia and Mussel Shoals. He got a boost in crossover appeal with hip young White audiences when he headlined at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and the film of his electric performance boosted it further.
Ottis Redding was a dynamic live performer.
Redding began scribbling notes for Dock of the Bay while on tour in the months after that show. Later he collaborated with Cooper while they were staying with their friend, Earl “Speedo” Simms, on a houseboat in Sausalito, California. Redding was searching for a new sound quite different than his usual hard charging blues. Stax executives feared that the departure would damage the label’s reputation. Finally in the studio Coopers also produced the recording sessions with Booker T. and the MGs as the backup band. The main track was laid down in November of ’67 with additional dubbing in December.
Otis returned to touring with plans to make additional changes to the recording—the sounds of the water in San Francisco Bay and seagulls—later. On December 10 he was flying into Madison, Wisconsin in a fog when the small twin engine Beechcraft H18 he was in crashed into Lake Monona. He died with four members of the band Bar Keys, their valet, and the pilot.
The posthumous The Dock of the Bay album matched the wild success of the single peaking at #4 on the Album Charts. It has never gone out of circulation.
Back in Memphis Cooper dubbed the sounds that Redding wanted. The single was released on January 8, 1968 less than three weeks after his funeral in his home town of Macon, Georgia. The song shot to number one on the R&B charts in early 1968 and in March, topped the pop charts for four weeks. It went on to win two Grammy Awards—Best R&B Song and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. The Dock of the Bay was ranked twenty-eighth on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Redding was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1994, and in 1999 he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame included three Redding recordings, Shake, Sittin' On The Dock of the Bay, and Try a Little Tenderness, on its list 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll,