(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay

Album: Dock Of The Bay (1968)
Charted: 3 1
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  • Redding died in a plane crash on December 10, 1967, a month before this song was released (January 8, 1968) and three days after he recorded it. It was by far his biggest hit and was also the first ever posthumous #1 single in the US. Redding was a rising star moving toward mainstream success at the time of his death. There is a good chance he would have recorded many more hits if he had lived.
  • Stax guitarist Steve Cropper wrote this with Redding. Cropper produced the album when Redding died, including this track with various songs Redding had recorded the last few years. In a 1990 interview on NPR's Fresh Air, Cropper explained: "Otis was one of those kind of guys who had 100 ideas. Anytime he came in to record he always had 10 or 15 different intros or titles, or whatever. He had been at San Francisco playing The Fillmore, and he was staying at a boathouse (in Sausalito, across the bay from San Francisco), which is where he got the idea of the ship coming in. That's about all he had: 'I watch the ships come in and I watch them roll away again.' I took that and finished the lyrics.

    If you listen to the songs I wrote with Otis, most of the lyrics are about him. He didn't usually write about himself, but I did. 'Mr. Pitiful,' 'Sad Song Fa-Fa,' they were about Otis' life. 'Dock Of The Bay' was exactly that: 'I left my home in Georgia, headed for the Frisco Bay' was all about him going out to San Francisco to perform."
  • Redding ended up sitting on a dock on the San Francisco Bay thanks to Bill Graham, who ran the Fillmore West Auditorium. Redding played three shows there, December 20-22, 1966. Graham gave Redding a choice: he could stay at a hotel, or at a boathouse in nearby Sausalito. Redding liked the outdoors, so he chose the boathouse.
  • Redding was the star recording artist for Stax Records, a Memphis label that made classic soul music. The death of Redding was a big blow to the label, and while it certainly had an impact on their demise in the '70s, there were other factors as well, including financial mismanagement and a change in musical tastes. In 2001, construction started on a soul music museum where the studios once stood, and it opened in 2003. To learn more about the museum and the Stax legacy, check out Stax Today.
  • The end of this song contains perhaps the most famous whistling in music history. It wasn't planned, but when Steve Cropper and Stax engineer Ronnie Capone heard it, they knew it had to stay. Cropper explained on his website: "If you're an Otis Redding fan you'd know that he's probably the world's greatest at ad-libbing at the end of a song. Sometimes you could go another minute or two with Otis Redding's ad-libs - they were so spontaneous and felt so great. And this particular song I think baffled Otis a little bit because of the tempo and the mood, so when we got down to the end of it he really didn't have anything to ad-lib with, and he just started whistling. That just sparked Ronnie Capone and myself off, and almost immediately we said, 'Hey man, that's great, leave that in there.' It sure is a cool melody to go out with."
  • Beach sound effects (waves, seagulls, etc.), were dubbed in after the recording. Steve Cropper explained why: "I played acoustic guitar on the session and there are some outtakes on the record where you can hear Otis clowning around with seagulls - he was always kind of a funny jokester in the studio and he was going 'caw, caw, caw.' That was where I got the idea of getting the seagull sounds. I went over to the soundtrack library at Pepper Records - a jingle company - and I got one of their sound effect records. I got the seagulls and the waves and I made a little tape loop on a two-track machine. I ran that as I mixed the record - I would bring them up and down in the holds. And I overdubbed the guitar. We were cutting on 4-track in those days - we had moved up from mono and stereo and up to big ol' 4-tracks, so we had a lot of tracks to work with. So we had 6-tracks because I had the 2-track going on one side with seagulls and one side with waves. I got that record mixed and got it off to Atlantic and it came out."

    He added: "The licks that I overdubbed on 'Dock Of The Bay,' I don't know if there was anything really special about them except that that was probably as high a position as I've ever played those licks when I did it. I was trying to get something that felt like seagulls - that real high thing. So, I was playing some high licks that were not necessarily imitating seagulls but the thought of seagulls being really high. I was trying to get something a little moody like that."
  • Redding recorded this with Booker T. & the MG's, the house band for Stax Records. They played with all the Stax artists, including Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, and Albert King, and had a hit on their own with "Green Onions" in 1962.

    In 1993, when the three remaining members of Booker T. & the MG's (Steve Cropper, Donald "Duck" Dunn, and Booker T. Jones), backed Neil Young on his tour, they played "Dock Of The Bay" near the end of each show.
  • Redding died five months before Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot in Memphis, where this was recorded. Amid the angry racial tensions, "Dock of the Bay" stood out as an integrated collaboration in a segregated city; Redding's co-writer/producer Steve Cropper was white, as was Donald "Duck" Dunn, who played bass on the track.
  • The plan was to use background singers on this track, possibly the Staple Singers, but when Redding died there was no time for that.
  • The ships that roll in, then roll away again, are the ferries that go back and forth between Oakland and San Francisco, often stopping in Sausalito.
  • Booker T. & the MG's were on tour when they found out about Redding's death. They were in an Indiana airport with their flight delayed because of snow when one of their members called the Stax office and got the horrific news. When they returned to Memphis, Steve Cropper mixed the song for release. He said it was "maybe the toughest thing I've ever done." Redding's body had not even been recovered when Cropper finished the song.
  • Redding started to compose this song while he was recovering from surgery removing polyps from his vocal cords. The doctors told him not to sing or talk for six weeks after the operation.
  • Under pressure from the record company, Steve Cropper rushed to get this song finished as soon as word got out that Redding had died. "That's just the way record companies operate," he said. "They actually had me go in and try to finish the song up - they had not even found Otis' body yet, which was a very difficult time for me, but somehow I got through it."
  • Redding wrote this soon after listening to the Beatles album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which had just been released. Shortly before he started recording "Dock of the Bay," Redding alluded to it as an extension of the Beatles' music. In 1966 and 1967, Redding performed "A Hard Day's Night" and "Day Tripper" at some of his concerts.
  • This was so unlike any other Otis Redding composition that Stax Records chief Jim Stewart did not want the song released in any form - even after hearing both Redding and Cropper insist that it would be his first #1 single. Stewart relented when he heard the finished master recording put together by Cropper after Redding's death.
  • The hit potential was obvious when this song was being recorded. Cropper explained: "Really being different from most Otis Redding songs, it was a little more middle-of-the-road tempo-wise. It wasn't a ballad and it wasn't an uptempo, hard rock, dancing kind of thing that he was known for. It was more laid back, and we had been looking for a crossover song - a song that leaves the R&B charts and crosses over to the pop charts - and in this song we knew we had it. It was just something we had a feeling about. We listened to it and went, 'This is it!' We just knew beyond a doubt that this was the song. This was a hit."
  • During the Vietnam War, this was very popular with American troops fighting there, as the song portrayed quite the opposite of their reality. Accordingly, it was used in two 1987 films that take place during the war: Platoon and Hamburger Hill.
  • This was used in the 1986 film Top Gun, and in the following TV series:

    Family Guy ("Follow the Money" - 2017)
    Scandal ("The Key" - 2014)
    Sons of Anarchy ("Straw" - 2013)
    Quantum Leap ("M.I.A." - 1990)
  • The music licensing company BMI named this as the sixth-most performed song of the 20th century, with around 6 million performances.
  • Michael Bolton's 1987 version hit #11 in the US, his highest charting song until "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" hit #1 in 1989. Neal Schon of Journey played on Bolton's recording.

    Michael Bolton can't whistle. He had to have the whistling solo dubbed when covering the song.
  • This won 1968 Grammy Awards for Best Rhythm & Blues Performance, plus Best Rhythm & Blues Song for writers Otis Redding and Steve Cropper.
  • If you equate the beach and bird noises to putting stickers on a Picasso, there are two very good outtakes of the song available on the Otis Redding collection Remember Me that are free of the overdubs. Stax Records had recently purchased a 4-track recorder, which made it easy to add the extra sounds.
  • In the late '80s, this was changed to "Sippin' My Hires All Day" for a Hires root beer commercial.
  • This song eases the listener in with gentle repetition. Songwriting coach Andrea Stolpe explained on the Songfacts Podcast: "'(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay' is not a vocally explosive song. It's contained. It just really creates a strong musical fingerprint without having to access a variety of different pitches or a larger range. There's so much repetition in this song from a melodic, rhythmic standpoint. He throws in a little interest chord-wise, but for the most part, it just continues as you might expect."
  • Zelma Redding, Otis's widow, wrote a letter to Michael Bolton saying his cover was her all-time favorite version of her husband's classic. She was so moved by Bolton's performance "that it brought tears to my eyes. It reminded me so much of my husband." Bolton had the letter framed and it hangs on his office wall.

Comments: 38

  • Seventhmist from 7th HeavenRising music stars and prop-driven airplanes just don't mix.
  • Dunk from WisconsinLooking for the name of the drummer on the recording
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn this day fifty years ago {March 10th, 1968} "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding peaked at #1* {for 4 weeks} on Billboard's Top 100 chart...
    The rest of the Top 10:
    #2. (Theme From) Valley of the Dolls by Dionne Warwick
    #3. Love Is Blue by Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra
    #4. Simon Says by 1910 Fruitgum Co.
    #5. Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) by The First Edition
    #6. I Wish It Would Rain by The Temptations
    #7. La-La Means I Love You by The Delfonics
    #8. Valleri by The Monkees
    #9. (Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You've Been Gone by Aretha Franklin
    #10. I Thank You by Sam and Dave
    Sadly, exactly three months earlier on December 10th, 1967 'The King of Soul' passed away at the young age of 26 {plane accident}...
    May he R.I.P.
    * And on the same day that "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" peaked at #1 on the Top 100 it reached #1 {for 3 weeks} on Billboard's Hot R&B Singles chart.
  • Michael from Grass ValleyThe song was written while fishing on Berkeley's pier.Otis asked was are you doing? I told him I'm just sitting by the dock to the Bay wasting time. He asked if I had some mackerel kid and the guy next to me loaned him a rod. He ask what he's doing, and he replied came all the way from Georgia looks like nothings coming my way. Otis said that's the opening to a good song, by the end of the day we had finished it. Michael Ludwig, VP Bill Graham.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn April 1st 1979, Sammy Hagar's covered version of "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #90; his version stayed on the Top 100 for a total of five weeks, and on its final week on the chart it would peaked at #65.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn March 3rd 1968, King Curtis & the Kingpins' instrumental covered version of "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #89, it remained on the chart for five weeks, peaking at #84...
    Between 1962 and 1971 King Curtis had fifteen Top 100 records; his highest charted record was his debut record on the Top 100, "Soul Twist", which peaked at #17 {for 2 weeks} on April 22nd, 1962...
    The first two releases by Mr. Curtis, the name was 'King Curtis & the Noble Knights', the next six records it was just simply 'King Curtis', and for the last seven releases it was 'King Curtis & the Kingpins'...
    Sadly, King Curtis, born Curtis Ousley, passed away on August 13th, 1971 at the young age of 37 {a stabbing victim}.
  • Joanne from Long Island, Ny, UsaI have always loved this song ever since I first heard it on the radio as a little girl. Stax guitarist and the co-writer of this song, Steve Cropper, did a wonderful job mixing this song. Even using the sound effects of waves and seagulls as deftly as if they were musical instruments. In a time before MTV and the music video it was impossible to listen to this song without SEEING everything play out in full living color real life images inside your head as if you were watching a wide screen movie. And the whistling at the end only makes for a MORE perfect way of capturing the real life emotional experience that IS this song. I am glad Otis never got a chance to finish the song and write a final verse (of course I only wish there could have been anther reason why the last verse was never written and we didn't have to lose Otis so soon). Most people when mixing it would have been tempted to repeat part of either verse one or twos lyrics at the end rather than leave the whistling in ... Cooper was wise enough to see the value in keeping it in. I think it is a very important part of what makes this song the classic that it is.

    To me this song has always been about realizing that nothing is working out in life ... and deciding to stop fighting everything ... but not in a defeatist way ... not giving up hope. Just ... stopping the struggle and the fight and taking a break from it all and relaxing long enough to notice the beauty of nature all around you and quietly watch the world and ENJOY it rather then BATTLING it. And I think the whistling at the end always made it feel like it was about that even more so for me.

    About how there is a hidden beauty in "WASTING TIME" ... a recharging of the life force and a reconnecting of our souls with nature and the creator and the world around us. Somehow rising above the conflict of life in the end by just "WASTING TIME" and allowing in that wasting of time for a moment of RECONNECTION ... A reconnection during the very heat of the battle to that 'still quiet voice' that resides inside each and every one of us and ... every living thing... AND ... in that EXACT MOMENT ... that moment of peaceful, still, quiet re-connection ... FINDING RENEWED HOPE ... the gentle relaxed whistling at the end is the EXACT MOMENT in the song where that reconnection (with our inner soul and hope) happens for me ...

    Pure musical genius in my opinion!
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn October 26th 1969, The Dells covered version of "On the Dock of the Bay" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #82; and on November 23rd, 1969 it peaked at #42 {for 2 weeks} and spent 8 weeks on the Top 100...
    It reached #13 on Billboard's R&B Singles chart...
    The record's B-side, "Oh, What A Day"*, also made the Top 100; and also stayed on the chart for 8 weeks, peaking at #43 {for 2 weeks} on February 22nd, 1970...
    Earlier in 1969 Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 also charted with "Dock of the Bay"; their version peaked at #66...
    * The Dell reached #10 on September 21st, 1969 with "Oh, What a Night".
  • Cyberpope from Richmond, CanadaOr Ricky Gervais' suggested remake version: "Sittin' on a cock cuz I'm gay. . . "
  • Deethewriter from Saint Petersburg, Russia FederationIn 1988, Paul Rodgers of Bad Company sang Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay" at the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary concert, backed by Steve Cropper and Donald "Duck" Dunn of Booker T. & the MG's -- the band that backed Redding on the original version of the song. Rodgers says that performing that song with Redding's bandmates was a once-in-a-lifetime experience: "'Dock Of The Bay,' it's just a great song -- great song to do, and it was exceptionally great to do with his band. But, of course, there are other (great songs) -- 'Champagne And Wine' is a beautiful song, too."
  • Will from Rock Hill, ScOtis is my all-time favorite singer, and this is one of my favorites of his. It's amazing that his last song was his best. Unlike Howard from the UK, I think this is peaceful, not a premonition of his death. However, Zelma's original lyrics to "I've Got Dreams to Remember" are eerily prescient (especially with the reference to an airplane).
  • Victoria from Sausalito, CaThe Sausalito Wooden Boat Tour includes a visit to the actual dock where Otis wrote 'Dock of the Bay' and also to the old tug which contains the actual table, purchased at auction, upon which he wrote the song.

    Don't miss the tour next time you are looking for things to do in the San Francisco Bay Area!
  • Mamie from Cleveland, OhAll but two members of the group THE BAR-KAYS died with Otis Redding. One survived the crash the other was not on the plane. THE BAR-KAYS recored "SOUL FINGER." Some years later the one who was not on the plane was murdered; the crime was never solved. THE BAR-KAYS were chosen by OTIS REDDING to be his band and to tour with him.
  • Howard from Wakefield, United KingdomVery spooky; this was certainly a premonition of his death.
  • Stephanie from Omaha, NeI was a little girl when I fist heard this song, and it has stuck with me ever since. It is simply genius.
  • Stephanie from Los Angeles, CaOne of my all time favorite songs, how can you not love it?
    It's so mellow and just has a laid back vibe that you just don't seem to find in songs these days.
  • Linc from Beaumont, TxSomethings just can't be expressed with words...
  • Linc from Beaumont, TxThis whistling - though it was not intended to be left in the song, actually conveys so much of the mood and attitude that it is an essential element and immediately translates to something akin with wasting time away absent mindedly. Make me wonder how the song would have turned out if Redding had returned and finished it.
  • Eric from Stevenspoint, WiAbsolutely one of the best songs ever written.
  • Cornelius from Matawan, NyDock Of The Bay got a LOT of play in Vietnam, because it fitted in with the thoughts that the short timers had in their heads as the time for their return home drew near.
  • Anthony from Oakland, United States"I have heard that 'Dock of the Bay' was actually about Monterey, a festival that took place in '67.
    - sarah, indianapolis, IN"

    He wrote the song AFTER the Monterey Pop Festival at Waldo Pier in Saualito- across the Golden Gate Bridge from 'Frisco. I alwys wondered on which dock of the 'Bay Redding was referring to (Oakland, Alameda, Berkeley Marina, Hunters Point, etc...)
  • Mark from Byrdstown, TnOtis Redding was just an awesome performer.Its still amazes me to see the power and emotion he put into every single song he did.Look up the history of Stax Records for more info on Redding and other great performers.
  • J.d. from Detroit, MiThis song reminds me of so many times in my life when all seemed hopeless. Its yet another example of the apparent futility of the hands we are sometimes dealt.

    The song came out, as I was serving on a Destroyer, getting ready to go to war. When I was in Kaoshung, Taiwan, I got a bootlegged copy of the album. Since I have, at the moment, no way to play vinyl, I just need to copy the lyrics, and hope someone will come along and post the key signature.
  • Musicmama from New York, NyHow can you not love this song? You can listen to it the way Dustin from Tampa does, or as a protest song. However, I see it more as a song about weariness, futility--and hope. The persona of the song wanted to get away from something (possibly bigotry) and/or had to start over. A day has passed, he is sitting on the dock of the bay, tired and sad but still hopeful for the next day. Best of all, the instrumentation--and the whistling--fit perfectly with they lyrics. Otis really left us too soon!
  • Lindzy from Los Angeles, CaDefinitely my favorite song. This song always calms you down and put you in a care-free mood.
  • Sarah from Indianapolis, InI have heard that 'Dock of the Bay' was actually about Monterey, a festival that took place in '67.
  • Steven from Sunnyvale, CaBob Rivers (bobrivers.com) has a great parody called "Sellin' All My Junk on Ebay."
  • Jon from Oakridge, OrIt has my vote for #1 best soul song.
  • George from Richmond, VaI was at Ft leonardwood, Missouri when they broke in on the music and announced Otis Redding was dead. I was so into "soul music" and he was one of my favorite singers for a while. still love his music.
  • Sammy from New York, NyThis song is so amazing, every aspect of it: the horns in the background, the chiming guitar, the bass, Redding's lyrics, voice, and my favorite part the whistling. They all work to make the song the kind you want to listen to over and over.
  • Dee from Khancoban, Australiai was always told this song was about suicide. but now i dunno... love that whistling!
  • Joel-steven from Anaheim, CaEarlier, it was stated the 'beach sound effects (waves, seagulls, etc.), were dubbed in after the recording.'

    This is because Otis sat in the window to record the vocals on a rainy day and they were added to complete the effect. The 'swooshing' sounds you hear are not waves effects, but the rain coming down outside the studio.
  • Ross from Independence, MoThis is #28 in Rolling Stone's list of 500 greatest songs.
  • Xavier from Melbourne, AustraliaThe Doors wrote a tribute song about Otis Redding in 1969 called 'Runnin Blue'. It contained some of the lyrics of 'Dock of the Bay'
  • Rhett from Melbourne, Australiawhat a brillaint song this really is.
  • Jessa from Brampton, On, Canadaamazing song. thats funny that he didn't haev a verse and they just left the whistling in after he died. i wonder what otis would say about that. seems to me he wouldn't mind.
  • Mac from Batlimore, MdI have heard that this song is a protest song; that Otis was torn about the war and decided that he would just "sit on the dock."
    -Mc, Baltimore, MD
  • Dustin from Tampa, FlThis is quite possibly the greatest soul song ever written. There's nothing like cracking open a cold one and listening to "Dock of the Bay" while sitting by the ocean.
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