Music for the Weekend: A Look at Otis Redding’s Dock of the Bay


Sittin’ in the morning sun
I’ll be sittin’ when the evening comes
Watching the ships roll in
Then I watch them roll away again, yeah

I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Watchin’ the tide roll away, ooh
I’m just sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Wastin’ time

I love Otis Redding’s ‘Dock of the Bay,’ and after getting it stuck in my head after Scandal last week, I decided to look at the history behind it….

The song was written three days before Redding died in a plane crash on a rainy, foggy night in 1967. It was released in January 1968 and became his only single to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100, and the first posthumous number-one single in US chart history (first to reach #1 after the death of an artist) . Along with his death, the record label that he helped build saw its demise as well (albeit seven years later).

That label, Stax Records, was not only a big competitor of Motown’s, but also encompassed both blacks & whites at a time when the racial divide was growing wider and wider in American society. Between 1960 and 1975, Stax had 167 Top 100 pop hits and established the careers of Redding, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, Sam & Dave, Booker T & the MG’s and Wilson Pickett. Nevertheless, the label failed to gain rights to Redding’s discography, which instead belonged to Atlantic Records. Regarding “Dock of the Bay”, which was released so soon after Redding’s death, his guitarist Steve Cropper recalled:

We got a call from Atlantic saying, “We’ve got to rush something out. What have you got?” And I immediately said, “We need to put our hit out.”

‘They hadn’t even found Otis’s body yet.’

Cropper threw himself into completing Dock Of The Bay. He added electric guitar, seagulls, and the sound of waves.

‘Trying to work on something like that, when you don’t even know where one of your closest friends is, is difficult.’

‘Everybody was walking around staring at their feet for two months after that,’ says Stax musician Marvell Thomas.

‘There was true sadness at that place. Stax was usually a happy, peppy place, there was conversations in the hallways and songwriters over here and a demo going – that all stopped.’

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