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"(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" is a song co-written by soul singer Otis Redding and guitarist Steve Cropper. It was first recorded by Otis Redding in 1967, just days before his death. It was released posthumously on Stax Records' Volt label in 1968, becoming the first posthumous single to top the charts in the US. It charted at number 3 on the UK Singles Chart.
While on tour with the Bar-Kays in August 1967, Redding wrote the first verse of the song, under the abbreviated title "Dock of the Bay," on a houseboat at Waldo Point in Sausalito,California. He had come off his famed performance at the Monterey Pop Festival just months earlier in June 1967. While touring in support of the LPs King & Queen (collaborations with female vocalist Carla Thomas) and his live set Live in Europe, he continued to scribble lines of the song on napkins and hotel paper. In November of that year he joined producer and guitaristSteve Cropper at the Stax recording studio in Memphis, Tennessee.
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, 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," "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)"; 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.
Together, they completed the music and melancholy lyrics of "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay." From those sessions emerged Otis Redding's final recordings, including "Dock of the Bay," which was recorded on November 22, with additional overdubs on December 8. Redding's restrained yet emotive delivery is backed by Cropper's memorably succinct guitar playing. The song is somewhat different in style from most of Redding's other recordings, but one with which he was very pleased. While discussing his latest song with his wife, Redding stated that he wanted to "be a little different" with "The Dock of the Bay" and "change his style". There were concerns that "The Dock of the Bay" had too much of a pop feel for an Otis Redding record, and contracting Stax gospel act The Staples Singers to record backing vocals was discussed, but never carried out. The song features a machine sounding like the ocean waves, coming and going, as well as Redding's familiar whistling tune, heard before the song's fade. Redding had intended to return to the studio at a later date to add words in place of the whistling.
Redding continued to tour after the recording sessions and, on December 10, the charter plane which was carrying him crashed into Lake Monona, outside Madison, Wisconsin. Redding and six others were killed. Only one passenger survived, Ben Cauley of The Bar-Kays. Redding's body was recovered from the lake the day after the crash.
"(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" was released in January 1968 amid the fall-out of Redding's death. R&B stations readily added the song to their playlists, which had been saturated with Redding's previous hits. The song shot to number one on the R&B charts in early 1968 and, from March, topped the pop charts for four weeks. The album, which shared the song's title, was released and became his largest selling to date, peaking at number four on the Pop Albums chart. "Dock of the Bay" went on to gain success in countries across the world, and brought Redding the greatest success of his career, selling more than four million copies worldwide and receiving more than eight million airplays. The song went on to win two Grammy Awards:Best R&B Song and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.
Redding's body of work at the time of his death was immense, including a backlog of archived recordings as well as those done in November and December 1967 just before his death. In mid-1968, Stax Records severed its distribution contract with Atlantic Records, who retained the label's back catalog and the rights to the unreleased Otis Redding masters. Through its Atcosubsidiary (Atco had distributed Otis Redding's releases from Stax's Volt label), Atlantic issued three more albums of new Redding material, one live album, and eight 45 RPM singles between 1968 and 1970. Co-owned Reprise Records issued a live album with Redding and Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival. Both studio albums and anthologies sold well inAmerica and abroad. Redding was especially successful in the United Kingdom, where The Dock of the Bay went to number one, becoming the first posthumous album to reach the top spot there. and the following album, a greatest hits LP entitled History of Otis Redding, reached number one on the R&B charts and number nine on Billboard 200.
In 1999, BMI named the song as the sixth-most performed song of the 20th century, with about six million performances. Rolling Stone ranked Redding's album, The Dock of the Baynumber 161 on its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, the third of five Redding albums that made the list. "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" was ranked twenty-eighth on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, the second highest of four Redding songs on the list, after "Respect".
Jim Morrison references "Dock of the Bay" in The Doors' song "Runnin Blue" written by Robby Krieger from their 1969 album "The Soft Parade". Morrison sings an a capella intro for the song, singing directly about Otis Redding. "Poor Otis dead and gone, left me here to sing his song, pretty little girl with a red dress on, poor Otis dead and gone." And during the verse, the lyrics "Got to find a dock and a bay" appear more than once; as well as several other references to Redding's song.
"The Dock of the Bay" itself has been immensely popular, even after its stay at the top of the charts. The song has come to represent the decade of its creation, and it has been covered by many artists, from his peers like Glen Campbell, Bob Dylan, Percy Sledge, Dee Clark, and Sam & Dave to artists of various genres, including Jimmy Velvit (whose cover version was included on his 2001 Grammy nominated album Sun Sea & Sand), Widespread Panic (2006), Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson, Kenny Rankin, Dennis Brown, Michel Pagliaro, Jacob Miller, Michael Bolton (whose version of the song reached #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1988), Pearl Jam, The Format, T.Rex (as a b-side of "Dreamy Lady" on March 11, 1975), Brent Smith of Shinedown (during an acoustic set in 2008), Justin Nozuka (2007) and Sara Bareilles (2008).Playing for Change recorded a version featuring Grandpa Elliott, Roger Ridley, and other performers.
Sammy Hagar released a version of the song as a non-album single in 1979. His version features the song's co-writer Steve Cropper on guitar and members of the band Boston Brad Delp, Sib Hashian, and Barry Goudreau on backup vocals. Producer Carter had the track recorded in May 1979 with Cropper, bassist Leland Sklar, and drummer Alvin Taylor. Later, he added Sammy's vocals with background harmonies by the three then-members of Boston, with whom Hagar had just toured. Although the single was a modest hit for Hagar, he considered it a symptom of his producer Carter's efforts to manufacture a pop Top 40 hit despite Hagar's heavy metal inclinations. Hagar and Cropper's work on the song was rated the 37th worst guitar solo in history by Pitchfork Media in 1998. The song was not released on an album until 1992 when it appeared on The Best of Sammy Hagar. The b-side of Hagar's single was the first release of his studio version of "I've Done Everything for You".
- Original version
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- Cover versions
In addition to the original Otis Redding version, several other versions have charted on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. King Curtis' version charted for five weeks from 9 March 1968 and peaked at #84 (during the same month the original was #1). A year later, Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66's version charted for five weeks from 28 June 1969 and peaked at #66. Sammy Hagar's version charted for five weeks from 7 April 1979 and peaked at #65. The Reddings, who included two of Otis Redding's sons, released a version which charted for nine weeks from 12 June 1982 and peaked at #55. Michael Bolton's rendition charted for 17 weeks from 23 January 1988 and peaked at #11 making it the highest charting version other than the original.