Friday, March 16, 2018

50 years ago: Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” hit #1

Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay

Otis Redding

Writer(s): Steve Cropper, Otis Redding (see lyrics here)

Released: January 8, 1968

First Charted: January 27, 1968

Peak: 14 US, 3 CB, 2 HR, 13 RB, 3 UK, 7 CN, 1 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 3.0 US, 1.0 UK, 4.0 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 7.0 radio, 127.0 video, 391.98 streaming

Awards (Redding):

Click on award for more details.

Awards (Pearl Jam):

Awards (Sting):

About the Song:

There’s never been a better epitaph. Redding and six others died when his charter plane crashed into Lake Monona, near Madison, Wisconsin on December 10, 1967. WK On November 22, he‘d recorded “Dock of the Bay,” adding overdubs two days before his death. “Using road weariness as its metaphor,” MA Redding wrote what is “ostensibly a homesick ballad” TC about his journey from Georgia to stardom, protesting against the guilt of wasting time, arguing in favor of relaxing, doing nothing, and just “watching the tide roll in and out.” PW

Fresh off the Monterey Pop Festival, Redding was playing the Fillmore in San Francisco while staying on a houseboat. Producer and guitarist Steve Cropper says this is where Otis “‘got the idea of the ship coming in...I took that and finished the lyrics. If you listen to the songs I wrote with Otis, most of the lyrics are about him…’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.’” WK

To add to the song’s coastal vibe, Cropper added seaside noises. One aspect of the song that wasn’t finished but was left alone was the now iconic whistling. Redding had hoped to add another verse, but after he died Cropper left the whistling in. BBC

Redding wasn’t new to the pop charts, having hit the top 40 more than a half dozen times, but most of his success had come on the R&B charts. However, this song topped the pop and R&B charts and became “the first posthumous number one single.” FB Cropper said, “Elvis was the king of rock & roll and Otis was the king of soul. Had he lived, I think he would have been king of them all.” TC

The song has been covered many times. Some of my personal favorites include renditions by Pearl Jam and Sting.


  • BBC BBC Radio 2 (1999). “Songs of the Century
  • FB Fred Bronson (2003). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (5th edition). Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 238.
  • TC Toby Creswell (2005). 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time. Thunder’s Mouth Press: New York, NY. Page 546.
  • JA David A. Jasen (2002). A Century of American Popular Music: 2000 Best-Loved and Remembered Songs (1899-1999). Routledge: Taylor & Francis, Inc. Page 175.
  • MA Dave Marsh (1989). The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made. New York, NY; New American Library. Page 18.
  • PW Paul Williams (1993). Rock and Roll: The 100 Best Singles. New York, NY; Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc. Page 128.
  • WK Wikipedia

Related Links:

First posted 1/8/2014; last updated 11/6/2022.

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